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"Unjust, Cruel and Irrational"
The United States of Punishment
by WILLIAM BLUM

2.2 million imprisoned … "We’re Number One! USA! USA! USA!" … 7 million — one in every 32 American adults — either behind bars, on probation, or on parole … When it comes to sentencing, let me tell you, people, and pardon my language, the United States is one hell of a tough mother fucker … beginning with mandatory minimum sentences … there are tens of thousands of young men rotting their lives away in American prisons for simple possession of a drug, for their own use, for their own pleasure, to enjoy with a friend, no victims involved. Do you think a person should be in prison if he hasn’t hurt anyone? Either physically, financially, or in some other real and serious manner? Jose Antonio Lopez, a legal permanent resident with a family and business in South Dakota, was deported back to Mexico a while ago because of a cocaine charge — Sale? No. Use? No. Possession? No … He told someone where they could buy some. Another man was sentenced to 55 years in prison for three marijuana deals because he was in possession of a gun each time, which he did not use or brandish. Possession of a firearm in a drug transaction requires a much stiffer prison sentence. Four former attorneys-general and 145 former prosecutors and judges wrote in support of a lighter sentence for this man. The presiding judge himself called the sentence "unjust, cruel and irrational", but said the law left him no choice.

On December 1, a court in the Netherlands convicted four Dutch Muslims of plotting terrorist attacks against political leaders and government buildings. The heaviest sentence for any of them was eight years. On December 13, a priest was convicted of taking part in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide by ordering militiamen to set fire to a church and then bulldoze it while 2,000 people seeking safety were huddled inside. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda sentenced him to 15 years in prison. Considerably lighter sentences than in the United States are generally a common phenomenon in much of the world. In the US, the mere mention of the word "terrorist" in a courtroom will likely bring down 30, 40, 50 years, life in prison, on the defendant’s head, even for only thinking and talking of an action, an Orwellian "thoughtcrime", with nothing concrete done to further the plan.

Colombian drug traffickers, British Muslims, and others accused of "terrorist" offenses strenuously fight extradition to the United States for fear of Uncle Sam’s merciless fist. They’re the lucky ones amongst Washington’s foreign targets; they’re not kidnapped off the street and flown shackled and blindfolded to secret dungeons in shadowy corners of the world to be tortured.

For those who think that no punishment is too severe, too cruel, in the War on Terrorism against the Bad Guys, it must be asked what they think of the case of the Cuban Five. These are five Cubans who were engaged in the United States in the 1990s trying to uncover information about anti-Castro terrorists based in Miami, some of whom shortly before had been carrying out a series of bombing attacks in Havana hotels and may have been plotting new attacks. The Five infiltrated Cuban-American organizations based in Miami to monitor their actions, and they informed the Cuban government of their findings. The Cuban government then passed on some of the information to the FBI. And what happened next? The FBI arrested the five Cubans.

The Cubans were held in solitary confinement for 17 months; eventually they were tried, and in 2001 convicted on a variety of charges thrown together by the government for the occasion, including murder (sic!) and conspiracy to commit espionage (probably the first case in American judicial history of alleged espionage without a single page from a single secret document). They were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 years to life. But the federal government’s lust for punishment was still not satisfied. They have made it extremely difficult for their Cuban prisoners to receive family visits. Two of them have not seen their wives and children since their arrest in 1998; the other three have had only scarcely better luck. Yet another glorious chapter in the War on Terrorism.

WILLIAM BLUM is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: a guide to the World’s Only Super Power. and West-Bloc Dissident: a Cold War Political Memoir.

He can be reached at: BBlum6@aol.com