Human Rights

Pope Francis Blasts Supermax Prisons as ‘Torture’

Alcatraz cells on March 1, 2014. Photo via RNS.

Pope Francis said Oct. 23 that keeping inmates isolated in maximum security prisons is “a form of torture,” and called life sentences “a hidden death penalty” that should be abolished along with capital punishment.

“All Christians and people of good will are called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty,” the pope told delegates from the International Association of Penal Law.

“And this I connect with life imprisonment,” he continued. “Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty.”

The pope noted that the Vatican recently eliminated life imprisonment from its own penal code, though that move was largely symbolic.

In the wide-ranging address, Francis denounced practices that are widespread in many regions of the world, such as extrajudicial executions and detentions without trial, which he said account for more than half of all detentions in some countries.

Francis also denounced corruption in penal systems, calling it “an evil greater than sin.”

Who Cares About Guam? On American Patriotism and Veteran Mental Health

The flag of Guam. Image via Jiri Flogel/shutterstock.com
The flag of Guam. Image via Jiri Flogel/shutterstock.com

In ‘Island of Warriors,’ the second episode of the new PBS series America by the Numbers, Maria Hinojosa, executive producer and anchor of NPR’s Latino USA, examines the challenges faced by American veterans in Guam. While Guamanian residents serve in the military at three times the rate of the rest of the United States and territories, they receive the lowest per capita medical spending from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. This discrepancy in resources translates to only two full-time psychiatrists for an island of as many as 16,000 veterans — 3,000 of whom are actively requesting VA medical support for psychological disorders like PTSD.

How could this be possible?

Like Puerto Rico, Guam is a U.S. territory. While residents of these territories can, and do, enlist in the American military, they cannot vote for the president who sends them into battle. Similarly, they are represented on the floor of the House of Representatives only by delegates, who have no voting power.  Eddie Calvo, the Republican governor of Guam, spoke truthfully when he ventured to call Guam a “colony” of the United States.

This disenfranchised status means that residents of U.S. territories like Guam have no real standing in American democracy.  They must rely on others to advocate for them. When every state could use more resources to take care of the nearly 20 percent of veterans returning from Iraq with PTSD, who’s going to stand up for Guam?

As far as geopolitical power, Guam truly is the “least of these” in American democracy. While many Americans deplore Puerto Rico’s secondary status in American political discourse, Hinojosa recalled one Guamanian saying, “We just wish we were Puerto Rico. At least then people would know where we are.”

Think about it: Do you know where Guam is? I didn’t.

Broken Cisterns

Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock
Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock 

Before it all fell apart earlier this year, and before this summer's carnage in Gaza, the Israeli-Palestine peace process was already fatally flawed. 

Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian Christian and human rights activist, co-founded the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence and headed the legal committee that negotiated the PLO-Israeli agreement creating the Palestinian Authority in 1994.

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