A United Nations human rights expert is urging the United States to immediately end the solitary confinement of a Louisiana prisoner held in isolation in a tiny cell for more than 41 years.
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez, an Argentine attorney and professor at American University-Washington College of Law, said keeping Albert Woodfox, a member of the "Angola 3" convicted of murdering a prison guard at Louisiana State Penitentiary in 1972, in isolation is "torture."
"Keeping Albert Woodfox in solitary confinement for more than four decades clearly amounts to torture and it should be lifted immediately," said Méndez.
"The circumstances of the incarceration of the so-called Angola 3 clearly show that the use of solitary confinement in the US penitentiary system goes far beyond what is acceptable under international human rights law."
Indeed, solitary confinement is even banned during wartime under the Geneva Conventions. Solitary confinement is widely acknowledged as a form of torture; Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who was brutally tortured after being shot down and captured by enemy forces during the Vietnam War, later said solitary "crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment."
The case of the Angola 3 has received increased attention since Herman Wallace was released from prison three days before dying of liver cancer last week. Wallace, Woodfox and Robert King were serving time at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola for armed robbery when they formed a chapter of the Black Panthers to combat the rape, sexual slavery, violence and abhorrent living conditions at the prison. Shortly after beginning their activism, prison guard Brent Miller was stabbed to death and Woodfox and Wallace were convicted of murder, despite a lack of evidence linking them to the killing and the fact that the prosecution's star witness against them was bought off by prison officials.
Woodfox and Wallace were locked up in solitary confinement in separate 6'x9' prison cells, where they spent the next 41 years. Woodfox's conviction was overturned after 36 years spent in solitary, but the state attorney general appealed to a notoriously conservative higher court, which upheld the conviction.
Wallace, who was suffering from terminal liver cancer, was freed last week after his conviction was overturned. He died three days later in New Orleans. Woodfox remains locked up in solitary confinement.