Search results for "solitary confinement"

HuffPo's Ryan Reilly torches Marjorie Taylor Greene for defending on Capitol rioter

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) recently took to social media in an attempt to gain public support for an incarcerated man who allegedly participated in Capitol rioter but things didn't exactly go as she may have planned.

Ryan Reilly was quick to fire back at the controversial lawmaker. It all began on Monday, December 27, when the Georgia lawmaker tweeted about Jan. 6 riot suspect Chris Quaglin offering details about his current condition and health in the wake of him testing positive for COVID.

"Pretrial J6 defendant Chris Quaglin lost 10 pounds in 10 days in Northern Neck & is in solitary confinement," Greene tweeted. "He has celiac disease & is given a gluten-laden diet daily. He’s being denied medical treatment and is gravely ill. He also tested COVID+ today."

She added, “Again this man in being held PRETRIAL in solitary confinement with serious medical conditions and no treatment. He didn’t kill or rape anyone, hurt children, run over people in a Christmas parade, or illegally invade our border. He rioted on J6 and deserves justice not torture.”

Shortly after Greene shared her series of tweets, Reilly chimed in to criticize the lawmaker. In a series of tweets, Reilly offered details about the case against Quaglin for his alleged involvement in the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. According to Reilly, there is even footage of Quaglin assaulting a police officer amid the Jan. 6 riots.

"'I got 3 cans of bear spray,” said Chris Quaglin, who used the name "Chris Trump", who was caught on camera multiple times assaulting members of law enforcement on Jan. 6. According to the feds, Quaglin is also said to have sprayed a Washington, D.C., police officer "'directly into the face' while wearing a 'MAGA' hoodie."

While he did acknowledge the concern about Quaglin's gluten intolerance, he also argued that it is not a justifiable reason for him to be released from jail. He also criticized right-wing lawmakers like Greene who have had no qualms about associating themselves with Capitol rioters.

"Any pretrial detainee or prisoner with a gluten intolerance should be appropriately fed, but it’s remarkable to see how willing far-right politicians have been to associate themselves with Capitol rioters caught on camera viciously assaulting cops on Jan. 6," Reilly wrote.




New documents prove Tennessee County disproportionately jails Black children — and it’s getting worse

This was first published at ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Tennessee’s Rutherford County, which has been widely criticized for its juvenile justice system, has been jailing Black children at a disproportionately high rate, according to newly obtained data. And, in a departure from national trends, the county’s racial disparity is getting worse, not better.

In an earlier story, ProPublica and Nashville Public Radio chronicled a case in Rutherford County in which 11 Black children were arrested for a crime that does not exist. Four of the children were booked into the county’s juvenile jail.

Since publishing that story, the two news organizations have received reports from the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. This data shows that while the county was locking up so many kids — often illegally — it was also jailing an exceptionally high percentage of Black children.

From July 2010 to June 2021, children from Rutherford County were booked into the juvenile jail at least 6,350 times, according to the youth commission’s monthly monitoring reports.

In 38% of those cases, the children were Black.

That far eclipses the percentage of children in the county who are Black. That figure stayed between 14% and 16% from 2010 to 2019, according to census data. (Those percentages account for children who identify as Black, whether or not they are of Hispanic ethnicity. The booking data obtained from Tennessee did not indicate how a Black Hispanic child would be recorded.)

The disparity in Rutherford County is comparable to the racial gap for the country as a whole. A fact sheet published this year by The Sentencing Project showed that in 2019, 41% of the children incarcerated nationally were Black, even though Black children make up only 15% of the nation’s youth.

But the newly obtained reports show that the county is an outlier compared to what’s been happening in recent years regarding racial disparities in juvenile justice. In most of the country, the racial disparity has been decreasing. Rutherford County, meanwhile, has gone the opposite direction.

From 2010 through 2017, Black children accounted for 36% of the kids locked up by the county, according to ProPublica’s analysis of the data. From 2018 through mid-2021, they accounted for 58%.

Within Tennessee, Rutherford County stood out for years in terms of the percentage of kids of all races it locked up in cases referred to juvenile court. In 2014, for example, the county jailed children in 48% of those cases. The statewide average was 5%.

Many children in Rutherford County were placed in solitary confinement under conditions a federal judge called inhumane.

After ProPublica and Nashville Public Radio wrote about Rutherford County’s juvenile justice system in October, state lawmakers called the system a “nightmare” and “unchecked barbarism.” The state’s governor called for a judicial review. Eleven members of Congress signed a letter asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the county’s juvenile justice system.

The overwhelming majority of bookings for children of all races occurred from 2010 to 2017, when the annual average exceeded 800. The annual average since 2018 has been just under 100. In 2017, the booking numbers began a dramatic drop after a federal judge ordered the county to stop using its so-called filter system, in which jail staff detained any child considered to be a “TRUE threat,” a vague standard in the jail’s written procedures that wasn’t defined anywhere.

Josh Rovner, a senior advocacy associate who researches juvenile justice issues for The Sentencing Project, found that in 2015, Black youth were five times as likely to be locked up as white youth nationally. In 2019, that figure was 4.4.

“That’s still appalling,” he said, “but it does show progress.” So it’s particularly disheartening, he said, to see places, such as Rutherford County, where the gap is widening.

Sandra Simkins, a Rutgers University law professor and national expert on juvenile justice, served as a monitor in Shelby County, Tennessee, where the DOJ exercised oversight until 2018 based on its findings that the county’s juvenile court discriminated against Black children. In an interview, Simkins said that while many states have taken steps to reduce racial disparities, Tennessee has “blocked every avenue to reform.”

She cited, for example, a finding from our previous story on how Tennessee has stopped publishing an annual statistical report that helped identify outliers on various juvenile justice practices. “No one can get anywhere without data,” she said.

“I think Tennessee tolerates bad actors,” Simkins said. “It is a greater tolerance than what I have ever seen. I have been across the country. I’ve seen a lot of bad pockets.”

Donna Scott Davenport, the only juvenile court judge in Rutherford County’s history, has overseen the juvenile justice system since first winning election in 2000. She did not respond to an interview request for this story and declined to answer questions for our initial story. Davenport appointed and supervises Lynn Duke, the director of the county’s juvenile detention center. “I appreciate your interest in Rutherford County and its youth, but respectfully decline to respond at this time,” Duke replied by email to our most recent interview request.

This year, the county agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging that it had illegally arrested and jailed children for years. At a hearing last week, a federal judge approved a final settlement in which the county will pay approximately $6 million, with hundreds of young people receiving payouts. In response to the controversy, Middle Tennessee State University cut ties with Davenport, who had for years been an adjunct instructor at the school.

Davenport, meanwhile, is up for reelection next year, facing a challenger for the first time in more than 20 years. She has previously said that she intends to run again.

The most important battle for press freedom in our time

This piece was first published at ScheerPost.

WASHINGTON, D.C – For the past two days, I have been watching the extradition hearing for Julian Assange via video link from London. The United States is appealing a lower court ruling that denied the US request to extradite Assange not, unfortunately, because in the eyes of the court he is innocent of a crime, but because, as Judge Vanessa Baraitser in January concluded, Assange's precarious psychological state would deteriorate given the "harsh conditions" of the inhumane US prison system, "causing him to commit suicide." The United States has charged Assange with 17 counts under the Espionage Act and one count of trying to hack into a government computer, charges that could see him imprisoned for 175 years.

Assange, with long white hair, appeared on screen the first day from the video conference room in HM Prison Belmarsh. He was wearing a white shirt with an untied tie around his neck. He looked gaunt and tired. He did not appear in court, the judges explained, because he was receiving a "high dose of medication." On the second day he was apparently not present in the prison's video conference room.

Assange is being extradited because his organization WikiLeaks released the Iraq War Logs in October 2010, which documented numerous US war crimes — including video images of the gunning down of two Reuters journalists and 10 other unarmed civilians in the Collateral murder video, the routine torture of Iraqi prisoners, the covering up of thousands of civilian deaths and the killing of nearly 700 civilians that had approached too closely to US checkpoints. He is also being targeted by US authorities for other leaks, especially those that exposed the hacking tools used by the CIA known as Vault 7, which enables the spy agency to compromise cars, smart TVs, web browsers and the operating systems of most smart phones, as well as operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, macOS and Linux.

If Assange is extradited and found guilty of publishing classified material, it will set a legal precedent that will effectively end national security reporting, allowing the government to use the Espionage Act to charge any reporter who possesses classified documents, and any whistleblower who leaks classified information.

If the appeal by the United States is accepted Assange will be retried in London. The ruling on the appeal is not expected until at least January.

Assange's September 2020 trial painfully exposed how vulnerable he has become after 12 years of detention, including seven in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He has in the past attempted suicide by slashing his wrists. He suffers from hallucinations and depression, takes antidepressant medication and the antipsychotic quetiapine. After he was observed pacing his cell until he collapsed, punching himself in the face and banging his head against the wall he was transferred for several months to the medical wing of the Belmarsh prison. Prison authorities found "half of a razor blade" hidden under his socks. He has repeatedly called the suicide hotline run by the Samaritans because he thought about killing himself "hundreds of times a day."

James Lewis, the lawyer for the United States, attempted to discredit the detailed and disturbing medical and psychological reports on Assange presented to the court in September 2020, painting him instead as a liar and malingerer. He excoriated the decision of Judge Baraitser to bar extradition, questioned her competence, and breezily dismissed the mountains of evidence that high-security prisoners in the United Sates, like Assange, subjected to Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), and held in virtual isolation in supermax prisons, suffer psychological distress. He charged Dr. Michael Kopelman, emeritus professor of neuropsychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, who examined Assange and testified for the defense, with deception for "concealing" that Assange fathered two children with his fiancée Stella Morris while in refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He said that, should the Australian government request Assange, he could serve his prison time in Australia, his home country, after his appeals had been exhausted, but stopped short of promising that Assange would not be held in isolation or subject to SAMs.

The authority repeatedly cited by Lewis to describe the conditions under which Assange will be held and tried in the United States was Gordon Kromberg, the Assistant United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Kromberg is the government's grand inquisitor in cases of terrorism and national security. He has expressed open contempt for Muslims and Islam and decried what he calls "the Islamization of the American justice system." He oversaw the 9-year persecution of the Palestinian activist and academic Dr. Sami Al-Arian and at one point refused his request to postpone a court date during the religious holiday of Ramadan. "They can kill each other during Ramadan, they can appear before the grand jury. All they can't do is eat before sunset," Kromberg said in a 2006 conversation, according to an affidavit filed by one of Arian's attorneys, Jack Fernandez.

Kromberg criticized Daniel Hale, the former Air Force analyst who recently was sentenced to 45 months in a supermax prison for leaking information about the indiscriminate killings of civilians by drones, saying Hale had not contributed to public debate, but had "endanger[ed] the people doing the fight." He ordered Chelsea Manning jailed after she refused to testify in front of a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. Manning attempted to commit suicide in March 2020 while being held in the Virginia jail.

Having covered the case of Syed Fahad Hashmi, who was arrested in London in 2006, I have a good idea of what waits Assange if he is extradited. Hashmi also was held in Belmarsh and extradited in 2007 to the United States where he spent three years in solitary confinement under SAMs. His "crime" was that an acquaintance who stayed in his apartment with him while he was a graduate student in London had raincoats, ponchos and waterproof socks in luggage at the apartment. The acquaintance planned to deliver the items to al-Qaida. But I doubt the government was concerned with waterproof socks being shipped to Pakistan. The reason, I suspect, Hashmi was targeted was because, like the Palestinian activist Dr. Sami Al-Arian, and like Assange, he was fearless and zealous in his defense of those being bombed, shot, terrorized and killed throughout the Muslim world while he was a student at Brooklyn College.

Hashmi was deeply religious, and some of his views, including his praise of the Afghan resistance, were controversial, but he had a right to express these sentiments. More important, he had a right to expect freedom from persecution and imprisonment because of his opinions, just as Assange should have the freedom, like any publisher, to inform the public about the inner workings of power. Facing the possibility of a 70-year sentence in prison and having already spent four years in jail, much of it in solitary confinement, Hashmi accepted a plea bargain on one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism. Judge Loretta Preska, who sentenced the hacker Jeremy Hammond and human rights attorney Steven Donziger, gave him the maximum 15-year sentence. Hashmi was held for nine years in Guantanamo-like conditions in the supermax ADX [Administrative Maximum] facility in Florence, Colorado, where Assange, if found guilty in an American court, will almost certainly be imprisoned. Hashmi was released in 2019.

The pre-trial detention conditions Hashmi endured were designed to break him. He was electronically monitored 24-hours a day. He could only receive or send mail with his immediate family. He was prohibited from speaking with other prisoners through the walls. He was forbidden from taking part in group prayer. He was permitted one hour of exercise a day, in a solitary cage without fresh air. He has unable to see most of the evidence used to indict him which was classified under the Classified Information Procedures Act, enacted to prevent US intelligence officers under prosecution from threatening to reveal state secrets to manipulate the legal proceedings. The harsh conditions eroded his physical and psychological health. When he appeared in the final court proceeding to accept a guilty plea he was in a near catatonic state, clearly unable to follow the proceedings around him.

If the government will go to this length to persecute someone who was alleged to have been involved in sending waterproof socks to al-Qaida, what can we expect the government to do to Assange?

A society that prohibits the capacity to speak in truth extinguishes the capacity to live in justice. The battle for Assange's liberty has always been much more than the persecution of a publisher. It is the most important battle for press freedom of our era. And if we lose this battle, it will be devastating, not only for Assange and his family, but for us.

Tyrannies invert the rule of law. They turn the law into an instrument of injustice. They cloak their crimes in a faux legality. They use the decorum of the courts and trials, to mask their criminality. Those, such as Assange, who expose that criminality to the public are dangerous, for without the pretext of legitimacy the tyranny loses credibility and has nothing left in its arsenal but fear, coercion and violence. The long campaign against Assange and WikiLeaks is a window into the collapse of the rule of law, the rise of what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls our system of inverted totalitarianism, a form of totalitarianism that maintains the fictions of the old capitalist democracy, including its institutions, iconography, patriotic symbols and rhetoric, but internally has surrendered total control to the dictates of global corporations and the security and surveillance state.

There is no legal basis to hold Assange in prison. There is no legal basis to try him, an Australian citizen, under the US Espionage Act. The CIA spied on Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy through a Spanish company, UC Global, contracted to provide embassy security. This spying included recording the privileged conversations between Assange and his lawyers as they discussed his defense. This fact alone invalidated the trial. Assange is being held in a high security prison so the state can, as Nils Melzer, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, has testified, continue the degrading abuse and torture it hopes will lead to his psychological if not physical disintegration.The architects of imperialism, the masters of war, the corporate-controlled legislative, judicial and executive branches of government and their obsequious courtiers in the media, are guilty of egregious crimes. Say this simple truth and you are banished, as many of us have been, to the margins of the media landscape. Prove this truth, as Assange, Chelsea Manning, Jeremy Hammond and Edward Snowden have by allowing us to peer into the inner workings of power, and you are hunted down and persecuted.

Assange's "crime" is that he exposed the more than 15,000 unreported deaths of Iraqi civilians. He exposed the torture and abuse of some 800 men and boys, aged between 14 and 89, at Guantánamo. He exposed that Hillary Clinton in 2009 ordered US diplomats to spy on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other U.N. representatives from China, France, Russia, and the UK, spying that included obtaining DNA, iris scans, fingerprints, and personal passwords, part of the long pattern of illegal surveillance that included the eavesdropping on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the weeks before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. He exposed that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the CIA orchestrated the June 2009 military coup in Honduras that overthrew the democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya, replacing it with a murderous and corrupt military regime. He exposed that George W. Bush, Barack Obama and General David Petraeus prosecuted a war in Iraq that under post-Nuremberg laws is defined as a criminal war of aggression, a war crime, which authorized hundreds of targeted assassinations, including those of US citizens in Yemen. He exposed that the United States secretly launched missile, bomb, and drone attacks on Yemen, killing scores of civilians. He exposed that Goldman Sachs paid Hillary Clinton $657,000 to give talks, a sum so large it can only be considered a bribe, and that she privately assured corporate leaders she would do their bidding while promising the public financial regulation and reform. He exposed the internal campaign to discredit and destroy British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn by members of his own party. He exposed how the hacking tools used by the CIA and the National Security Agency permits the wholesale government surveillance of our televisions, computers, smartphones and anti-virus software, allowing the government to record and store our conversations, images and private text messages, even from encrypted apps.

He exposed the truth. He exposed it over and over and over until there was no question of the endemic illegality, corruption and mendacity that defines the global ruling elite. And for these truths alone he is guilty.

'A symbol of our failure': The dark truth about closing the Guantánamo Bay prison

It’s now more than 20 years later and that American offshore symbol of mistreatment and injustice, the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is still open. In fact, as 2021 ended, New York Times reporter Carol Rosenberg, who has covered that notorious prison complex since its first day, reported on the Pentagon’s plans to build a brand-new prefab courthouse at that naval base. It’s intended to serve as a second, even more secret facility for holding the four remaining trials of war-on-terror detainees and is scheduled to be ready “sometime in 2023.”

Close Guantánamo? Not soon, it seems. The cost of that new construction is a mere $4 million, a relatively minor sum compared to the $6 billion dollars and counting that detention and trial operations had claimed by 2019, according to the estimate of one whistleblower.

Notably, the news about the building of that secret courtroom coincided with the 20-year anniversary of the detention facility and the administration of the second president who’s intending to shut the place down. Its plans are meant to suggest that the proposed structure will actually contribute to that never-ending process of closing the world’s most notorious prison camp. Guantánamo currently has 39 detainees in custody, 12 of whom are held under a military commissions system; 18 of whom, long kept without charges of any sort, have now been officially cleared for release to chosen countries which agree to have them (which doesn’t mean that they’ll actually be released); and nine of whom, also never charged, are merely hoping for such clearance.

With two courtrooms instead of one, trials, at least more than a year away, could theoretically take place at the same time rather than sequentially. Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine that the number of courtrooms will have any effect on a speedier outcome. As Scott Roehm, Washington director for the Center for Victims of Torture, recently told the Daily Beast, “There is a consensus that the commissions have failed — but they haven’t failed because of a lack of courtrooms.”

Consider it a record of sorts that, in 20 years, only two trials have ever been completed there, both in 2008. Both led to convictions, one of which was later overturned, one of which is still on appeal. This paltry record is another sign of the forever reality of Guantánamo, where neither small nips and tucks nor major alterations have proved anything more than cosmetic dressing for a situation that has proven intractable over three presidencies and the beginning of a fourth.

Of late, there has been a growing consensus that closing the prison is a must, especially given the final debacle of the U.S. departure from Afghanistan. As Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wrote at Lawfare on the 20-year anniversary of that offshore symbol of all-American injustice, “Ending the failed experiment of detention at Guantánamo Bay won’t be easy. But now that the U.S.’s war in Afghanistan is over, it’s time to shut the doors on Guantánamo once and for all.” On the floor of the Senate that same day, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) called for closure as well, deriding the prison camp as “a symbol of our failure to hold terrorists accountable and our failure to honor the sacrifices of our service members. These failures should not be passed on to another generation — they should end with the Biden Administration.”

But calling for closure is one thing, closing that prison is quite another.

The Challenges of Closure

Commonly, the closing of Guantánamo is envisioned as involving a series of practical steps which I, like so many others, have been suggesting for years now. The most recent proposal comes from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law, which has outlined a 13-step process aimed at shutting down that facility for good. This entails resolving the remaining cases in the military commissions (10 still facing trial, two already convicted), while emptying the prison of its remaining 27 prisoners held in indefinite detention without charge.

Let’s begin with the military commissions. The new courtroom — facing completion sometime in 2023, potentially almost two years away — is meant to “speed up” the trial process. Still, in the last 20 years, there have been just eight convictions, most due to plea deals. Three of them have since been overturned and three more are still on appeal. In other words, we’re talking about a staggering picture of wholesale failure.

True, there have been dozens of pre-trial hearings for the four trials now pending. But pre-trial hearings are one thing, trials another. Most incredibly, the trials of the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators have still not begun.

And there’s little hope that those will ever find a way forward to resolution. For starters, the individuals to be tried were first tortured at CIA black sites before being brought to Cuba, and much of the evidence and testimony relevant to their cases is largely derived from such torture practices. Even with resolution, it’s nearly impossible to imagine how such proceedings would ever lead to justice.

How (Not) to Exit Guantánamo

There are at least two suggested ways of finally resolving the military commissions in the relatively near future. Human rights lawyer and military commissions defense attorney Michel Paradis recently laid these out on a Lawfare podcast. One would be for the government to take the death penalty off the table and open the door to plea deals. Numerous experts have supported this way forward. So, too, Colleen Kelly, head of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, an organization of the family members of 9/11 victims, has indicated support for this option, as she recently testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Another option, Paradis pointed out, would be to move the trials to federal courts in the United States. Unfortunately, that’s an unlikely prospect indeed, given a congressional ban on Guantánamo detainees being brought to this country that’s been in place for more than a decade.

In 2010, one such detainee was indeed tried in federal court. That was then-Attorney General Eric Holder’s idea — as a prelude, he hoped, to bringing the other trials to federal courts — and it was the right one. The case in question was that of Ahmed Ghailani, accused of involvement in embassy bombings in 1998 that killed 224 individuals. Like others held at Guantánamo, he had been tortured at a CIA black site, evidence that was excluded at trial. He was, in the end, acquitted on 284 of 285 charges. Nonetheless, the case was resolved and, on that final charge, he’s serving a life term at a federal penitentiary in Kentucky.

On the other side of the Guantánamo quagmire are those detainees who will never be charged, the ones Carol Rosenberg originally dubbed the “forever prisoners.” Eighteen of them have now actually been cleared for release by the prison’s Periodic Review Board. For those forever detainees to actually exit the prison, however, depends upon diplomatic arrangements with other countries.

To date, such detainees have gone to at least 60 countries in Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. At least 150 of them were sent to nations other than those in which they had been citizens. Those transfers were arranged by the special envoy for the State Department’s Guantánamo closure office, which itself was closed during Donald Trump’s presidency and remains so today. Reopening it is a necessary step towards emptying Guantánamo of its forever detainees.

Unfortunately, it’s most likely that new ways will be discovered to kick the ball of closure endlessly down the road. As attorney Tom Wilner, who has worked as a human rights lawyer on behalf of several of the detainees, said at a panel held to commemorate the prison’s 20th anniversary, “The military commissions aren’t ever going to work.”

Meanwhile, when it comes to those who are not yet charged but have been authorized for transfer, there’s no guarantee that such releases will actually occur any time soon.

The Longer Legacy

In the legal quagmire the U.S. has created, there is, in fact, no easy solution to closing Guantanamo.

It’s worth noting, as well, that even were the Biden administration capable of implementing an immediate, aggressive strategy to shut the prison down, the horrors it unleashed are guaranteed to linger well into the future. “There are some problems of Guantánamo that will never go away,” Daniel Fried, President Barack Obama’s first special envoy for closure, admitted to the Guardian recently.

For one thing, the multi-decade inability of the American legal system to try such prisoners, either on or offshore, has left a stain on the competency of the country’s judicial system, civilian and military, as well as on Congress’s ability to create legitimate workable alternatives to that very system. Not being able, of all things, even to bring the alleged 9/11 attack co-conspirators, already in custody at Guantánamo Bay, to any court sends a message that American justice in the twenty-first century is incapable of handling such incredibly important cases.

And when it comes to the detainees who have been transferred elsewhere in the world, the story is hardly less grim. As the Guardian has reported, those sent to third countries regularly encountered further forms of deprivation, cruelty, imprisonment, or torture. Often unschooled in the language of their host countries, denied travel papers, and stigmatized due to their Guantánamo past, “released” detainees found, as a Washington Post report summed it up, that “life after Guantánamo is its own kind of prison.”

Mansoor Adayfi, a detainee transferred to Serbia rather than his home country of Yemen, has described the dire conditions of post-prison life in his book Don’t Forget Us Here, referring to it as “Guantánamo 2.0.” As he told the Intercept’s Cora Currier recently, “Released, I have been detained, beaten, arrested, and they have my friends harassed, interrogated.” And that, of course, is after, like so many prisoners in that island jail, having been regularly beaten, force-fed, and kept in solitary confinement while there.

In such a context, the plan for an all-new courtroom takes on a new kind of significance.

The Courtroom, Then and Now

From the very beginning of Guantánamo, the courthouse at that U.S. base on the island of Cuba has served as a revealing symbol of the prison’s venality.

In the first days of that war-on-terror detention camp, as I described in my book The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days, Captain Bob Buehn, then the naval base commander there, gave himself the mission of finding a proper plot of land on which to build a courtroom to try the detainees arriving by the plane load. He considered it his duty to do so, only to quickly grasp that no one in power considered this the prison’s objective and that no such plans would be forthcoming any time soon.

As Major General Michael Lehnert, the commander of that detention facility at the time of its opening, reminded me recently, the initial mission was about “intelligence collection,” not trials. Accordingly, it wasn’t until two years later that hearings even began for the detainees — and then only for a few of them.

Originally, those proceedings took place in a windowless room constructed to ensure security and secrecy, a room far too small for its purpose. Once a formal version of the military commissions was authorized by Congress in the Military Commissions Act of 2006, a new facility was built that included a state-of-the-art SCIF (sensitive compartmented information facility), a carefully “secured” room meant to be a classified setting. It was an ugly irony, however, that underneath that room was a toxic waste dump, with all the perils to lawyers and others you might imagine. Sometimes all too literally reeking of the environmental misdeeds of the past, the new courtroom has gone forward on a poisoned path of its own, somehow trying to avoid the information extracted by torture that lay at the heart of the cases waiting to be tried.

Now, a new building is going up, even more wed to secrecy as well as to the suppression of the torture the defendants endured at American hands. As Carol Rosenberg reports, it will be wrapped in yet more secrecy, since the “current war court chamber” did at least allow spectators. The new one won’t. “Only people with a secret clearance,” Rosenberg reports, “such as members of the intelligence community and specially cleared guards and lawyers, will be allowed inside the new chamber.” Observers, including the family members of victims, will have to watch by video feed.

Fifteen years ago, when plans for the current courtroom were introduced, the ACLU asked senators to block funds for the building of the courthouse, arguing that “there is no need for an elaborate, permanent courthouse complex at Guantánamo Bay… Even President Bush has expressed his interest in substantially reducing the number of detainees at Guantánamo Bay and eventually closing it.” It’s remarkable how little progress has been made since then.

What former commander Bob Buehn discovered so long ago as a lack of appetite for trials of any kind has evolved over time into a “trial” system of endless delays that only help perpetuate the worst of Guantánamo, while eternally extending the life of that now globally notorious prison camp.

As Lee Wolosky, who served as President Obama’s special envoy for closure of Guantánamo, wrote on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of that prison: “In large part, the Guantánamo mess is self-inflicted — a result of our own decisions to engage in torture, hold detainees indefinitely without charge, set up dysfunctional military commissions, and attempt to avoid oversight by the federal courts… [I]t is past time,” he concluded, “to retire this relic of the forever wars.”

The country would do well to heed his words once and for all and so avoid a 30th anniversary of an American institution that has so violated the norms of justice, decency, and the rule of law.

Copyright 2022 Karen J. Greenberg

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel, Songlands (the final one in his Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Karen J. Greenberg, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law and author of the newly published Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of Democracy from the War on Terror to Donald Trump (Princeton University Press). Julia Tedesco helped with research for this piece.

Judge releases Jan. 6 insurgent into parents’ custody — says no more Fox News at home

Thomas Sibick is accused of ripping off DC Metro Police Officer Michael Fanone's badge and radio during the melee that left Officer Fanone unconscious. The Buffalo, New York, resident tried to lie his way out of an arrest, after video evidence—including images of Sibick showing off a stolen riot shield after the attack—was shared with the FBI online. Sibick faces up to 15 years in prison for his part in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots and insurrection, with charges that include the assault and robbery of Officer Fanone.

On Tuesday, after being denied bond since his arrest in March, including a second denial from the same judge less than a month ago, U.S. District Judge Amy B. Jackson ordered that the 35-year-old Sibick be released into the custody of his parents, in upstate New York, on conditions. One of those conditions is that Sibick is prohibited from watching any political television shows. But there is more.

When Sibick finally turned himself in to authorities, it came after first lying about his participation in the assault on Officer Fanone, then lying about the badge and radio he took from the fallen law enforcement officer. According to one of the complaints filed by investigators, Sibick first claimed he hadn't taken anything off of the officer, then claimed he had dropped both the radio and badge immediately after grabbing them from Fanone. Then, he claims, he dropped the items into a trash bin somewhere in Washington, D.C. Sibick later told investigators that he dumped the items in a trash bin somewhere in Buffalo, New York. And finally, the government was able to produce Officer Fanone's stolen badge after Sibick told them he had buried it in the backyard of his home.

The violent nature of the charges against Sibick had all but guaranteed he would remain in jail until his hearing. His lawyer, Stephen Brennwald, has argued that Sibick is a helpful person, as attested to by jail officials. Sibick's lawyer has also argued that his client was actually trying to pull Officer Fanone to safety—not attempting to steal his badge. This argument, which was posited earlier in October in hopes of securing a release for Sibick, was denied by Judge Jackson at the time, who said: "He took his own unique, independent, purposeful action. The video clearly shows moving his left hand in and then his right hand in. Not at the same time, moving in with both hands to pull up."

According to Law & Crime, there are a few reasons Judge Jackson decided to take a chance on releasing Sibick into his parents' custody: mental health; deteriorating conditions in the jail where the January 6, dunderheads are housed (particularly for someone in a possible mental health crisis); and right-wing propaganda's heightened rhetoric and misinformation as a trigger for someone with unmanaged mental health considerations.

Specifically, Judge Jackson cited a new mental health diagnosis presented by Sibick's defense. The details of that diagnosis are not clear. Judge Jackson told Sibick during the bond hearing that she was "very glad to hear that the defendant thinks with the appropriate diagnosis, he has a handle on it now, on this new approach and new diagnosis."

Telling the court that she did not feel Sibick's ongoing detention has been a mistake, Judge Jackson explained: "His detention was not a disgrace to our country. Mr. Sibick's actions were." But that new evidence was being presented in this case, and that along with the new mental health diagnosis led the judge to make this consideration.

Sibick's lawyer submitted a letter from prison officials that said Sibick was voluntarily asking to be put "in the hole," solitary confinement, in order to stay away from other Jan. 6 insurgents and their cult-like rituals. According to Sibick's lawyer, Sibick's good behavior toward the jail staff and his reluctance to participate in the "so-called Patriot Wing of the D.C. Correctional Treatment Facility's" bizarre jingoism—like singing the Star-Spangled Banner at attention every night at 9 p.m.—had led to harassment from fellow MAGAs.

"I think the court may know this but every night at 9:00 p.m., the folks there stand up and sing the Star-Spangled Banner," Brennwald said. "I was on the phone with [Sibick] a month ago and we talked, and in the middle of our talk he said 'I have to put the phone down, I'll be right back. They'll be angry of I don't go over there.'"
"It was literally this herd mentality," Brennwald added. "They're literally singing, most of them off-key, literally singing the song, almost cult-like. It was pretty scary actually."

According to Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press, who has been at the courthouse covering these hearings, Judge Jackson gave the standard warnings about no firearms in the home, and no social media interaction for Sibick. "You must continue your medical or psychiatric treatment. You're barred from possession on a firearm and you're on home incarceration except for medical or legal. You'll submit to location monitoring and pay the cost based on your ability to do so." She said that if a fixed employment opportunity presented itself, Sibick could appeal to the court for consideration and that he could go once a week with his parents to church.

Brennwald told the court that Sibick's mother is left-leaning, while his father is right-leaning. "I'll tell you this, we were finishing up our dinner last night and I asked, 'How do you get along, one a Republican and a Democrat?' And my client's father cited Reagan and Tip O'Neill. He cited Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. If you ordered them not to watch TV, he would be fine with that. He would like his son home."

As for the prohibition of "political" media for Sibick, this reportedly came after Judge Jackson inquired about what media or person had helped fuel the fired-up Sibick to believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Brennwald told the judge that after consulting with his client, "I thought it might have been OANN or Newsmax, but it wasn't. It was Fox News… He was literally watching Fox News and in a manic phase that day, over a period of days."

Eugene Sibick, Thomas's father and a former Naval officer, told the judge that he no longer watched political news at home and this would not be an issue. A fundraiser set up under the name "Eugene Sibick," titled "My son is a Political Prisoner," might contradict this assertion. Whether this account belongs to the Sibick family is not verified.

Here is a video of Sibick taking both the badge and radio off of Fanone during the chaos that left Officer Fanone badly hurt.

Capitol riot video appears to show Thomas Sibick taking badge, radio from Officer Michael Fanone www.youtube.com

The state of our bail system is a travesty of justice

Since January, a dozen people have died while awaiting trial at Rikers prison in New York City. There has been a 27 percent increase in violent incidents compared to last year. Fifteen people have died at Harris County jail in Texas over three months, according to activists. A Reuters investigation found that between 2008 and 2019 nearly 5,000 people died inside jails nationwide. None were convicted. Reporters found a 35 percent rise in inmate deaths even before the covid pandemic ravaged overcrowded prisons. The current state of our bail system means that you don't need to be convicted of a crime to lose your rights — or face a death sentence. How can we claim people are innocent until proven guilty if they face jail time without trial?

There are typically around half a million people held in jail awaiting trial at any given time. These are people who have not been convicted of any charge but are awaiting trial. Holding people in jail, particularly for minor and non-violent offenses, amounts to punishing people who have not been convicted of a crime. Considering the state of our jails, people typically face violence, solitary confinement and a denial of rights without the full due process of law. Technically, those held while awaiting trial have the benefit of a bail hearing. But the imposition of pre-trial detention is arbitrary and often based on the whims of individual judges. The process creates a different judicial system for those without money, as the vast majority of people in custody awaiting trial are there because they can't afford bail.

Theoretically, those held in pretrial detention are being kept in custody to guarantee they appear in court. However, because they are treated as prisoners, though presumptively innocent, their rights are heavily curtailed. It is long accepted law that those who have been convicted of a crime do not have full access to their full rights. Pre-trial detention applies this standard to those who have just been charged with a crime, in practice if not legally, as long as the treatment of pre-trial detainees is not being imposed out of "punishment."

In 1979's Bell v. Wolfish, the United States Supreme Court created this "punishment" test. It held that restrictions on pre-trial detainees are unconstitutional only if they concern an independent constitutional right or qualify as a punishment. Practices reasonably related to managing a detention facility were not considered punishments. Prohibitions on contact visits, cavity searches or shared occupancy in a cell only meant for one were therefore constitutional for pre-trial detainees who had not yet been convicted of any crime.

The standard for considering restrictions on the rights of pre-trial detainees? If they were intended to punish or if they were reasonable practice for maintaining a facility. Courts tend to side with correction departments when determining such cases. A 2015 Supreme Court case, Kingsley v. Hendrickson, ruled that those in pre-trial detention have a lower burden for proving excessive force than someone who had been convicted of a crime and was serving out their sentence. However, implied in the case was that those held awaiting trial would be subject to "reasonable" force to keep them in line in jail.

Restrictions on contact visits are particularly violating when one considers that women are less likely to be able to afford bail and more likely to be held in custody while awaiting trial. Sixty-six percent of women in pre-trial detention have minor children. Without bail, a single mother without a safety net faces the involvement of the state's family court system and the possibility of her children being placed in foster care. Yet according to the standard the courts use to determine the treatment of pretrial detainees, losing contact with one's children, and possibly losing them permanently to the state, is not "punishment" or a violation of that presumptively innocent person's full rights.

Before the pandemic, there was some interest in bail reform. New York state passed a bail reform bill in 2019 and amended it in April 2020. It went into effect July 1 that year. The reform's initial intent was to dramatically decrease the number of people incarcerated awaiting trial by changing the process of imposing cash bail. The bill was expected to eliminate cash bail for up to 90 percent of arrests, but the April 2020 revisions expanded the qualifying cash bail cases. By expanding the types of cases eligible for cash bail, more people are held in pretrial detention unable to afford bail. The current law still prohibits cash bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. The expanded list of charges where cash bail is permitted has left bail mostly under the discretion of the individual judge. However, amending the original law prevented the needed dramatic decrease in pretrial detainees during the pandemic. Bail reform was also an issue in the 2020 Democratic primary with many candidates calling for ending or reforming cash bail. Unfortunately, federal action has stalled.

Despite calls to reduce prison populations during the pandemic, little has been done to protect prisoners, convicted or awaiting trial. In the first 13 months of the pandemic, 31,000 federal prisoners sought compassionate release. The Bureau of Prisons released 36. By June 2021, half a million had contracted covid. At the end of 2020 an estimated one in five prisoners had covid. In some states responses to the pandemic, like postponing trials, kept people jailed longer. Texas prison authorities tried reducing the population by releasing medically vulnerable inmates but Governor Greg Abbott limited their authority. In Alabama, rather than reducing the overall population, lawmakers intend to use covid relief funds to build new prisons, claiming this will lessen overcrowding and reduce the spread of the disease.

Covid has shown how dangerous pre-trial detention is, but the pandemic didn't create the crisis. People are being held for months, or years, without being convicted of a crime. They have little recourse to remedy their situations. The pressure of pre-trial detention increases the likelihood a person will plead guilty. Pre-trial detention is a classist denial of constitutional rights but it also costs the government 13.6 billion a year. We must see detention is itself punishment and encourage judges to explore other avenues of guaranteeing a person shows up for trial. Investing in ankle monitoring devices would save the government money and better protect the rights of the accused.

'Unconscionable' and 'insane': Black children in Tennessee were jailed for a crime that doesn't even exist

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Chapter 1: “What in the World?"

Friday, April 15, 2016: Hobgood Elementary School, Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Three police officers were crowded into the assistant principal's office at Hobgood Elementary School, and Tammy Garrett, the school's principal, had no idea what to do. One officer, wearing a tactical vest, was telling her: Go get the kids. A second officer was telling her: Don't go get the kids. The third officer wasn't saying anything.

Garrett knew the police had been sent to arrest some children, although exactly which children, it would turn out, was unclear to everyone, even to these officers. The names police had given the principal included four girls, now sitting in classrooms throughout the school. All four girls were Black. There was a sixth grader, two fourth graders and a third grader. The youngest was 8. On this sunny Friday afternoon in spring, she wore her hair in pigtails.

A few weeks before, a video had appeared on YouTube. It showed two small boys, 5 and 6 years old, throwing feeble punches at a larger boy as he walked away, while other kids tagged along, some yelling. The scuffle took place off school grounds, after a game of pickup basketball. One kid insulted another kid's mother, is what started it all.

The police were at Hobgood because of that video. But they hadn't come for the boys who threw punches. They were here for the children who looked on. The police in Murfreesboro, a fast-growing city about 30 miles southeast of Nashville, had secured juvenile petitions for 10 children in all who were accused of failing to stop the fight. Officers were now rounding up kids, even though the department couldn't identify a single one in the video, which was posted with a filter that made faces fuzzy. What was clear were the voices, including that of one girl trying to break up the fight, saying: “Stop, Tay-Tay. Stop, Tay-Tay. Stop, Tay-Tay." She was a fourth grader at Hobgood. Her initials were E.J.

The confusion at Hobgood — one officer saying this, another saying that — could be traced in part to absence. A police officer regularly assigned to Hobgood, who knew the students and staff, had bailed that morning after learning about the planned arrests. The thought of arresting these children caused him such stress that he feared he might cry in front of them. Or have a heart attack. He wanted nothing to do with it, so he complained of chest pains and went home, with no warning to his fill-in about what was in store.

Also absent was the police officer who had investigated the video and instigated these arrests, Chrystal Templeton. She had assured the principal she would be there. She had also told Garrett there would be no handcuffs, that police would be discreet. But Templeton was a no-show. Garrett even texted her — “How's timing?" — but got no answer.

Instead of going to Hobgood, Templeton had spent the afternoon gathering the petitions, then heading to the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center, a two-tiered jail for children with dozens of surveillance cameras, 48 cells and 64 beds. There, she waited for the kids to be brought to her.

In Rutherford County, a juvenile court judge had been directing police on what she called “our process" for arresting children, and she appointed the jailer, who employed a “filter system" to determine which children to hold.

The judge was proud of what she had helped build, despite some alarming numbers buried in state reports.

Among cases referred to juvenile court, the statewide average for how often children were locked up was 5%.

In Rutherford County, it was 48%.

In the assistant principal's office at Hobgood, the officer telling Garrett not to get the kids was Chris Williams. Williams, who is Black, had been a Murfreesboro cop for five years. “What in the world?" he thought, when he learned what these arrests were about. At Hobgood, two-thirds of the students were Black or Latino. Williams wondered if such arrests would be made at a school that was mostly white. He had a daughter who was 9. He pictured her being arrested. This is going to blow up, he thought; I'm going to end up in federal court over this. He considered quitting, but instead tried to get someone to intervene. Tucked in an office corner, he called a sergeant, a lieutenant and a major, but couldn't find anyone to call it off.

The officer not saying anything was Albert Miles III. Growing up, Miles, who is Black, had friends who hated the police. But Miles' dad was a cop. Miles wanted to prove that police could be trusted. That afternoon, Miles had been pulled out of roll call along with another officer; a sergeant told the two to go arrest some kids at Hobgood. The sergeant didn't say why, but at Hobgood, Miles started picking up details. Miles, too, wondered if these arrests would happen at a school full of white students.

The third officer at Hobgood was Jeff Carroll. He'd been pulled out of roll call with Miles. Carroll, who is white, was a patrol officer and SWAT team member. In evaluations, supervisors praised him as a leader, “cool under pressure." Carroll also had no idea what these arrests were about. But his sergeant had ordered them, and he followed orders. Carroll was the officer telling the principal: Go get the kids.

Garrett asked if she could call their parents first. Carroll told her no. Garrett told the police that one girl had diabetes and got treatment when she arrived home after school. Please, the principal said. Let me call her parent. On this, the police ultimately compromised, saying the girl could get a shot in the nurse's office before being taken to the jail.

Of the two officers telling Garrett what to do — get the kids, don't get the kids — Carroll seemed the more aggressive, the principal would say later. She agreed to get the kids.

Having these arrests take place at Hobgood was not something school officials wanted. They wanted kids to feel safe at school. Garrett grew up poor. Nine-tenths of her students were poor. Years before, Hobgood had struggled academically. Now it was a celebrated success. Garrett and her staff had worked to build trust with parents, with students. “I don't give up on kids," Garrett says. But she knew that trust is fragile, and trauma endures.

As Garrett gathered the girls from their classrooms, she believed the police would at least avoid a spectacle. School let out at 2:30. That was minutes away. Garrett's understanding was that the police would keep the girls in the office until school was dismissed and everyone else was gone.

Garrett rounded up the sixth grader, a tall girl with braids who had visions of becoming a police officer; one of the fourth graders, the girl with diabetes; and the 8-year-old third grader. In the hallway, the principal tried to prepare them, saying the police were there regarding a video of a fight. Hearing this, the sixth grader told Garrett that the two other girls hadn't even been there.

After returning to the office with the three girls, Garrett relayed to police what the sixth grader had told her.

Her words were barely out when Carroll made it clear he'd had enough, Garrett said later when interviewed as part of an internal police investigation.

Carroll pulled out handcuffs and put them “right in my face," Garrett recalled.

“And he said, 'We're going now, we're going now, there's no more talk, and we're going now.'

“And I said, 'But, but, but.'"

Carroll yelled at her, Garrett said. She felt intimidated. Bullied. She worried that if she said any more, she might be arrested herself. “And so I backed off."

By now the girls were crying and screaming and reaching for the principal, who was also crying, as was the assistant principal. “And it was, it was, it was awful," Garrett later said.

Carroll handcuffed the sixth grader. Later, asked why, he said because policy allowed him to. After being handcuffed, the sixth grader fell to her knees.

Miles handcuffed the 8-year-old with pigtails. “Just acting out of habit," he said later. Walking to a patrol car, Miles stopped and thought, “Wait a minute," and removed the cuffs. “I guess my brain finally caught up with what was going on."

While Carroll drove those two girls to the jail, the fourth grader with diabetes stayed behind to see the nurse. She was sisters with the sixth grader; her initials were C.C.

In all this back and forth, Principal Garrett realized something. The other fourth grader. She had forgotten about her. And now, school was out. The girl had boarded her bus, and was waiting to go home.

The other fourth grader was E.J. Although she'd said “stop," she was on the police's list to be picked up for encouraging the fight.

Go get her, the police told Garrett.

Garrett was still crying. She didn't want to go out to the line of buses and let all those kids see her like that. But she went, feeling she had little choice.

A teacher beckoned E.J. off the bus. Then Garrett escorted her inside, to the awaiting police. E.J., scared and confused, begged for her mother — and threw up on the floor.

The two fourth graders still at Hobgood, E.J. and C.C., were best friends. Williams and Miles walked the girls outside, not handcuffing either. With some parents joining in, the officers formed a prayer circle around the two girls. Miles prayed out loud for the kids to be protected and for God to bring peace and understanding. Then he buckled the fourth graders into a patrol car and drove off. On the way to jail the girls cried, “snot and all," E.J. would say later. Garrett, meanwhile, pulled out her personal cellphone and began calling parents, no longer willing to do as the police commanded.

For the officers, the confusion didn't end at the school. It continued once the children began arriving at the jail.

When Carroll walked in with the first two girls, Templeton, the investigating officer, pointed to the 8-year-old and asked what she was doing there. The police had no petition for her, Templeton said. The 8-year-old's mother soon arrived and took her child home.

Miles brought in the last two girls, the two fourth graders. Then, walking out to his patrol car, he ran into an angry parent, Miles would recall later. It was a father demanding answers. Miles dropped his head, shaking it. The father asked why this was happening. I don't know, Miles answered. We are good people, the father said. I can only imagine what you're feeling, Miles answered. He explained, briefly, the juvenile court process. This is wrong, the father told Miles, over and over. After the third time, Miles, fighting back tears, said he understood, as a parent himself, the father's anger and pain.

Fuck you, the father said.

I understand, Miles answered.

Only later, when he returned to the police station, did Miles allow himself to cry.

When the parent asked why this was happening, Miles had been unable to say. But the answer traces to individual missteps and institutional breakdowns — all on a grand scale.

What happened on that Friday and in the days after, when police rounded up even more kids, would expose an ugly and unsettling culture in Rutherford County, one spanning decades. In the wake of these mass arrests, lawyers would see inside a secretive legal system that's supposed to protect kids, but in this county did the opposite. Officials flouted the law by wrongfully arresting and jailing children. One of their worst practices was stopped following the events at Hobgood, but the conditions that allowed the lawlessness remain. The adults in charge failed. Yet they're still in charge. Tennessee's systems for protecting children failed. Yet they haven't been fixed.

Chapter 2: “The Mother of the County"

Eleven children in all were arrested over the video, including the 8-year-old taken in by mistake. Media picked up the story. Parents and community leaders condemned the actions of police. “Unimaginable, unfathomable," a Nashville pastor said. “Unconscionable," “inexcusable," “insane," three state legislators said. But Rutherford County's juvenile court judge focused instead on the state of youth, telling a local TV station: “We are in a crisis with our children in Rutherford County. ... I've never seen it this bad."

Rutherford County established the position of elected juvenile court judge in 2000, and ever since, Donna Scott Davenport has been the job's only holder. She sometimes calls herself the “mother of the county."

Davenport runs the juvenile justice system, appointing magistrates, setting rules and presiding over cases that include everything from children accused of breaking the law to parents accused of neglecting their children. While the county's mayor, sheriff and commissioners have turned over, she has stayed on, becoming a looming figure for thousands of families. “She's been the judge ever since I was a kid," said one mother whose own kids have cycled through Davenport's courtroom. One man, now in his late 20s, said that when he was a kid in trouble, he would pray for a magistrate instead of Davenport: “If she's having a bad day, most definitely, you're going to have a bad day."

While juvenile court is mostly private, Davenport keeps a highly public profile. For the past 10 years she's had a monthly radio segment on WGNS, a local station where she talks about her work.

She sees a breakdown in morals. Children lack respect: “It's worse now than I've ever seen it," she said in 2012. Parents don't parent: “It's just the worst I've ever seen," she said in 2017. On WGNS, Davenport reminisces with the show's host about a time when families ate dinner together and parents always knew where their children were and what friends they were with because kids called home from a landline, not some could-be-anywhere cellphone. Video games, the internet, social media — it's all poison for children, the judge says.

Davenport describes her work as a calling. “I'm here on a mission. It's not a job. It's God's mission," she told a local newspaper. The children in her courtroom aren't hers, but she calls them hers. “I'm seeing a lot of aggression in my 9- and 10-year-olds," she says in one radio segment.

She encourages parents troubled by their children's behavior to use over-the-counter kits to test them for drugs. “Don't buy them at the Dollar Tree," she says on the radio. “The best ones are your reputable drugstores."

Scrutinizing the inner workings of Tennessee's juvenile courts can be difficult. Court files are mostly off-limits; proceedings can be closed at a judge's discretion. But on the radio, Davenport provides listeners a glimpse of the court's work. “I've locked up one 7-year-old in 13 years, and that was a heartbreak," she said in 2012. “But 8- and 9-year-olds, and older, are very common now."

Davenport has lots of favorite sayings. “God don't make no junk," she says to kids, to instill self-worth. To instill fear, she will say, “I'm going to let you be young and dumb — one time." There's no jury in juvenile court, so Davenport decides the facts as well as the law. “And that is why I should get 12 times the pay," she likes to joke.

Davenport enforces a strict dress code in her courtroom, requiring people to “show deference." There will be no untucked shirts. No sundresses, spaghetti straps or spandex. No body piercings, no uncovered tattoos. Pants shall be pulled up, and if a child shows up without a belt, the judge keeps a bag of them, and if she runs out, “you'll just have to make do with a piece of rope," one newspaper profile said.

Davenport says children need consequences. “Being detained in our facility is not a picnic at all," she says on the radio. “It's not supposed to be. It's a consequence for an action."

Davenport's tough talk — and the county's high detention rate — go against a reform movement that started about the same time she went on the bench. Beginning in the late 1990s, the number of kids in lockup began to decline, both nationally and in Tennessee.

Davenport, now 69, grew up in Mt. Juliet, a Nashville suburb. She attended Middle Tennessee State University, in Murfreesboro, majoring in criminal justice.

On the radio, Davenport says she has been “blessed" with an extensive history in law enforcement: “I was trained well in 17 years by different law enforcement agencies." As a juvenile court judge, she says, she can spot “subtle signs" of gang activity, “wearing something to the right or to the left, or a color here or a color there."

Her description of her job history doesn't always match employment records.

Davenport, in a sworn deposition, said her law enforcement career began in 1977 at MTSU, where, as a student, she worked full time as a university police officer for two to three years. But her MTSU personnel file shows her being a part-time dispatcher, then a full-time clerk-typist, then a full-time secretary.

In 1980, Davenport started as a dispatcher for the Murfreesboro Police Department. Then she took another job — not in law enforcement, but in the law department for Nashville, investigating financial claims that might include anything from car accidents to slip-and-falls.

At night, Davenport went to law school. She graduated in 1986. That same year, she told lawyers in a deposition, “I started with the feds." She told radio listeners that for eight years she was “with the U.S. Justice Department, where I analyzed and tracked and helped identify serial killers." But this job wasn't with the Justice Department. Her employer, Regional Information Sharing Systems, received federal funding but isn't a federal agency.

She then became a private investigator, handling “mostly divorces," she told lawyers.

In a deposition, Davenport said she first took the bar exam about a year after finishing law school. She failed, then kept trying.

“How — how many times have you taken the bar?" an attorney asked her.

“I passed on the fifth time," she said.

She was admitted to practice law in 1995, nine years after getting her law degree.

In 1998, she became a juvenile court referee, akin to a judge. One of the county's judges appointed her. (Asked why, he recently said, “I really can't go back and tell you.")

The following year, Rutherford County violated federal law 191 times by keeping kids locked up too long, according to a story later published by The Tennessean. By law, children held for such minor acts as truancy were to appear before a judge within 24 hours and be released no more than a day after that. The newspaper interviewed Davenport, who estimated half those violations occurred because a kid had cursed her or someone else. For cursing, she said, she typically sentenced kids to two to 10 days in jail. “Was I in violation?" she said. “Heck, yes. But am I going to allow a child to cuss anyone out? Heck, no."

In August 2000 — less than three months after the story was published — Rutherford County elected Davenport to the newly created job of juvenile court judge. Her opponent, a major in the sheriff's department, was later charged with sex crimes against minors and, in a plea deal, got probation. Davenport has not had another opponent since.

With juveniles, police in Tennessee typically avoid cuffs and custody, particularly in less serious cases. They instead serve summonses instructing kids and their parents to show up in court.

But that wasn't the routine in Rutherford County. When the Murfreesboro officers arrested the kids at Hobgood, they were following Davenport's “process": arrest, transport to the detention center for screening, then file charging papers. “IT IS SO ORDERED," Davenport wrote in a 2003 memo about her instructions. Four years later she declared that even kids accused of minor violations like truancy must be taken into custody and transported to jail.

Davenport once told Murfreesboro's Daily News Journal: “I know I'm harsh, I'm very harsh. I like to think I'm fair, but I'm tough."

In 2016, the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded Davenport. In a family law matter, a father's lawyers had asked to move his case to another county. By law, they were allowed to. But Davenport called “the father and/or his attorneys" a “sneaky snake," the reprimand said. What's more, she ordered that a transcript of her words be forwarded, possibly tipping the next judge to her animosity. The reprimand found that Davenport's “intemperate conduct" threatened the right to a fair hearing.

In some other cases, appeals courts have taken Davenport to task through unusually blunt language.

In one, Davenport was overturned twice. Davenport, finding that a mother had neglected her daughter, granted custody to another couple. Two higher courts disagreed and ordered Davenport to reunify the mother and child. Instead, Davenport terminated the mother's parental rights. The other couple then adopted the girl, after being “exhorted" by Davenport to move quickly, according to a state Court of Appeals opinion.

The adoption went through while a challenge to Davenport's parental termination ruling was still pending. In the second go-round, a state appeals court judge made clear his displeasure, saying, during oral argument, “Our little system works pretty simply": If a higher court tells a lower court to do something, the lower court does it. “That didn't happen in this case," he said. Two months later, the appeals court overruled Davenport for a second time. Saying it was “troubled by the proceedings to this point," the court ordered Davenport to reunite the mother and child — “expeditiously."

Davenport, through a spokesperson, declined our interview request, to which we attached 13 pages of questions. Previously, when asked about the county's arrest practices, Davenport told lawyers that she “can't tell law enforcement what to do." She told a local newspaper that her court produces “a lot of success stories." She told radio listeners, “I want the children that come in front of me to leave better than they came in."

Chapter 3: “Yeah, That's the Charge"

Friday, April 15, 2016: Judicial Commissioners' office, Murfreesboro, Tennessee

On the same Friday afternoon as three police officers jammed into the assistant principal's office at Hobgood Elementary School, three other people huddled in another office a few miles away, to discuss what charge these kids could face.

Chrystal Templeton, the police officer investigating the video, wanted to arrest every kid who watched the fight and “get them all in front" of Davenport, she would say later during an internal police investigation. Charging them was helping them, Templeton believed, because “juvenile court is about rehabilitation."

Templeton thought an appropriate charge might be conspiracy to commit assault. But then she met with Amy Anderson and Sherry Hamlett, two judicial commissioners authorized by Rutherford County to issue arrest warrants. Anderson told Templeton that she thought the only child who could be charged with conspiring was the kid who recorded video of the fight on a cellphone.

So they went in search of another charge, with Hamlett checking the state's criminal code on a computer.

Templeton had joined the Murfreesboro Police Department in 1998, when she was 21. By the time of the arrests at Hobgood, she had been disciplined at least 37 times, including nine suspensions. She once left a loaded pistol on the seat of a patrol car, according to her personnel file. During a pursuit, she failed to turn on her dash cam. Another time she lost control of her patrol car and hit a Ford Explorer, which, in turn, hit a Nissan Pathfinder while Templeton's patrol unit, spinning, smacked a Toyota Sequoia. In all, four cars were damaged and seven people injured, including Templeton.

In the lead-up to the Hobgood arrests, Garrett, the school's principal, had heard grumbling about Templeton. Templeton was a school resource officer — not at Hobgood, but at two other schools in Murfreesboro. Both schools' principals complained that Templeton was often absent. Meanwhile, one of Hobgood's resource officers warned Garrett that Templeton's handling of the case was going to cause a “shitstorm." But that officer didn't share her concerns with police higher-ups. She believed Templeton's sergeant always made excuses for her, so what was the point?

Templeton had begun investigating on Wednesday, two days earlier. To try and identify all the kids, she asked around at schools and in the neighborhood where the fight took place. One parent she approached for help was E.J.'s mom. Templeton assured her no one was in trouble, that she just wanted to give the kids a talking-to, E.J.'s mom would say later. E.J., who was with her mom during this meeting, said she had been there. It was her on the video saying, “Stop, Tay-Tay." On a piece of paper, on the hood of Templeton's patrol car, E.J. and another girl who was with them listed the onlookers. And that was Templeton's investigation. “My case is the video and the list," she would say later, even though she couldn't match any bystander to any image in the video.

The victim, the boy being punched, told Templeton the kids were all friends now. Templeton told him she understood. She then asked the child, “Do you think that there needs to be some consequences for what happened?" she would later recall. “And he said yes."

Templeton wanted guidance. She believed the boys throwing punches were too young to be charged with a crime. An assistant district attorney agreed. The assistant DA also told Templeton she didn't believe there was any single charge appropriate for all the kids gathered around. But Templeton still wanted to charge them all.

Inside the judicial commissioners' office, Hamlett discovered an alternative to conspiracy to commit assault.

Her search turned up a Tennessee statute defining “criminal responsibility for conduct of another." It says, in part: A person is “criminally responsible" for an offense committed by another if “the person causes or aids an innocent or irresponsible person to engage in" the offense, or directs another to commit the offense, or “fails to make a reasonable effort to prevent commission of the offense."

Hamlett shared her find with Templeton. They went through the statute line by line, with Anderson joining in.

“I looked at the charge to the best of my ability, from my experience was like, 'Yeah, that's, that's the charge,'" Templeton would later say. (When she subsequently apprised a higher-up in the police department, the higher-up wasn't so sure. But he didn't warn her off. “No one ever said no," Templeton said later, adding, “If somebody told me, 'No, stop,' I would have stopped.")

In the United States, it is typically the prosecutor's job to review a police investigation and decide what charges, if any, to file. But Tennessee allows counties to hire judicial commissioners to fill this role. From issuing warrants to setting bail to conducting probable cause hearings, Rutherford County's judicial commissioners can take on tasks that traditionally fall to judges or prosecutors — without needing the legal training of either.

County judges recommend people for the job. County commissioners appoint them.

Rutherford County opens the job to anyone with a Tennessee driver's license and a high school diploma, supplemented by some college-level course work or vocational training and some office work.

Anderson, a county employee since 1998, was disciplined shortly before this case. According to investigative records, she had passed a note to a sheriff's clerk. The clerk tore it up, then left with Anderson. Someone fished the note's scraps from the trash and taped them together. The note read: “Could I get a few? If not, that's fine. It's my hip."

In an internal sheriff's investigation, the clerk admitted giving Anderson two prescription painkillers. That was illegal, a lieutenant wrote. He informed a county judge, who said they “would handle the situation administratively." Anderson received a letter of warning, according to her personnel file.

Hamlett started as a judicial commissioner in 2008, making $8.50 an hour. Her application listed a high school diploma, and no college. Her previous job was in a small-town post office where her responsibilities included “computer work and general office duties."

When Hamlett came up with “criminal responsibility for conduct of another" as a possible charge, there was a problem. It's not an actual charge. There is no such crime. It is rather a basis upon which someone can be accused of a crime. For example, a person who caused someone else to commit robbery would be charged with robbery, not “criminal responsibility."

But in the judicial commissioners' office that Friday afternoon, 10 petitions were issued, each charging a child with “criminal responsibility." The petitions didn't distinguish the kids' actions; the documents were cookie-cutter, saying each child “encouraged and caused" two other juveniles to commit an assault.

Templeton signed each petition. Anderson also signed at least some of them. Templeton then left the judicial commissioners' office, the 10 petitions in hand.

After the four arrests at Hobgood, other children named in the petitions were brought in by their parents or rounded up by police.

(Templeton, through her lawyer, declined to comment. Anderson and Hamlett did not respond to interview requests. A supervisor in the judicial commissioners' office told us the two had no comment, and neither did he.)

On Saturday, the day after the scene at Hobgood, police went to the home of a sister and brother who were 12-year-old twins. In court records they would be identified as J.B.#1 and J.B.#2. Officers arrested and handcuffed both children, even as the girl cried and begged to stay with her mother, and the mother pleaded with police not to use handcuffs. The mother recently said, “It hurt me to my heart ... for them to take my kids." Two of her other children watched the arrests, as did three of her nieces. Afterward, her other children had nightmares of being arrested, she said.

The officers put the twins in a patrol car and took them to the juvenile detention center to be processed.

Chapter 4: “We Will Hold the Juvenile"

When police took the 12-year-old twins to the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center on Saturday, April 16, 2016, the odds that either would be jailed were long, at least under Tennessee law.

Recognizing the harm that can come from incarcerating kids, Tennessee lawmakers have placed narrow limits on when a child accused of being delinquent can be held in a secure lockdown prior to receiving a court hearing. The child must fit one of six categories, precisely defined. They include being a jail escapee; being wanted elsewhere for a felony offense; or being accused, on substantial evidence, of a crime resulting in serious injury or death.

These two 12-year-olds were charged on negligible evidence with a crime that's not an actual crime for something in which no one was seriously hurt.

Rutherford County, however, had its own system for deciding whether to keep a child under lock and key. Its written procedure, imprecise and broad, boiled down to whether a child was considered by jailers to be a “TRUE threat." Jailers allowed the 12-year-old girl to go home. But they locked up her twin brother. Of the 10 children charged in this case, all Black, four were girls and six were boys. Every girl was released. Of the boys, four were jailed, according to court records.

Those four boys became a small part of a big group. In the fiscal year that encompassed April 2016, Rutherford County jailed 986 children for a total of 7,932 days.

J.B.#2, the 12-year-old boy, spent two nights in the detention center, court records show. While there, he was placed in solitary confinement as punishment for standing at his cell's window, a lawsuit would later allege. We recently interviewed J.B.#2, whose name is Jacorious Brinkley. (He's 18 now and is OK with us using his name.) A guard, Jacorious said, kept walking past his cell, “saying, like, 'You can't, you can't be by the door. You got to sit down.'"

The person who runs the detention center is Lynn Duke. Davenport initially picked someone else, but her first appointee was arrested on a drug charge only hours after receiving the congratulations of county commissioners. Davenport quickly named Duke as replacement. Duke, a former youth services officer, became director on Jan. 1, 2001, and has remained in that role ever since.

Duke reports to Davenport, but does not consult her daily. In 2005, Duke emailed the judge to say she was feeling guilty for not checking in more. “If you need me to do anything ... PLEASE TELL ME!" Duke wrote, to which Davenport replied: “GIRL, if I had any concerns or problems you would hear from me. YOU DO A GREAT JOB!!!!!"

When Duke first became director, the county detained kids in a deteriorated 19th-century jail separate from the court building. A local newspaper editorial bemoaned the sight this produced in the public square: kids, shackled together, in orange jumpsuits, “shuffling along the sidewalk and into the Judicial Building." “Not that we're afraid to see juveniles cuffed and heading toward justice, but it is a disturbing thing that could be avoided if juvenile court could be held at the detention center," the editorial said.

In 2003, Rutherford County hired a consulting firm to help design a new detention center. The next year the firm produced a lengthy report, alerting Rutherford County that it was locking up kids at an exceptionally high rate. Jailing children should be “the last of a number of options," the firm wrote. Less restrictive alternatives not only save money, they're “more effective in reducing recidivism," making them better for children and the community.

Scale down, the report recommended. Build a 35-bed juvenile detention center, with room to add on later. Also, build shelter care: 10 beds, in a residential setting, for runaways or other kids who pose no real threat to public safety.

In 2005, Rutherford County dropped the consulting firm and rejected its advice. The county opted for a 64-bed detention center, with no shelter care.

The center, attached to new courtrooms for Davenport and her magistrate, opened in 2008. The complex's cost, coupled with that of a nearby correctional work center for adults, was $23.3 million.

Duke and Davenport have gushed about their new workplace. A “dream come true," Davenport called it. They offer public tours. “You'll see booking ... bring your family … [have] a little piece of cake," Davenport told radio listeners in a 2015 segment. They also lauded the jail staff. “We are a well-oiled machine, so there is not much to report," Duke told county commissioners.

On occasion, news reports have revealed embarrassing staff breakdowns. Duke fired one officer who pepper-sprayed a kid in his cell, after which the kid chased the officer down and beat him up. (The officer, in a statement, said he was confident he followed procedure.)

In another case Duke promoted a corporal to sergeant despite a troubling disciplinary record; Duke then fired the sergeant after she entered a cell, removed her belt and struck a child with it, according to an internal investigation's findings. The sergeant denied hitting the child, saying she had just removed her belt and made a popping sound with it. (When we pulled this officer's personnel file, we discovered she had originally been recommended for hire by Davenport, who wrote a letter lauding her “professional demeanor" and “enthusiasm for the world of juvenile law.")

When the new center opened in 2008, Duke incorporated a “filter system" into the jail's written manual. When police arrest a child, they bring the child to jail. There, under the system, staff decide whether to hold the child before a detention hearing, which could take place days later. Say a child is hauled in for something minor, like skipping school. Under the filter system, the child would be locked up if deemed “unruly." But the filter system defines “unruly" simply as “a TRUE threat," while “TRUE threat" is not defined at all.

So any child, no matter the charge, who is considered a “TRUE threat," however that's interpreted, can end up being locked up.

Plus, the police can weigh in. In a 2013 email, Duke encouraged sheriff's officers to let her staff know if they wanted a child detained. “If they say I really want this kid held, 9 times out of 10 we can make it happen," she wrote. She went further in a memo to school resource officers, writing, “Even if we would normally release a juvenile ... any time a local law enforcement officer requests a juvenile be detained and agrees to come to court to testify we will hold the juvenile."

Detention center staff could be quizzed on the filter system when up for promotion, or disciplined for not applying it as written, according to personnel records. The staff member who made her way up to sergeant before being fired said in a deposition, “We were told when in doubt, hold them 'cause it's better to hold a kid ... that should have been released than release a child that should have been held."

In 2016, Jacorious Brinkley joined in a lawsuit asking for the filter system to be stopped. When Duke was deposed in 2017, she called the system a guideline. Asked when it applied and what it dictated, Duke repeatedly said, “Depends on the situation."

“Is it your policy or not?" a lawyer asked Duke.

“No. Yes. It — it's a policy to use it when necessary," Duke said.

Duke declined our request for an interview, writing in an email, “I appreciate your interest in Rutherford County and its youth, but decline to participate at this time." Elsewhere she has consistently expressed pride in her operation, saying Rutherford County has the “best juvenile detention center in the state of Tennessee."

Rutherford County doesn't just jail its own kids. It also contracts with other counties to detain their children, charging $175 a day. “If we have empty beds, we will fill them with a paying customer," Duke said at one public meeting.

Duke reports monthly to the county commission's Public Safety Committee. At these meetings — we watched more than 100, going back 12 years — commissioners have asked regularly about the number of beds filled. “Just like a hotel," one commissioner said of the jail. “With breakfast provided, and it's not a continental," added a second. At another meeting a commissioner said it would be “cool" if, instead of being a cost center, the jail could be a “profit center."

When, at one meeting, Duke said “we get a lot of business" from a particular county, a commissioner chuckled at Duke's word choice. “Business," he said. This brought awkward laughter from other commissioners, leading the committee chair to say: “Hey, it's a business. Generating revenue."

Chapter 5: “They're Not Coming Out Better Than They Went In"

Friday, April 15, 2016: Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center

She had tried to stop the scuffle. The evidence was right there, in the video. Stop, Tay-Tay. Stop, Tay-Tay. Then, asked by police for help, she had helped. The police had responded by arresting her, as she vomited and cried, saying that she had “encouraged and caused" the fight.

When E.J. was taken to the detention center, she was processed along with C.C., her best friend. Jail staff recorded E.J.'s name and birthdate (she was 10 years old), conducted a 16-point search and confiscated her jewelry, all her small rings. Then they placed the two fourth graders in a holding area.

The air, the bench, everything was cold, E.J. remembers. She heard buzzing, and doors opening and shutting.

E.J. and C.C. sat and cried — E.J., who had tried to stop the fight, and C.C., who, as her sister had told Principal Garrett, was not even there. She had been at a pizza party, celebrating her basketball team's championship.

E.J. remembers C.C. saying something to her sister, in a nearby holding cell, and she remembers the jail staff's reaction. The grownups in charge told the children: Be quiet. “It was like a demanding," E.J. recalls.

E.J. was released the day of her arrest. Come Monday, she was afraid to go back to school, worried the police might pick her up again.

After the outcry over these arrests, the charge against E.J. was dismissed, as were the charges against all the other kids. But E.J.'s mom could see signs of lasting trauma. E.J. had bad dreams about the arrest. She didn't trust the police. For two or three months, E.J. received counseling.

In July 2016, 10-year-old E.J., through her mother, sued Officer Templeton in federal court. Her lawsuit was later expanded into a class action against Rutherford County.

Her lawyers wanted to know: How many kids were there who, like E.J., had been improperly arrested? How many kids had, like Jacorious Brinkley, been improperly jailed? The lawyers gathered large samples of arrest and detention records from an 11-year period, ending in December 2017. Then they extrapolated.

They would eventually estimate that kids had been wrongly arrested 500 times. And that was just for kids arrested by the sheriff's office. This estimate didn't account for other law enforcement agencies in the county that followed Davenport's “process." As for how many times the juvenile detention center had improperly locked up kids through its “filter system," the lawyers estimated that number at 1,500.

Based on their access to the usually confidential records, the lawyers created a spreadsheet showing that more than 50 kids, identified by their initials, had been jailed for offenses that wouldn't be crimes if they were adults. While most were 14 or older, exceptions abounded. C.V., D.L. and J.S., all age 13, were locked up for being “unruly"; J.B., age 12, for “truancy"; and A.W., age 11, for “runaway."

The lawyers obtained the jail's intake procedures, detailing how kids are required to shower while watched by a staff member of the same sex. “Constant visual shall be maintained," the procedures say. All braids shall be removed, and every scar, mark and tattoo, unless “located in a private area," photographed.

The lawyers cited research on how arresting and detaining kids hurts not only the children, but society. Kids who have been arrested and jailed are more likely to commit crimes in the future. They're more likely to struggle in school, and to struggle with drugs and alcohol. “Detention makes mentally ill youth worse," the lawyers wrote. Detention makes kids more likely to hurt themselves.

In the class-action lawsuit, one of the lead plaintiffs is Dylan Geerts. While E.J. alleged wrongful arrest, Dylan alleged he was illegally jailed.

When Dylan was 14, his uncle killed himself. The two had been close. Afterward, Dylan started talking of taking his own life. His dad took him to a hospital, where Dylan stayed for a week. Doctors diagnosed him as being bipolar and prescribed lithium.

Two months after Dylan turned 15, he spent a weekend night with a friend. “Me and him were like fuel to each other's fire," Dylan says. They went looking for unlocked cars, for things to steal. About 3:30 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, a police officer spotted them. They ran, but he caught them. They had lifted a radio, a hat, a phone case and cologne. Dylan was charged with six crimes. The crimes weren't violent. There were no weapons involved. Dylan had never been arrested before. But when police took him to the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center, the staff, using the filter system, locked him up.

At the detention center, he says, he didn't get his lithium: “Not a dose." He spent almost all his time alone in his cell. Going off medication affected “my moods, my suicidal thoughts and my manic depressive disorders," he says. “Twenty or 21 hours a day are a lot of time to think and let your mind go wild, especially when you're bipolar." He felt jittery. “It's like your stomach has dropped and your chest is real tight and you're real nervous ... it's like having stage fright ... all day, every day." Classwork was superficial. He was in high school, but they had him doing simple multiplication: “11 times 11, 5 times 7 ... I got an entire worksheet of that."

Once, he used the intercom inside his cell to ask for toilet paper. “I was told I would be put on lockdown if I used the intercom system a second time." Another time, outside his cell, he was told by a guard that he had a phone call from his father. “I stood up and then another guard jumped up and said, 'You don't stand unless you're allowed permission to stand,' and threatened to pepper-spray me."

Three days after his arrest, he appeared before Judge Davenport. She seemed hostile, he says, the hearing perfunctory. Davenport released him, but placed him on house arrest. So for more than two months he was either at home or at school. “Or you're following your dad like you're on a leash." He couldn't see friends. He wasn't even allowed to text them.

Dylan's dad would say that to his mind, house arrest was “the worst thing you could ever do to a child, because he's looking out a window." Community service would have been better, something “to preoccupy his time, not un-occupy his time."

After Dylan was released from detention, he found his lithium no longer worked. He started on a string of other medications. He fell behind in school. In the 16 months after, he tried three times to kill himself. To his dad, the change in Dylan was dramatic. Before detention, “He came to me and said, 'I was having trouble with thoughts in my head.' After detention it was acting on thoughts in his head."

Dylan doesn't like having his name attached to the class-action lawsuit. But “someone has to be representative," he says. “If there's no actual story to it, then no one cares." We interviewed Dylan this year, in his new home outside Rutherford County. He said if he could, he'd tell Davenport, “They're not coming out better than they went in."

The lawyers representing E.J. and Dylan discovered that for children swept up in Rutherford County's juvenile justice system, the harm could go beyond being arrested or jailed. Many children, once jailed, were placed in solitary confinement.

In April 2016, mere days after the Hobgood arrests, Duke's staff received Davenport's approval to isolate, indefinitely, a teen with developmental disabilities. Jailers confined Quinterrius Frazier, 15 years old, to his cell for 23 hours a day while denying him music, magazines or books, except for a Bible.

By that time, President Barack Obama had banned solitary confinement for kids in federal prison, citing the “devastating, lasting psychological consequences." But Rutherford County allowed isolation in eight ascending levels, calling it “crucial" that kids “understand there are consequences for all behaviors." Level 1 was for 12 hours. Level 8 was indefinite.

The lawyers for E.J. also represented Quinterrius, in what became a second class action. That federal lawsuit ended with Rutherford County being permanently banned from punishing kids with solitary. A federal judge called the practice inhumane. The county, in settling, did not admit any wrongdoing.

Quinterrius recounted his time in solitary in a court document. He wrote that with nothing to do and no bedsheets until nighttime, “I just do push up endtile I can't anymore than sleep with my arm's in my sleeves untile I can't sleep anymore." Although it was forbidden, he sometimes talked through vents or cracks to whoever was jailed above or beside him. The hardest part, he wrote, was when jailers would cover his cell's window with a board. Then he couldn't even see another kid's face.

We interviewed Quinterrius this summer, with his mother. He's 20 now, and is fine with us using his name. He told us that in solitary, he felt like an animal: “They open the flap, feed me and close it." In his cell, he began talking to himself. And now, five years later, “I still talk to myself a little bit just because that's what I did for so long." When we talked with him, he tapped on his phone and pulled on his hair. His mother, Sharieka Frazier, said since his time in solitary, her son seems to need constant stimulation, from music, his phone, the television. “He's probably struggling now," she told us during the interview.

“Are you struggling?" she asked her son. “Are you OK?"

“OK, I'm just, I'm OK, mama," he told her, dropping his head into his palm.

Chapter 6: “There Were No Concerns"

In the immediate aftermath of the arrests at Hobgood Elementary, the Murfreesboro police chief promised an internal investigation. By year's end, the department had finished its report.

The officer who bailed before the arrests got a one-day suspension. So did the sergeant in charge of school resource officers. Three other supervisors also were disciplined: the sergeant, lieutenant and major who had not stepped in, even as Officer Williams called them from the assistant principal's office, raising the alert. Each received a reprimand.

As for Templeton, who had initiated the arrests, the department made one finding: Her work had been “unsatisfactory." She received a three-day suspension — her 10th suspension in 15 years — then kept working.

She retired in 2019 and, according to her LinkedIn profile, is now a life coach and member of Mary Kay, a multilevel marketing company that sells cosmetics.

Nashville police also participated in this investigation, to produce an external report with recommendations. Together, the two police departments delved into one of the case's biggest missteps: the use of a charge that doesn't exist.

The district attorney for Rutherford County confirmed to the police investigators that there's no such crime as “criminal responsibility." “You should never, ever see a charge that says defendant so-and-so is charged with criminal responsibility for the act of another. Period," he said.

The investigators interviewed 13 police officers, four school officials, two prosecutors and a pastor. But two people refused to be interviewed: Amy Anderson and Sherry Hamlett, the two judicial commissioners.

They “failed to cooperate," a Nashville sergeant wrote. “This is unfortunate. ... Important information could have been obtained." In his recommendations, the sergeant wrote that it's “worth considering" whether police should give more weight to advice from prosecutors than judicial commissioners.

Hamlett was reappointed as a judicial commissioner in 2017, Anderson in 2019.

Their personnel files include no mention of this case.

All 11 children arrested over the fight captured on video sued in federal court. Defendants included the city of Murfreesboro, Rutherford County and various police officers.

At least six of the 11 children had been handcuffed. The four who were locked up spent twice as many days in jail, collectively, as Templeton did on suspension.

Starting in 2017, all 11 children received settlements, for a combined $397,500. For at least five children, some money was earmarked for counseling.

Rutherford County also faced the class action accusing it of illegally arresting and jailing children.

In January 2017, Davenport arrived at a law firm to be questioned by the lawyers for E.J. and so many other children.

Kyle Mothershead, a specialist in civil rights cases, deposed her. He knew about Davenport's strict dress code — and he made sure to flout it. He wore blue jeans and a white button-down shirt, untucked. He later told us he was thinking, “I am going to fucking spit in her eye and come in all casual and take her off her little throne."

Mothershead asked Davenport if she ever kept tabs on the number of kids detained.

“That's not my job is to know statistics," Davenport said.

Mothershead asked if she'd ever consulted with Duke about the filter system.

Not that she could recall, Davenport said, adding, “I don't micromanage her."

Mothershead asked about Davenport's orders to law enforcement to take children to the detention center upon arrest.

“Because that's our process," Davenport said.

“OK. But I just want to make sure that we're clear," Mothershead said. “So — so that — that's your process because you personally have ordered that process into existence?"

“From the orders, apparently so. Yes."

In May 2017, a federal judge ordered the county to stop using its filter system, saying it “departs drastically" from ordinary standards. By being subjected to “illegal detention," he wrote, “children in Rutherford County are suffering irreparable harm every day."

This year, in June, Rutherford County settled the class action, agreeing to pay up to $11 million. Individual payouts figure to be around $1,000 for each claim of wrongful arrest and about $5,000 for each claim of unlawful detention. The county, as part of the settlement, “denies any wrongdoing in any of the lawsuits filed against it."

With the end of the filter system, Rutherford County now jails fewer of its kids than before.

But that doesn't mean its jail is ramping down. Quite the opposite. The jail keeps adding staff. Mark Downton, one of E.J.'s attorneys, says the county has “shifted gears." Forced to stop jailing so many of its own children, Rutherford County ramped up its pitch to other places, to jail theirs.

The county has created a marketing video titled “What Can the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center Do For You?" Over saxophone music and b-roll of children in black-and-white striped uniforms, Davenport narrates. She touts the center's size (43,094 square feet), employees (“great"), access to interstates (I-24, I-65, I-40) and number of cells, which she refers to as “single occupancy rooms." “Let us be your partner for the safe custody and well-being of the detained youth of your community," Davenport says.

Thirty-nine counties now contract with Rutherford, according to a report published this year. So does the U.S. Marshals Service.

How did Rutherford County get away with illegally jailing kids for so long?

The Tennessee Department of Children's Services licenses juvenile detention centers. But its inspectors didn't flag Rutherford County's illegal filter system, which was right there, in black and white. We collected nine inspection reports from when Duke put the system in until a federal judge ordered it out. Not once did an inspector mention the jail's process for deciding which kids to hold. “There was very little graffiti," an inspector wrote in 2010. “Neat and clean," the same inspector wrote in 2011, 2013 and 2014. Two inspection reports in 2016 said, “There were no concerns regarding the program or staff at the detention center."

We requested an interview with the department's longtime director of licensing, to ask how inspectors could miss this. The department refused to make him available.

The state's failures don't end there.

Tennessee's Administrative Office of the Courts collects crucial data statewide. In 2004, the consultant hired by Rutherford County used that data to sound an alarm: Rutherford County was locking up kids at more than three times the state average.

But then, Rutherford County stopped reporting this data. From 2005 to 2009, the county had 11,797 cases of children being referred to juvenile court. How many were locked up? The county claimed to have no idea. “Unknown," it reported, for 90% of the cases. The county's data, now meaningless, couldn't be used against it.

Later, when the county resumed reporting how many kids it detained, lawyers representing children sounded a second alarm. By 2014, the county was locking up children at nearly 10 times the state average. But then the state stopped publishing its annual statistical report, which had provided the statewide comparison points that allowed troubling outliers to be spotted.

In 2017, a state task force on juvenile justiceconcluded that Tennessee's “data collection and information sharing is insufficient and inconsistent across the state." This “impedes accountability," it reported. The following year, a state review team reported that without good data, “the state cannot identify trends." The team recommended creating a statewide case management system with real-time, comprehensive data. But that hasn't happened.

We sent written questions to Tennessee's Administrative Office of the Courts, asking why it stopped publishing the annual statistical report and about the data gaps. The office's spokesperson didn't answer.

While Rutherford County's filter system was ultimately flagged (by lawyers, not through oversight), it is only one illegal system under one juvenile court judge. With Tennessee's inadequate inspections and data, there could be trouble in any of the state's other 97 juvenile courts, without any alarms being sounded.

In Rutherford County, Davenport still runs juvenile court, making $176,000 a year. (She's up for reelection next year, and has previously said she'd like to run for another eight-year term.) Duke still runs the juvenile detention center, earning $98,000. And the system as a whole continues to grow.

In 2005, the budget for juvenile services, including court and detention center staff, was $962,444. By 2020 it had jumped to $3.69 million.

Earlier this year, Davenport went before the county commission's public safety committee. “I come to you this year with a huge need," she said. By now she had two full-time magistrates and another who worked part time. Davenport said she wanted an additional full-time magistrate. And another secretary. She wanted to increase her budget by 23%.

She also wanted to expand the system's physical footprint. A small school in the same building was closing, so Davenport proposed converting classrooms into an intake room and a courtroom.

The commissioners gave Davenport's budget request a favorable recommendation. Their vote was unanimous.

During the meeting, one commissioner, Michael Wrather, took a moment to express his admiration for the judge.

“I have said this for years and years," Wrather told Davenport. “If we have a judge that has a box in the courtroom with belts in it, that requires young people to put a belt on and hold their pants up in a courtroom, I'm all for it."

“Thank you, sir," Davenport said.

“Good job."

'An American Caesar': How the right wing is embracing dark ideas once considered 'unthinkable'

Donald Trump was hardly the first U.S. president to voice his support for authoritarians. But while President Richard Nixon saw it as practical to have an alliance with Spain's dictator Gen. Francisco Franco — arguing that at least El Generalísimo kept Soviet troops out of the streets of Madrid — he never praised Franco as a role model for the United States. Trump and his loyalists, in contrast, have openly praised far-right authoritarians like Hungary's Victor Orbán, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russia's Vladimir Putin and Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro.

This open admiration for authoritarianism among Trump supporters is the focus of articles by The Bulwark's Charlie Sykes and Vox's Zack Beauchamp. Sykes, a Never Trump conservative, has stressed that one doesn't have to be a liberal to believe in liberal democracy — and he warns that democracy is something that the MAGA right is outright contemptuous of.

"Something genuinely odd and disturbing is happening on the right," Sykes observes in his column. "Ideas that would have been unthinkable just moments ago are now being normalized, and if anything, the drift toward authoritarianism seems to be accelerating. This includes the explicit embrace of the idea of an American dictator — an American Caesar. Literally and seriously."

Sykes cites some specific examples of Trumpian authoritarianism. In Arizona, State Sen. Wendy Rogers, a far-right MAGA Republican, has advocated imprisoning the "entire Maricopa County Board of Supervisors" over a dispute about the 2020 election. And the pro-Trump publication American Greatness has praised Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar.

Sykes explains, "The publication that unironically calls itself American Greatness likes to think of itself as the 'intellectual' home for MAGA World. Despite its dalliance with raw racism and a fetish for sedition, American Greatness's roster of contributors includes such right-wing luminaries as Victor David Hanson, Seb Gorka, David Harsanyi, Conrad Black, Roger Kimball, Mark Bauerlein, Josh Hammer, Ned Ryun, Dennis Prager and Salena Zito. It recently published an endorsement of military coups by a retired military guy with close ties to Trumpworld."

Recently, Sykes notes, American Greatness published an article by Christopher Roach praising Salazar. And similarly, Sykes writes, Fox News' Tucker Carlson has been embracing Orbán.

In his Vox article, meanwhile, Beauchamp discusses a pattern of "conservative anti-Americanism."

"Conservative anti-Americanism still pays lip service to love of country," Beauchamp writes. "Its proponents declare themselves the true patriots, describing their enemies as the nation's betrayers. But when the cadre of traitors includes everyone from election administrators to Olympians to the Capitol Police, it becomes clear that the only America they love is the one that exists in their heads. When they contemplate the actual United States — real America, if you will — they are filled with scorn."

Beauchamp quotes Paul Elliott Johnson, a University of Pittsburgh communications professor, as saying, "They see no role or place for themselves in America now." And Beauchamp describes "conservative anti-Americanism" as "hyper-patriotism gone sour — a belief in a fictional ideal of a perfect right-wing America that's constantly betrayed by reality, leading to disillusionment and even disgust with the country as it actually exists."

According to Beauchamp, the fact that Carlson and Fox News' Laura Ingraham were recently mocking police officers attacked during the storming of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6 is a blatant example of "conservative anti-Americanism." Another example is an essay by writer Glenn Elmers for the Claremont Institute's website the American Mind. Elmers wrote, "Most people living in the United States today — certainly more than half — are not Americans in any meaningful sense of the term."

Scholar David Walsh, who has studied the history of the American right at the University of Virginia, told Beauchamp, "For most parts of the right, there was this idea that you could still redeem the country — that you could reverse these long-term trends by political organizing, electing conservatives to political office, etc. Today, there is this move away from even the trappings of the American democratic tradition — and I think that is linked to the broader sense that this country can no longer be redeemed."

US prisons hold more than 550,000 people with intellectual disabilities

by Jennifer Sarrett, Emory University

Prison life in the U.S. is tough. But when you have an intellectual, developmental or cognitive disability – as hundreds of thousands of Americans behind bars do – it can make you especially vulnerable.

In March, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the federal agency tasked with gathering data on crime and the criminal justice system, published a report that found roughly two in five – 38% – of the 24,848 incarcerated people they surveyed across 364 prisons reported a disability of some sort. Across the entire incarcerated population, that translates to some 760,000 people with disabilities living behind bars.

Around a quarter of those surveyed reported having a cognitive disability, such as difficulty remembering or making decisions. A similar proportion reported at some point being told they had attention deficit disorder, and 14% were told they had a learning disability.

As a scholar who has researched disability in prison and conducted in-depth interviews with several adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the criminal justice system, I'm all too aware of the problems that incarcerated people with disabilities face. Prisoners with these disabilities are at greater risk of serving longer, harder sentences and being exploited and abused by prison staff or other incarcerated people.

Stigma and crimes of survival

The rate of both physical and intellectual disability among the prison population is disproportionately high. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26% of Americans report any kind of disability. Of those, 10.8% reported a cognitive disability.

This is less than half of the proportion of those in prisons. And rates appear to be on the rise – in 2011-2012, 32% of people incarcerated in prisons reported a disability, with 19% stating a cognitive disability.

High as they are, these rates are likely to be an underestimate. They are based on self-reports, and research has shown many people fail to report a disability – particularly an intellectual or cognitive disability – to avoid stigma or because they simply don't know they have one.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has also found that people with cognitive, intellectual and developmental disabilities are more prevalent in jails – where people are sent immediately after arrest, to await trial or to serve a sentence of one year or less – than prisons. Jails tend to be associated with what have been called “crimes of survival," such as shoplifting and loitering. These offenses are linked to unemployed people and people experiencing homelessness – communities in which rates of disabilities are higher.

As a result, a disproportionate amount of people with disabilities enter America's criminal justice system. I see this in my research on intellectual and developmental disabilities – diagnoses like autism, fetal alcohol syndrome, ADD/ADHD, Down syndrome, and general cognitive impairment are common in our criminal justice system.

In jail, no one listens

Between 2018 and 2019, I interviewed 27 people with these disabilities about their interaction with the criminal justice system. Eighteen reported having been arrested and/or incarcerated.

Many spoke of the harm and difficulties they face throughout the criminal justice system, from courts to being behind bars.

One man I interviewed who had various learning and attention-related disabilities and was in special education as a child told me: “I was in jail one time [because] when I didn't understand the questions the judge was asking me, and she sentence me to three months in [county jail] because I didn't understand." Officially, this was for disorderly conduct.

Confusion in prison and jail can lead to violence or danger. Needing time to process instructions, particularly in high-stress situations, can be interpreted as obstinacy by staff and officers in charge. One middle-aged man who experienced incarceration on a few occasions told me that if you can't process instructions, sometimes you are physically forced to comply. He provided the example of seeing someone with mental health needs not going to the shower when requested: “In jail, they don't have time for that. They'll just throw you in the shower. They're not supposed to, but I've seen that before."

Further, being seen as obstinate can lead to disciplinary reports in prison or jail, which could result in added time to someone's sentence or the removal of certain privileges. It could also result in solitary confinement – something known to exacerbate and create mental health concerns and which has been labeled as torture by the United Nations and human rights groups. One study from 2018 found that over 4,000 people with serious mental health concerns were being held in solitary confinement in the U.S. Again, this is likely to be an underestimate.

Incarcerated people with intellectual, developmental and cognitive disabilities risk being exploited by both officers and fellow inmates. One person I interviewed who had experienced incarceration said officers look for those who have a disability by noting who only watches TV and never reads, marking them for exploitation. He went on to say that “some of the corrections officers, they be doing things they ain't got no business doing. So they'll slide up onto the disability boy and use him, you know, because he'd making him feel like 'This is my dog. This is my boy right here. Come and do this for me.' And they'll run and do it. So I think people with disabilities are used more by deceptive corrections guards than people that read."

Rates of these disabilities are even higher among incarcerated women, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report. This might be related to the fact that women have much higher histories of abuse and trauma, or because they are more willing to report these disabilities.

One woman with cerebral palsy and unidentified intellectual disabilities I spoke with said that in most jails she'd report her disability, but no one would listen to her.

Hidden behind bars

The disproportionate rates of cognitive, intellectual and developmental disability in U.S. prisons and jails have rarely formed part of the conversation on reforming our police and prison system. When discussing mental health in prison, often the focus is on psychiatric disabilities, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. There is good reason for this – people with these kinds of disabilities are also at high risk for incarceration.

But, I believe, it has meant that the needs of incarcerated people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been neglected. At present, there is little support for people with these disabilities in incarcerated settings. Prisons and jails could ensure staff are better trained to interact with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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We could also explore strategies to divert people with intellectual, learning and cognitive disabilities away from the criminal justice system. Cities are increasingly exploring alternatives to police for responding to mental health crises, like the CAHOOTS model in Oregon in which a medic and mental health expert are deployed as first responders. Additionally, there could be more attention to these disabilities in mental health courts, which combine court supervision with community-based services. They have been shown to be somewhat effective at reducing recidivism, but which seem to focus on people with schizophrenia, bipolar, major depression or PTSD.

But before that, awareness about the presence of disability in incarcerated settings needs to be higher. The plight of incarcerated prisoners with intellectual disabilities has long been an issue lost amid America's sprawling prison network.The Conversation

Jennifer Sarrett, Lecturer, Center for Study of Human Health, Emory University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

'The truth hurt': Civil rights attorney explains why the empire is not done with Julian Assange

Shortly after WikiLeaks released the Iraq War Logs in October 2010, which documented numerous US war crimes — including video images of the gunning down of two Reuters journalists and 10 other unarmed civilians in the Collateral Murder video, the routine torture of Iraqi prisoners, the covering up of thousands of civilian deaths and the killing of nearly 700 civilians that had approached too closely to US checkpoints — the towering civil rights attorneys Michael Ratner and Len Weinglass, who had defended Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers case, met Julian Assange in a studio apartment in Central London, according to Ratner's newly released memoir "Moving the Bar".

This article originally appeared on Scheerpost.

Assange had just returned to London from Sweden where he had attempted to create the legal framework to protect WikiLeaks' servers in Sweden. Shortly after his arrival in Stockholm, his personal bank cards were blocked. He had no access to funds and was dependent on supporters. Two of these supporters were women with whom he had consensual sex. As he was preparing to leave, the Swedish media announced that he was wanted for questioning about allegations of rape. The women, who never accused Assange of rape, wanted him to take an STD test. They had approached the police about compelling him to comply. "I did not want to put any charges on Julian Assange," texted one of them on August 20 while she was still at the police station, but "the police were keen on getting their hands on him." She said she felt "railroaded by the police." Within 24 hours the chief prosecutor of Stockholm took over the preliminary investigation. He dropped the rape accusation, stating "I don't believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape." Assange, although not charged with a crime, cancelled his departure and remained in Sweden for another five weeks to cooperate with the investigation. A special prosecutor, Marianne Ny, was appointed to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct. Assange was granted permission to leave the country. He flew to Berlin. When Assange arrived in Berlin three encrypted laptops with documents detailing US war crimes had disappeared from his luggage.

"We consider the Swedish allegations a distraction," Ratner told Assange, according to his memoir. "We've read the police reports, and we believe the authorities don't have a case. We're here because in our view you are in much more jeopardy in the US Len [Weinglass] can explain why."

Assange, Ratner recalled, remained silent.

"WikiLeaks and you personally are facing a battle that is both legal and political," Weinglass told Assange. "As we learned in the Pentagon Papers case, the US government doesn't like the truth coming out. And it doesn't like to be humiliated. No matter if it's Nixon or Bush or Obama, Republican or Democrat in the White House. The US government will try to stop you from publishing its ugly secrets. And if they have to destroy you and the First Amendment and the rights of publishers with you, they are willing to do it. We believe they are going to come after WikiLeaks and you, Julian, as the publisher."

"Come after me for what?" asked Julian.

"Espionage," Weinglass continued, according to the memoir. "They're going to charge Bradley Manning with treason under the Espionage Act of 1917. We don't think it applies to him because he's a whistleblower, not a spy. And we don't think it applies to you either because you are a publisher. But they are going to try to force Manning into implicating you as his collaborator. That's why it's crucial that WikiLeaks and you personally have an American criminal lawyer to represent you."

Ratner and Weinglass laid out potential scenarios.

"The way it could happen," Ratner said, "is that the Justice Department could convene a secret grand jury to investigate possible charges against you. It would probably be in northern Virginia, where everyone on the jury would be a current or retired CIA employee or have worked for some other part of the military-industrial complex. They would be hostile to anyone like you who'd published US government secrets. The grand jury could come up with a sealed indictment, issue a warrant for your arrest, and request extradition."

"What happens if they extradite me?" asked Julian.

"They fly you to where the indictment is issued," Weinglass told Assange. "Then they put you into some hellhole in solitary, and you get treated like Bradley Manning. They put you under what they call special administrative measures, which means you probably would not be allowed communication with anyone. Maybe your lawyer could go in and talk to you, but the lawyer couldn't say anything to the press."

"And it's very, very unlikely that they would give you bail," Ratner added.

"Is it easier to extradite from the UK or from Sweden?" asked Sarah Harrison, who was at the meeting.

"We don't know the answer to that," Ratner replied. "My guess is that you would probably have the most support and the best legal team in a bigger country like the UK In a smaller country like Sweden, the US can use its power to pressure the government, so it would be easier to extradite you from there. But we need to consult with a lawyer who specializes in extradition."

Assange's British lawyer, also at the meeting, proposed that Assange return to Sweden for further questioning.

"I don't think that's wise," Weinglass said, "unless the Swedish government guarantees that Julian will not be extradited to another country because of his publishing work."

"The problem is that Sweden doesn't have bail," Ratner explained. "If they put you in jail in Stockholm and the US pressures the government to extradite you, Sweden might send you immediately to the US and you'd never see the light of day again. It's far less risky to ask the Swedish prosecutor to question you in London."

The US government's determination to extradite Assange and imprison him for life, despite the fact that Assange is not a US citizen and WikiLeaks is not a US based publication, Ratner understood from the start, will be unwavering and relentless.

In the 132-page ruling (pdf) issued today in London by Judge Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates' Court the court refused to grant an extradition request only because of the barbarity of the conditions under which Assange would be held while imprisoned in the US.

"Faced with the conditions of near total isolation without the protective factors which limited his risk at [Her Majesty's Prison] Belmarsh, I am satisfied the procedures described by the US will not prevent Mr. Assange from finding a way to commit suicide," said Baraitser, "and for this reason I have decided extradition would be oppressive by reason of mental harm and I order his discharge."

Assange is charged with violating 17 counts of the Espionage Act, along with an attempt to hack into a government computer. Each of the 17 counts carries a potential sentence of 10 years. The additional charge that Assange conspired to hack into a government computer has a maximum sentence of five years. The judge ominously accepted all of the charges leveled by US prosecutors against Assange — that he violated the Espionage Act by releasing classified information and was complicit in assisting his source, Chelsea Manning, in the hacking of a government computer. It is a very, very dangerous ruling for the media. And if, on appeal, and the US has already said it would appeal, the higher court is assured that Assange will be held in humane conditions, it paves the way for his extradition.

The publication of classified documents is not yet a crime in the United States. If Assange is extradited and convicted, it will become one. The extradition of Assange would mean the end of journalistic investigations into the inner workings of power. It would cement into place a terrifying global, corporate tyranny under which borders, nationality and law mean nothing. Once such a legal precedent is set, any publication that publishes classified material, from The New York Times to an alternative website, will be prosecuted and silenced.

Assange has done more than any contemporary journalist or publisher to expose the inner workings of empire and the lies and crimes of the US ruling elite. The deep animus towards Assange, as fierce within the Democratic Party as the Republican Party, and the cowardice of the media and watchdog groups such as PEN to defend him, mean that all he has left are courageous attorneys, such as Ratner, activists, who protested outside the court, and those few voices of conscience willing to become pariahs in his defense.

Ratner's memoir, which is a profile in courage of the many dissidents, including Assange, he valiantly defended, is also a profile of courage of one of the greatest civil rights attorneys of our era. There are few people I respect more than Michael Ratner, who I accompanied to visit Assange when he was trapped in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. His memoir is not only about his lifelong fight against racial injustice, a rising corporate totalitarianism, and the crimes of empire, but is a sterling example of what it means to live the moral life.

Assange earned the eternal enmity of the Democratic Party establishment by publishing 70,000 hacked emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and senior Democratic officials. The emails were copied from the accounts of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman. The Podesta emails exposed the donation of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and identified both nations as major funders of Islamic State [ISIL/ISIS]. They exposed the $657,000 that Goldman Sachs paid to Hillary Clinton to give talks, a sum so large it can only be considered a bribe. They exposed Clinton's repeated mendacity. She was caught in the emails, for example, telling the financial elites that she wanted "open trade and open borders" and believed Wall Street executives were best positioned to manage the economy, a statement that contradicted her campaign statements. They exposed the Clinton campaign's efforts to influence the Republican primaries to ensure that Donald Trump was the Republican nominee. They exposed Clinton's advance knowledge of questions in a primary debate. They exposed Clinton as the principal architect of the war in Libya, a war she believed would burnish her credentials as a presidential candidate.

The Democratic Party, which routinely blames Russia for its election loss to Trump, charges that the Podesta emails were obtained by Russian government hackers. Hillary Clinton has called WikiLeaks a Russian front. James Comey, the former FBI director, however, conceded that the emails were probably delivered to WikiLeaks by an intermediary, and Assange has said the emails were not provided by "state actors."

Journalists can argue that this information, like the war logs, should have remained hidden, but they can't then call themselves journalists.

A few weeks after Ratner's first meeting with Assange, WikiLeaks published 220 documents from Cablegate, the US State Department classified cables that Chelsea Manning had provided to WikiLeaks. The cables had been sent to the State Department from US diplomatic missions, consulates, and embassies around the globe. The 251,287 cables dated from December 1966 to February 2010. The release dominated the news and filled the pages of The New York Times, the Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El País.

"The extent and importance of the Cablegate revelations took my breath away," Ratner, who died in 2016, wrote in his memoir. "They pulled back the curtain and revealed how American foreign policy functions behind-the-scenes, manipulating events all over the globe. They also provided access to US diplomats' raw, frank, and often embarrassing assessments of foreign leaders. Some of the most stunning revelations:

  • In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered US diplomats to spy on UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other UN representatives from China, France, Russia, and the UK. The information she asked for included DNA, iris scans, fingerprints, and personal passwords. US and British diplomats also eavesdropped on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the weeks before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
  • The US has been secretly launching missile, bomb, and drone attacks on terrorist targets in Yemen, killing civilians. But to protect the US, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told Gen. David Petraeus, "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours."
  • Saudi King Abdullah repeatedly urged the US to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities to "cut off the head of the snake." Other leaders from Israel, Jordan, and Bahrain also urged the US to attack Iran.
  • The White House and Secretary of State Clinton refused to condemn the June 2009 military coup in Honduras that overthrew elected President Manuel Zelaya, ignoring a cable from the US embassy there that described the coup as "illegal and unconstitutional." Instead of calling for the restoration of Zelaya, the US supported elections orchestrated by the coup's leader, Roberto Micheletti. Opposition leaders and international observers boycotted those elections.
  • Employees of a US government contractor in Afghanistan, DynCorp, hired "dancing boys" — a euphemism for child prostitutes — to be used as sex slaves.
  • In various cables, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is called "an extremely weak man who did not listen to facts but was instead easily swayed by anyone who came to report even the most bizarre stories or plots against him." Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and her husband Néstor Kirchner, the former president, are described as "paranoid." President Nicolas Sarkozy of France is described as "thin-skinned" and "authoritarian." Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is called "feckless, vain, and ineffective."
  • Perhaps most important, the cables said that Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had "lost touch with the Tunisian people" and described "high-level corruption, a sclerotic regime, and deep hatred of . . . Ben Ali's wife and her family." These revelations led to the eventual overthrow of the regime in Tunisia. The Tunisian protests spread like wildfire to other countries of the Middle East, resulting in the widespread revolts of the Arab Spring of 2011.

Secretary of State Clinton said after the release of the cables, "Disclosures like these tear at the fabric of the proper functioning of responsible government." Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department was conducting "an active, ongoing criminal investigation into WikiLeaks." Then US Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) called WikiLeaks "a terrorist organization." Former GOP Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called for WikiLeaks to be shut down and Assange treated as "an enemy combatant who's engaged in information warfare against the United States."

"For those who ran the American empire, the truth hurt," Ratner writes. "For the rest of us, it was liberating. With the 2010 release of the Collateral Murder video, the Afghan War Logs, the Iraq War Logs, and Cablegate, WikiLeaks went far beyond traditional investigative reporting. It proved that in the new digital world, full transparency was not only possible, but necessary in order to hold governments accountable for their actions."

"On November 30, 2010, two days after the initial release of Cablegate, Sweden issued an Interpol 'Red Alert Notice' normally used to warn about terrorists," Ratner goes on. "It also issued a European Arrest Warrant seeking Assange's extradition to Sweden. Since he was wanted only for questioning about the sexual misconduct allegations, it seemed clear from the timing and severity of the warrant that the US had successfully pressured the Swedes."

The efforts to extradite Assange intensified. He was held for ten days in solitary confinement at Wandsworth Prison before being released on bail of 340,000 pounds. He spent 551 days under house arrest, forced to wear an electronic anklet and check in with police twice a day. Visa, Mastercard, Bank of America, and Western Union refused to process donations to WikiLeaks.

"It became virtually impossible for anyone to donate to WikiLeaks, and its income immediately plummeted by 95 percent," Ratner writes. "But none of the financial institutions could point to any illegal activity by WikiLeaks, and none had imposed any restrictions on WikiLeaks' mainstream co-publishers. The financial blockade applied only to WikiLeaks."

Ratner was soon spending several days a month in England conferring with Assange and his legal team. Ratner also attended the trial at Fort Meade in Maryland for Chelsea Manning (then Bradley Manning), certain that it would illuminate how the US government intended to go after Assange.

"Prosecutors in the Bradley Manning case revealed internet chat logs between Manning and an unnamed person at WikiLeaks who they said colluded with Manning by helping the accused traitor engineer a reverse password," he writes. "Without supporting evidence, prosecutors claimed the unnamed person was Assange. Both Manning and Assange denied it. Nonetheless, it was clear that what Len [Weinglass] and I had predicted was happening. The case against Bradley Manning was also a case against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. The two were inextricably linked."

Manning was charged with 22 violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Espionage Act, including aiding the enemy — which carries a possible death sentence — wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the internet, and theft of public property.

"I couldn't get over the irony of it all," Ratner writes. "On trial was the whistle-blower who leaked documents showing the number of civilians killed in Iraq, the Collateral Murder video, Reuters journalists being killed, children being shot. To me, the people who should be the defendants were the ones who started the Afghan and Iraq wars, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the officials who carried out torture, the people who committed the very crimes that Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks exposed. And those who should be observing were the ghosts of the dead Reuters journalists and the ghosts of the children and others killed in Iraq and Afghanistan."

"A week after Manning's arraignment, WikiLeaks published an internal e-mail dated January 26, 2011 from the private intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor)," Ratner goes on. "Part of a trove of five million e-mails that the hacker group Anonymous obtained from Stratfor's servers, it was written by Stratfor Vice President Fred Burton, a former State Department counter-terrorism expert. It stated clearly: 'We have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect.' Another of Burton's e-mails was more vivid: 'Assange is going to make a nice bride in prison. Screw the terrorist. He'll be eating cat food forever.'"

"The e-mails revealed how far the US government would go to protect its dirty secrets, and how it would use its own secrecy as a weapon," Ratner writes. "Somehow Stratfor, which has been called a shadow CIA, had information about this sealed indictment that neither WikiLeaks, Assange, nor his lawyers had."

Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to the maximum ten years in federal prison for the Stratfor hack and leak. He remains imprisoned.

On June 14, 2012, the UK Supreme Court issued its verdict affirming the extradition order to Sweden. Assange, cornered, was granted political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he would remain for seven years until British police in April 2019 raided the embassy, sovereign territory of Ecuador, and placed him in solitary confinement in the notorious high-security HM Prison Belmarsh.

The arrest eviscerates all pretense of the rule of law and the rights of a free press. The illegalities, embraced by the Ecuadorian, British and US governments, in the seizure of Assange were ominous. They presaged a world where the internal workings, abuses, corruption, lies and crimes — especially war crimes — carried out by corporate states and the global ruling elite will be masked from the public. They presaged a world where those with the courage and integrity to expose the misuse of power will be hunted down, tortured, subjected to sham trials and given lifetime prison terms in solitary confinement. They presaged an Orwellian dystopia where news is replaced with propaganda, trivia and entertainment.

Under what law did Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno capriciously terminate Julian Assange's rights of asylum as a political refugee? Under what law did Moreno authorize British police to enter the Ecuadorian Embassy — diplomatically sanctioned sovereign territory — to arrest a naturalized citizen of Ecuador? Under what law did Prime Minister Theresa May order the British police to grab Assange, who has never committed a crime? Under what law did President Donald Trump demand the extradition of Assange, who is not a US citizen and whose news organization is not based in the United States?

"As a journalist and publisher of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange had every right to asylum," Ratner writes. "The law is clear. The exercise of political free speech — including revealing government crimes, misconduct, or corruption — is internationally protected and is grounds for asylum. The US government has recognized this right, having granted asylum to several journalists and whistleblowers, most notably from China."

"My view is that mass surveillance is not really about preventing terrorism, but is much more about social control," Ratner writes. "It's about stopping an uprising like the ones we had here in the US in the '60s and '70s. It shocks me that Americans are passively allowing this and that all three branches of government have done nothing about it. Despite mass surveillance, my message for people is the same one that Mother Jones delivered a century ago: organize, organize, organize. Yes, the surveillance state will try to scare you. They will be watching and listening. You won't even know whether your best friend is an informant. Take whatever security precautions you can. But do not be intimidated. Whether you call it the sweep of history or the sweep of revolution, in the end, the surveillance state cannot stop people from moving toward the kind of change that will make their lives better."

Here's why 'every American' can relate to cults

"If you ask me where I'm from, I'll lie to you," Lauren Hough writes in the first line of her debut essay collection. "I'll tell you my parents were missionaries. I'll tell you I'm from Boston. I'll tell you I'm from Texas. Those lies, people believe." The truth is she was raised all over the world in the infamous Children of God cult, a detail she kept secret for years until, with the help of the internet, she was able to connect with others like her. It turns out, as "Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing" (Vintage Books, out now) reveals in prose that crackles with dark wit, sharp observations and stunning revelations, surviving a childhood shaped by an abusive cult with her ambition intact may have uniquely positioned Hough to see not only authoritarian religions, but America itself — its military, its criminal justice system, its bigotries, the precarious edge upon which it positions its working class — through the clearest of eyes.

Hough's book has been hotly anticipated since her HuffPost essay, "I Was A Cable Guy. I Saw The Worst Of America," went viral in 2018. In that essay and 10 others, Hough writes about navigating her way through a multitude of identities, regions, and subcultures, daring to tell the truth about America from the inside and out.

I spoke with Hough by phone last week, shortly after the delightful news broke that Cate Blanchett would be joining her in narrating the audiobook. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

One thing that I was really struck by in this book is how deeply it grapples with loneliness, particularly a specific kind of loneliness that occurs when a person is surrounded by others — first in living in group homes with the Children of God, and then with your family, and then with roommates in tiny spaces. It reaches an apex in the scenes when you're incarcerated in solitary confinement. America is supposedly this obscenely chatty, gregarious country and people, but studies also show that we're also a really lonely country. What do you think creates this paradox?

It's funny you said "chatty," because I figured out a long time ago if I talk a lot, I don't have to say anything. When you meet people, if you seem earnest — well, not earnest, I avoided that — but if you seem like an open book, and you have plenty of stories to tell, and you drop in, "Yeah, my parents were missionaries, f**king hippies, don't know what to tell you," and change the subject, people don't ask any questions. They think they know everything there is to know about you. I think we just don't connect. Nobody who's ever asked, "How are you?" in America has actually meant the question or wanted an answer. And I think that's becoming really apparent with the pandemic, because now people ask, "How are you?" and you get a world full of tragedy.

People will tell you their answer now. But are we ready to hear it?

We're not. We're just unloading on random strangers. How are you? Well, my dog died last week. Everybody has this tragic thing, and I don't think we're capable of pretending anymore and answering, "Fine, how are you?" and moving on from the conversation. We're all experiencing that loneliness right now. We're just, deeply, deeply, deeply desperate to connect.

That brings up the question of whether we're being reshaped as a people by the pandemic. Everyone is going through this big trauma but isolated from each other. As Americans, we still want to buy into this myth that this is a country where you can always start over — fresh start, clean slate, you can be whoever you want to be. Do you think that we will be able to move on for real from this? Will we just clean slate, memory-hole this last year?

I hope not. Everyone's talking about going back to normal, and normal wasn't that f**king good for a lot of us. Normal was awful. I hope we don't go back to normal. I hope we experience something together and remember it, but we're really good — as a country, as a culture — of just shoving s**t down and not thinking about it.

The term "essential worker" has become such an irony-laden term over the last year, as we apply it to the folks who stock the shelves and run the checkouts at the supermarket, or work in the warehouses that service our two-day shipping, despite the the humiliating and debilitating demands that are placed on them. And that ties in closely to one of your running threads in the book about how class and labor and gender intersect, how the American workplace's principle of your time is not your own when you're on the clock then manifests itself as therefore your body is not your own. What do you think that the mainstream media misses about America's working class, when they have such a narrow slice of it they want to focus on — namely white, conservative, straight cisgender men without college degrees?

I think the biggest problem there is the working class isn't sitting in a diner hanging out all morning [talking to journalists]. The working class is sh**ting in a Big Gulp cup in the back of their work van, because there aren't any bathrooms around. It's been infuriating to watch. People will gladly cheer for essential workers, but won't pay them.

Just f**king pay people. Nobody needs to be cheered. It's like being a veteran, being thanked for your service while they cut VA benefits. Support our troops — but not if you need anything!

America hates talking about class, right?

Yeah, we really do.

Which means hating talking about a lot of things that intersect with that, too.

We just don't like to be inconvenienced. We'll gladly support essential workers as long as it doesn't mean anything about our lives has to change at all. It's funny talking about it right now, because I just tried to commit career suicide the other night, and it backfired on me — apparently I suck at that. I picked a fight with Amazon, and told people to cancel their [book] orders. I really thought I'd get in trouble. And apparently, it's not a bad idea to make bookstores love you.

Most people have heard my name because I wrote an essay about needing to pee. When I was trying to figure out how to write it, I was talking to a couple guys I knew and I asked them for stories. Do you guys remember anything that happened? Because I don't remember 10 years. I said to my friend Andre that really, I just remember needing to pee. He was like, well, there's the essay.

I don't know that a lot of people who work in offices understand. It depends on the office, I mean, if you're working in call center, I'm talking about you. But yeah, I don't think people understand how you have to ask for a day off and beg and have a really good excuse or you just don't get one.

And we're seeing now, with sick leave, how do you stop a pandemic when people have to work sick?

And working through sickness or injury has lasting effects. I have this sentence you wrote on opiate addiction highlighted: "People are in pain, because unless you went to college, the only way you'll earn a decent living is by breaking your body or risking your life." It's so rare, almost like a Bigfoot sighting, to see this point about addiction raised in discussions about class and work in America. There's often a romanticization of "the trades" out there by people who do work in offices, who seem to want to ignore how physical that labor is, and how a lot of people can't keep doing it for their whole life.

Not at the pace that we're required to work in our Protestant work ethic. A month off in August, like the Europeans have, might have a lot of effect on how our bodies feel. But we don't have time to heal. We can't go to a doctor. How do you get better if you don't get medical care? Even if you have health insurance, you don't have time off to do it.

There's constant jokes about rednecks and their opioids. It's not "rednecks and their opioids," people are in pain. And the doctor prescribes them opioids because they have to go back to work the next day. Or their buddy gives them a few because they have to go back to work the next day, and it's really easy to get addicted. I got addicted after I had a sinus surgery. It took maybe a week of intense pain and horrific withdrawals that were real. And I don't even like opioids, I get nauseated on them, so I don't take them. But yeah, it's really easy to get addicted.

Let's talk about the word "cult." Your book is not a tell-all cult memoir. But you write about your childhood with the Children of God as the big secret you carried for much of your life. If you start listening for the word "cult" it's kind of everywhere these days. Donald Trump voters are a cult. QAnon is a cult. CrossFit is a cult. On one hand, maybe we're diluting this term. But I think your book also makes a strong case that cult-like leadership behavior shapes a lot of our mainstream institutions, too.

Yeah, I think that's what I wanted to say with that. I spent most of my life just twitching at the word "cult." But when you start talking about and thinking about what it actually was, it's not all that different from what most of us experience as Americans, or as employees of a store that want you to be loyal to the store instead of paying you [well]. We throw the word around a lot, but maybe it's appropriate. And maybe it's fine that it's diluted, because it's apt. Our groupthink, our tribalism, our gather together to follow personalities instead of policy [tendencies] in politics. It's kind of bizarre, but I thought [being in a cult] was this huge secret, and it turns out pretty much every American can relate to it.

There's aspects of it in how you write about the military. There's definitely strong parallels made to mainstream religions, as well, and evangelicalism.

That was the shocking thing, coming out of the cult and realizing none of their beliefs were really that weird.

I really thought it was just a Children of God thing: We thought the Antichrist was coming, there would be a mark of the beast. And now, there are entire Facebook groups dedicated to warning you the vaccine's going to insert the mark of the beast into you. And it's still a little baffling to me. I really thought the end of the world would be more exciting and less f**king stupid. I'm supposed to be fighting the Antichrist, and I'm just not putting a bra on and watching Netflix.

Speaking of Netflix. There was that "SNL" musical sketch a few weeks ago about women who like murder shows, and in the end, it takes that little turn when Nick Jonas comes home and is like, baby, let me introduce you to the cult show. There was a violent crime in my extended family, and I get twitchy about the idea of it popping up as a story on one of those murder comedy podcasts. So I wonder what it's like for you to see cult shows — docuseries like "Wild Wild Country" and the NXIVM exposés — out there in the pop culture discourse?

It doesn't make it fun to tell people you were in a cult when people start thinking about NXIVM. That documentary is problematic for me anyway, because you're asking people who've been out of a cult for a week to explain what happened to them. I mean, f**k, it's been 20 years, I still don't know what the f**k happened to my family. I wrote a book about it, but it's not an easy thing to explain. You can't be the expert on your own life, which is a really weird thing to say for someone who just wrote a book about my own, but — [laughs] I'm f**king selling it here —

This career suicide you keep trying to commit is not going to work.

I'm going to tank the book, goddamnit! Nobody read it. Please don't read my book. The more I tell people not to, they're just going to. We don't really follow orders really well. I do love that about Americans. [Laughs.]

I used to think we were watching the crime shows, especially as women, as homework. What situations to avoid, and what men to avoid. But we kind of already know not to get into a stranger's car. Also, now we do it as practice, to get any place you get in a stranger's Uber and drive around. I used to think we're doing this as homework, but I don't think — we're just feeding off of people's tragedies for entertainment. I don't know why we do that, except maybe our home lives are really too hard to look at. It's easier to look at something shocking and weird in someone else's life than understand why our lives are f**king miserable.

To go back to what you were saying earlier about companies that demand loyalty from their workers, maybe we're also looking for recognition in these more extreme cases?

Yeah, it might be. It also seems like more of an easy fix: Don't join a cult. Cool. Wrote that one down. If he starts branding people, you should probably leave. Those are all pretty easy fixes. But you know, we're looking at the next 20 years of our lives before we can retire going to work every day for a company that is a cult because they don't want to pay us or give us time off, in a country where we can't even get f**king health care or our college paid for. "Walk out when they start branding people," is pretty easy advice but we can't really escape our own lives.

Yeah, maybe it's supposed to make us feel a little better to like we're not we're not there yet.

America is kind of founded on Oh, at least I'm not that guy. That is what we've got.

You were joking earlier: Don't read my book, don't read my book! For writers who write memoir and essays, people read their work and they feel like they're very close to the writer. When in truth they only know what you're allowing them to know. This is a crafted work of art, and they're the reader, not a confidant. You've probably experienced the weird side of that: people feeling like they know you well enough to comment on you as if you're either a very intimate friend, or even like a character on a show that they watch. I'm curious about how you navigate that public attention now as a writer in light of what you've written about having to keep so much of your life private for so long.

Yelling "I'm a private person!" if you've just written a memoir is kind of like yelling, "I'm not crazy!" but it doesn't really jibe with the fact that I just put out a book of really personal essays. But they are kind of a snapshot. And I don't know that people understand that. We don't really understand the parasocial relationship as consumers. I understand a little more now that I'm on the other side of it. I whine a lot about not getting a book tour [because of the pandemic] because I feel like I'm getting robbed, but at the same time, I do get to avoid a whole lot of people trying to hug me. I don't think people wrote reviews of any David Sedaris book talking about how much they wanted to hug him. I don't think that happened. I don't think anyone's ever called Augusten Burroughs "brave" in a review, and I think there is a little bit of a sexist bent to it.

I put the book out. And that's what you get. We're all in therapy to figure out walls versus boundaries. And I'm trying to step away from Twitter a little bit. I mean, I'm still compulsively tweeting, God help me. But I'm trying not to put so much personal information out there. I got on there because I wanted to connect to other writers and figure out how to publish a book, but that's done now. And while I'm still trying to connect to people — we're all f**king lonely, sitting around in the pandemic, trying to talk to someone — but yeah, I don't want to be consumed, and it feels a lot like I am being consumed for entertainment.

You are a very funny writer. I think there is this perception out there, perhaps, that comedy is natural, it's innate, it's easy, if you're a funny person anyway. Not that it's a craft, a skill, that takes conscious work. You use humor very skillfully and adeptly in your essays in a way that feels like an act of writerly generosity, and it's a craft element that isn't always highlighted when we talk about essays on difficult subjects.

It is a skill level. How do you make child abuse hilarious?

How did you develop that muscle? Because you are very purposefully funny about topics which are also horrific.

Gallows humor has been around for a little while. I didn't invent it. We joke to process things.

I can get kind of emotional writing something and I want to make a point and I want to drive it home. But you have to add a little bit of levity or give people the tools to read it. Especially in the beginning, we add a few funny things to like, Hey, we're going to get through this. It's not going to be that bad. I'm not going to make you need a shower after you read this book. It's just practice. And Twitter came in handy there a lot. How to tell a joke? Follow a bunch of comics and watch the way they work, watch how they arrange a story so that it's funny, not tragic. The most tragic things can be the funniest. I just think it's the way our our emotions work. We like that release.

Who are you reading right now? What books are you excited about?

Speaking of serial murderers and podcasts, Elon Green wrote this book ["Last Call"] about a serial killer in the '90s who was killing gay men in New York. And he did it a different way, I think, than any of the podcasts. I tweeted about this other day, but really, really the worst thing I think that can happen to you besides being murdered by a serial killer, is to have someone on a podcast giggling about it. He put the victims in it first. He tells their stories. And they're treated with such tenderness. And he doesn't make them the perfect victim. It's this history of gay New York, which of course, I'm fascinated by because I was too scared to go to New York. So I like to read about it.

Your book gives a really great snapshot of a particular time in gay D.C. too, and also in the South, which is often overlooked in LGBTQ narratives. Like what it's like to try to find the one gay bar in a 100-mile radius of your rural town.

You don't think about it when you're living it. But any Gen Xer is now really horrified when it occurs to us that people are talking about the '90s like we used to talk about the '60s.

Jesus Christ. [Laughs.]

I'm sorry I just ruined your week.

I routinely feel old. But Don't Ask Don't Tell was only repealed 10 years ago. And I feel like that's something that has been memory-holed fast, like, well, that's over! In the same way that people tried to pretend that because we elected a Black man president, racism is now over! And the progress we have made feels so fragile right now. I think it's important that books like yours and Elon Green's are chronicling that time, which was not that long ago. But it is often treated like ancient history to be swept under the rug.

Yeah, we really don't like to look at our pasts. Which is the f**king problem. Because we're doing it to trans people now. There's a [North Carolina state] law that just passed where teachers have to report to parents if a kid doesn't fit the correct gender performance. And that's every tomboy. Every boy who's a little bit into art. And God help us, lesbians like to clearly pretend that trans rights have nothing to do with them. But it does. If someone is being oppressed, it really does affect all of us. And forgetting where we came from doesn't f**king help. We haven't won yet. I don't know that we're ever going to win. You do actually have to still keep fighting these things. Because yes, gay people are allowed in the military. And now finally trans people are allowed to be in the military. But they're not allowed to play high school sports?

People like to say about the generation coming up that they're not going to stand for this bigotry any longer, so its days are numbered. Is this the last gasp of institutional bigotry trying to sink its claws in before it's replaced? Or are we going to be fighting the same fights for years to come?

I mean, I thought Gen X would get rid of a lot of it because we were always watching MTV and they told us racism was bad. And we watched "The Real World," and we watched our favorite gay character die of AIDS. I thought we would make some changes. We've made a few. I have a lot of hope for the next generation that they'll make a few more. But that's a lot of weight to put on an 18-year-old.