Tim DeChristopher

(update below)

Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher, who was given a two-year sentence in prison for making fake bids in a Utah public land auction that was later found to be corrupt, was moved to solitary confinement after a member of Congress contacted the Bureau of Prisons.

Peaceful Uprising, a climate change activism group which DeChristopher co-founded, states in a press release posted on March 27:

On the evening of Friday March 9th, Tim DeChristopher was summarily removed from the minimum security camp where he has been held since September 2011, and moved into the FCI Herlong’s Special Housing Unit (SHU). Tim was informed by  Lieutenant Weirich that he was being moved to the SHU because an unidentified congressman had called from Washington DC, complaining of an email that Tim had sent to a friend. Tim was inquiring about the reported business practices of one of his legal fund contributors, threatening to return the money if their values no longer aligned with his own.  According to Prison officials, Tim will continue to be held in isolated confinement pending an investigation. There is no definite timeline for inmates being held in the SHU — often times they await months for the conclusion of an investigation.

In the SHU, Tim’s movement and communications are severely restricted. In the past two weeks, he has been allowed out of his 8 X 10 cell (which he shares with one other inmate) four times, each time for less than an hour. The SHU could have been designed by Franz Kafka. Tim is allowed one book in his cell, and four in his property locker.  His writing means are restricted to a thin ink cartridge which makes correspondence extremely difficult.  He can still receive mail from the outside, but has no other form of communication other than 15 minutes of phone calls per month. [emphasis not added]

First off, this congress person who ordered DeChristopher into solitary confinement is a coward and should be unmasked. DeChristopher is powerless in prison. He is already being punished.

If the description is correct, it seems like a congressman is trying to intimidate DeChristopher for wanting to return money. To amplify the punishment because of an email is cruel. That the punishment is to place DeChristopher into solitary confinement is even more inhumane. In fact, it is what a fascist country would do to a political prisoner.

There do not appear to be any other instances known where a congressman called up the Bureau of Prisons and was able to get a prisoner moved. That seems terribly arbitrary and unjust. So, why is the Bureau of Prisons granting the unnamed congressman this power? Did DeChristopher violate some regulation he is supposed to abide by when he wrote the email?

Peaceful Uprising is correct. To get this sorted out could take months. It took months to get Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is accused of releasing classified information to WikiLeaks, moved out of solitary confinement at Quantico Marine Brig to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Though there was political support for the pre-trial confinement conditions being imposed, no congressman is known to have ordered the brig authority to keep Manning under the prevention of injury (POI) watch that led to his cruel and inhumane treatment. So, what is happening to DeChristopher may be even more appalling.

Also, don’t bother to seek an unmonitored meeting with UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez. The government will oppose every effort by the UN torture expert to meet privately with DeChristopher and do the work he is to do under his mandate as a Special Rapporteur just like they opposed Mendez’s efforts to meet with Manning.

Mendez has called on all countries, including the United States, to ban solitary confinement. He contends whether countries call it “segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit… whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique.” He finds “indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement in excess of 15 days should also be subject to an absolute prohibition,” as there can be “lasting mental damage after a few days of social isolation.” He has also said it can “amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment.”

There already were many who believed DeChristopher should not have gone to jail. As Peaceful Uprising notes, William Koch entered “ an antitrust settlement where his company, Gunnison Energy, and SG Interest, a Texas energy company, conspired to orchestrate the bidding at a BLM oil and gas lease auction in Colorado. They memorialized this conspiracy in a memorandum of understanding that was subsequently revealed by a whistleblower.  The Department of Justice settled the matter by having each company pay a $275,000 fine, and allowed the conspirators to retain their successful BLM oil and gas leases, without any personal consequences.”

DeChristopher went to jail. He was charged with two felonies for conspiring to defeat the Act that created the auction and for making false statements to the government. Employees of Gunnison Energy and SG Interest engaged in a similar conspiracy but no executives or businessmen are going to jail.

When DeChristopher was sentenced, a call went out for people to mobilize and stop the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Thousands mobilized. Many were inspired by the fact that the government was jailing DeChristopher for two years.

This latest action by a congressional representative may warrant a similar round of activism. President Barack Obama has pledged to cut the “red tape” to expedite the construction of the southern segment of the pipeline. After months of activism, the White House and other politicians in Washington still don’t want to protect the environment from destruction from oil production and the inevitable spills and pollution that will result.

What DeChristopher went to jail for was an entirely selfless act aimed at doing something meaningful to challenge a practice that contributes to climate change.

Warnings from scientists on climate change are becoming more and more apocalyptic. Scientists report this week that the heat waves and heavier rainfalls are the result of greenhouse gas emissions. Extra heat in the atmosphere has made extreme weather more likely yet the political class has chosen to be unresponsive to the dire situation so that capitalism can continue unimpeded.

As an unnamed congressman wields power over the Bureau of Prisons and keeps DeChristopher in solitary, let us all continue be inspired by the example set by DeChristopher:

Those who are inspired to follow my actions are those who understand that we are on a path toward catastrophic consequences of climate change. They know their future, and the future of their loved ones, is on the line. And they know we are running out of time to turn things around. The closer we get to that point where it’s too late, the less people have to lose by fighting back. The power of the Justice Department is based on its ability to take things away from people. The more that people feel that they have nothing to lose, the more that power begins to shrivel. The people who are committed to fighting for a livable future will not be discouraged or intimidated by anything that happens here today.

And neither will I. I will continue to confront the system that threatens our future. Given the destruction of our democratic institutions that once gave citizens access to power, my future will likely involve civil disobedience. Nothing that happens here today will change that. I don’t mean that in any sort of disrespectful way at all, but you don’t have that authority. You have authority over my life, but not my principles. Those are mine alone.”

Update

A staff member with Peaceful Uprising has provided further confirmation that DeChristopher is in solitary confinement. The staff person reports “phone lines have been flooded all day long at FCI Herlong, the BOP office in DC and to various members of Congress, and adds, “Hopefully, the pressure will not subside and not only Tim’s issue, but the issue of keeping prisoners in inhumane conditions while awaiting ‘indefinite’ hearings will also be brought to light.”

Peaceful Uprising’s outrage and disbelief comes from fact that a “congress person was able to read Tim’s emails.” The group asks, “How and why do political representatives have a say in BOP affairs? And what are the underlying connections between such representatives and those overseeing prisons?”

The identity of the member of Congress who is doing this to DeChristopher is still unknown. Peaceful Uprising hopes “investigative journalism and public pressure” will lead to the member’s identity becoming known.

And, the Associated Press provides additional confirmation that DeChristopher was moved to solitary. They spoke to DeChristopher’s lawyer Pat Shea, who told AP “prison officials in California, where DeChristopher is held, told the jailed activist that a congressman complained about an email he sent to some of his supporters.” Because of the complaint, he is now being held in isolation.

Update 2

Known environmental writer Jeff Biggers has a post up on AlterNet with the phone numbers of people for people to call to put pressure on the Bureau of Prisons and Congress.

…Peaceful Uprising is urging supporters to contact prison officials and members of the US Congress with the message: “Tim DeChristopher inmate #16156-081 be immediately removed from the Special Housing Unit (SHU) and placed back in the Minimum Security Camp at FCI Herlong.”

FCI Herlong

530-827-8000

Richard B. Ives, WARDEN

Eloisa DeBruler, Public Information Officer

Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Central Office

202-307-3198

Charles E. Samuels, Jr.

Director

United States House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security

PRIORITY CONGRESSIONAL MEMBERS TO CALL:

Jim Sensenbrenner, WI, Chairman of Subcommittee

(202) 225-5101

Louie Gohmert, TX, Vice Chairman of Subcommittee

(202) 225-3035

Jason Chaffetz, UT

DC: (202) 225-7751

UT: (801) 851-2500

Update 3

Jeff Goodell has a comprehensive update on DeChristopher being thrown in the hole at Rolling Stone. It includes a copy of the email that has led to DeChristopher being put into solitary confinement.

According to Shea, a veteran lawyer and director of the federal Bureau of Land Management during the Clinton administration, this is what happened to DeChristopher: On March 5, he wrote an email to Dylan Schneider, the treasurer and volunteer coordinator at Peaceful Uprising, a climate activism group co-founded by DeChristopher.… In the email (you can read the whole thing below), DeChristopher discusses the fact that an unnamed corporate donor who contributed to his legal defense fund is exporting U.S. manufacturing jobs and laying off workers.  DeChristopher is not happy: “I feel like I have some influence and hence some responsibility to do something,” he writes.  “If they are saving money by screwing their workers, I can’t in good conscience accept some of that money.”   He then says that he plans to send a letter to the owner of the company that made the donation, explaining why it bothers him.  He writes, “This letter will include a threat to wage a campaign against them if they don’t reverse course and keep the plants open.”

Let’s be clear about what DeChristopher is doing here: He’s threatening to give back a $25,000 donation because the donor’s company is exporting jobs, thus tainting the donation in his eyes.  Is this the action of a dangerous criminal?

This additional information only makes the power being wielded by an unnamed member of Congress even more despicable.