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“Barbaric Beyond Measure,” NY Times Editorial on Albert Woodfox’s Four Decades in Solitary Confinement

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Responding to the Nov. 20 ruling buy the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirming Albert Woodfox’s third overturned conviction, the New York Times has written a scathing editorial condemning the treatment of Albert Woodfox by the state of Louisiana.

Amnesty International and the A3 Coalition petition delivery at Louisiana State Capitol, April 17 2012

In last night’s editorial entitled “Four Decades of Solitary,” the NY Times wrote about Albert Woodfox:

The facts of the case were on his side: There was no physical evidence linking him or his co-defendant, Herman Wallace, to the murder, and prosecutors did not reveal that their main witness had been bribed to testify against the men. Mr. Woodfox, by all accounts, has been a model prisoner, and under Louisiana prison policy this should have earned him his exit from solitary confinement years ago…State officials insist their case is solid and have already said they intend to retry him, though the prison guard’s widow believes he is innocent of the killing and most of the potential witnesses in the case are dead.

Even comparatively brief solitary confinement can cause severe mental and emotional trauma; a United Nations expert has said that more than 15 days may amount to torture. When it is imposed for more than 40 years, it is barbaric beyond measure.

In response to the Fifth Circuit ruling, Amnesty International and Amnesty USA have each released statements reiterating their longstanding call for Albert Woodfox’s immediate release.

Amnesty International wrote:

A ruling by a federal appeals court in Louisiana yesterday affirming a decision by a lower court to overturn the conviction of Albert Woodfox, who has spent more than 40 years in isolation after a flawed murder trial, is a triumph for justice that comes decades late, said Amnesty International.“After more than 40 years of tirelessly pursuing justice through the courts, Albert Woodfox must now be given his freedom,” said Tessa Murphy, USA Campaigner at Amnesty International. “The state should no longer impede justice but stand aside and allow this decision to stand.”…

Like Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox has always denied any involvement in the crime and both said they were falsely implicated in the murder because of their political activism in prison as members of the Black Panther Party.

There was no physical evidence linking them to the crime and their convictions relied primarily on the dubious testimony of a sole eyewitness who received favourable treatment in prison in return for his testimony. The case against them was based on flawed evidence and riddled with procedural errors that have been extensively documented over the years.

Amnesty USA writes:

Yesterday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana affirmed a 2013 ruling overturning the conviction of Albert Woodfox of the ‘Angola 3.’ He is imprisoned for the second-degree murder of a prison guard in 1972, though he maintains his innocence. Amnesty International has raised serious human rights concerns over the case for many years and applauds this latest development– though it comes after decades of injustice.The state of Louisiana had immediately appealed the 2013 ruling, and Albert languished in solitary for nearly two years, until the appeals court’s decision, yesterday.

“Albert Woodfox has endured the unthinkable. For more than four decades he has survived in conditions the UN’s top expert on torture has said can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” said Jasmine Heiss, Senior Campaigner at Amnesty International USA. “The Fifth Circuit’s ruling in Albert’s favor only adds more weight to our call on the State of Louisiana to stop standing in the way of Albert Woodfox’s freedom. It is time for Albert Woodfox to walk free, and it is unconscionable to hold him for a single day longer.”

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