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Kiriakou writes: "Covid-19 is raging through US prison systems at every level – federal, state, and local – at a rate far higher than in the general population. To make matters worse, many prisoners are forbidden from cleaning and disinfecting their cells."

Jailed whistleblower Reality Leigh Winner. (image: Courage to Resist)
Jailed whistleblower Reality Leigh Winner. (image: Courage to Resist)

The Government's Weapon Against Reality Winner: COVID-19

By John Kiriakou, Reader Supported News

27 July 20


ovid-19 is raging through US prison systems at every level – federal, state, and local – at a rate far higher than in the general population. To make matters worse, many prisoners are forbidden from cleaning and disinfecting their cells. Whistleblower Marty Gottesfeld has written that as soon as the Covid-19 pandemic hit FCI Terre Haute, where he is being held, prison authorities stopped providing soap and shampoo and forbade prisoners from using detergent to clean their laundry. No explanation was given. Similarly, NSA whistleblower Reality Winner reported to her family that she and other prisoners at the federal women’s prison at Carswell, Texas, are not permitted to clean their cells. Five hundred women – nearly 50 percent of all prisoners at Carswell – have been infected. Winner is one of them.

Kevin Gosztola at Shadowproof is reporting information directly from Winner’s family. Neither he nor any other journalist has been in direct contact with Winner. But the Bureau of Prisons is treating her like she is violating Bureau of Prisons (BOP) policy on contact with the media. And that punishment is manifesting itself in her being forbidden to keep her cell clean. Crazy, right?

Gosztola says that one prison guard taunted Winner by telling her, “I just wanted to congratulate you on your positive results.” That’s how Winner found out she was positive for Covid-19. And the guard immediately forbade her from cleaning and disinfecting her cell. A week ago, this same guard tried to have Winner thrown into solitary confinement just so that she would be unable to speak to her attorney, who had requested a meeting. 

Gosztola says that, for a prisoner, “cleaning the little amount of space that they can call their own gives them some sense of control, and in a pandemic, that means being able to disinfect and dramatically slow the spread of the virus. But in a system where facility personnel want prisoners to remain dependent on them, staff can impose their authority by refusing to permit cleaning …” It’s an act of cruelty.

And Brittany Winner, Reality’s sister, says the present situation is even worse. Winner’s bunkmate tested positive for Covid-19 and was removed from the unit. (Most inmates who test positive have been sent to solitary confinement, rather than to the prison’s medical unit to try to slow the spread of the disease.) Instead, prisoners at Carswell have been taken to the medical unit, where other prisoners receive chemotherapy, dialysis, and other treatments. You can guess what happened next. Covid-19 patients, guards, or others dragged the disease into the unit and infected prisoners who were already fighting for their lives. In a normal situation, this would likely be depraved indifference. It would be manslaughter if a patient were to die.

This horror is not relegated to only the women’s prison in Carswell. It’s happening in prisons and jails across the country. In the prison where I was incarcerated after blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program, FCI Loretto, one of the prisoners in my housing unit, four cells down from mine, tested positive for tuberculosis. We could hear his hacking cough 24 hours a day. He went to the medical unit, where he tested positive. Another prisoner, who was a physician in on a Medicare fraud case, told the guards that the positive prisoner had to be isolated to protect the rest of us. They told him to mind his own business. So the rest of us made our own makeshift masks our of tee shirts and underwear. That seemed to work. By the end of my sentence six or so months later, nobody else had tested positive. But at least we were able to clear our cells, wash our hands, and use detergent to clean our clothes.

This anti-health, anti-prisoner policy is not unique to FCI Terre Haute or FMC Carswell. It’s a policy across the Bureau of Prisons. According to Prison Legal News magazine, the BOP has dragged its feet in allowing prisoners to be released under the federal compassionate release program. At the same time, prisoners are 5.5 times more likely to be infected with Covid-19 than the general population and nearly twice as likely to die. 

The whole situation reminds me of World War Z: “Mother Nature is a serial killer. No one’s better. Or more creative.”

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act - a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration's torture program.

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