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UN rights expert deplores US prisoner's 'torture'

Juan Mendez (front), U.N. special rapporteur on torture, arrives with delegations at the Moroccan National Council for Human Rights in Rabat, September 16, 2012. (REUTERS/Stringer)

GENEVA: A U.N. human rights expert on torture urged U.S. authorities Monday to end four decades of solitary confinement for a former Black Panther convicted of murdering a Louisiana prison guard.

U.N. special rapporteur Juan Mendez said the indefinite solitary confinement imposed on Albert Woodfox "clearly amounts to torture and it should be lifted immediately."

Woodfox, 66, and fellow prisoner Herman Wallace were serving unrelated sentences for armed robbery in 1972, when they were charged and convicted with fatally stabbing a guard.

The two men were moved to isolation in Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, then to "closed-cell restriction" at other state jails. Wallace died Friday at 71, only days after a federal judge freed him and ordered a new trial for him on the murder charge.

Mendez, who reports to the U.N.'s top human rights body in Geneva, said in a statement their cases "clearly show that the use of solitary confinement in the U.S. penitentiary system goes far beyond what is acceptable under international human rights law."

Woodfox and Wallace are two of three former Panthers known as the "Angola 3" who spent decades in isolation for periods of typically 23 hours a day.

The third man, Robert King, was convicted of killing a fellow inmate in 1973, and released in 2001 after his conviction was reversed and he had spent 29 years in solitary confinement.

Woodfox and Wallace denied involvement in the guard's killing, claiming they were targeted because they helped establish a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party at the Angola prison in 1971, set up demonstrations and organized strikes for better conditions.

In 2010, Woodfox was moved to the David Wade Correctional Center in Homer, where he remains in custody.

 

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