Jan. 6 defendants held in the D.C. jail’s so-called “Patriot Wing” are demanding to be transferred to Guantanamo Bay’s military prison—which is notorious for human rights abuses—because they think it would have better amenities.
Thirty-four detainees who are either awaiting trial or serving sentences in connection with the violent riot at the Capitol signed a letter re-asserting their outrage over the conditions in the federal correctional facility in Washington, D.C. They include standard complaints from American jails, like mold in showers, rust in the water, mice and cockroaches. The letter also rattles off more unusual criticisms like “Critical Race Theory” or “Re-education” propaganda on the tablets provided to inmates, being mocked by jail staff with Kamala Harris-related attire, or receiving punishment for expressing “any political views whatsoever.”
But the Jan. 6 defendants have a sunnier perception of Guantanamo Bay, or “Gitmo,” which they wrote provides “nutritional meals” and “top-notch medical care” and is “respectful of religious requirements.” They also note that there are centers for exercise and entertainment there, “despite the fact that those residents are malicious terrorists.”
Gitmo, they write, would be preferable to “remaining trapped within the wretched confines of cruel and unusual punishment of the D.C. jail.”
“We hereby request to spend our precious and limited days, should the government continue to insist on holding us captive unconstitutionally as pre-trial detainees, to be transferred and reside at Guantanamo Bay,” the letter reads.
Gitmo was established after 9/11 by former President George W. Bush to detain suspected terrorists. Former prisoners have alleged horrific treatment by government interrogators, such as waterboarding, sexual assault, beatings, sleep deprivation, and more. The facility has also been repeatedly criticized by human rights organizations for indefinite detention without trial.
Among those petitioning to go to Gitmo are Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola, who’s facing seditious conspiracy charges and was seen on camera smashing windows of the Capitol and allowing rioters to clamber through into the building; and Oath Keeper Jessica Watkins. Both Pezzola and Watkins are facing seditious conspiracy charges.
In their letter, the 34 detainees wrote that they were shocked to learn that “a country that ensures ‘Liberty and Justice for All’” would subject its own people to such “hellacious conditions” and “medieval standards of living,” like those at the D.C. jail.
The letter was even included as an exhibit in a motion filed last week by an attorney representing one of the Jan. 6 defendants asking for his release from jail.
The first page of a letter signed by 34 Jan. 6 detainees requesting transfer to Guantanamo Bay. (Department of Justice)
There’s little evidence to suggest that Jan. 6 detainees are being treated worse than the rest of the jail’s population, but the conditions they’ve described in various motions for pretrial release echo the complaints raised by local officials, criminal justice advocates, and inmates for years. In 2019, a report by the city’s auditor concluded that conditions in the D.C. jail were “hazardous” and dangerous for both the inmates and guards.
But the complaints from the Jan. 6 defendants did help shine a spotlight on the notoriously awful jail.
Last October, the U.S. Marshals Service, which oversees federal detainees, launched an investigation into the conditions at the jail, at the direction of a federal judge who had become frustrated by officials’ failure to provide requested records to a Jan. 6 defendant’s lawyer. The investigation also came alongside growing complaints from Jan. 6 defendants, who by that point had been recast as “political prisoners” by their allies on the outside, including lawmakers such as Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz.
The D.C. jail consists of two different facilities. The U.S. Marshals did not find any particularly dangerous conditions in the Correctional Treatment Facility, which is where the Jan. 6 defendants are being held, that warranted their release or transfer elsewhere.
Investigators, however, did find major problems in the older Central Detention Facility, and transferred 400 inmates from there to a prison in Pennsylvania.
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