The idea of political prisoners and the abuse they suffer at the hands of their government is not a new one to the majority of the American public. When the concept is presented, it usually brings forth visions of the old Soviet gulags or the horrors of Southeast Asia. The possibility that America would have such a thing as a "political prisoner" within its own borders would be, to the majority of this nation's citizens, considered the substance of right wing, militia or separatist paranoia.
A former twelve-term Republican congressman from Idaho, however, has different ideas as to where one could find this scenario being played out. Former GOP Congressman, George Hansen, has been referred to on as many as 2,500 talk-radio stations across the country as "America's most famous political prisoner", according to the "U.S. Citizens Human Rights Commission."
"The odyssey of George Hansen in the nation's legal system," claims the Mission Statement of that organization, "is so brutal that it makes him the natural spokesman to the nation and the world of the terror experienced by thousands of Americans each year as they are ground under the heel of a ruthless justice system run amok."
The group, as its name implies, was established to provide recourse to remedy against suspected or actual human rights violations. Their Mission Statement, however, denotes a different approach to the subject than most are familiar with. Instead of the standard application to human rights, i.e., addressing immigrants', minorities' or children's rights, etc., their declared purpose is for "publicly exposing and eliminating the wave of violence and killings of Americans everywhere at the hands of government law enforcement officers and officials of the judiciary."
Such claims would seem questionable, at best, were it not for the fact that this fourteen-year veteran of Congress and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Department of Agriculture under Nixon has himself been the focus of "political retribution."
The newspaper, The Idaho Observer, stated that "Seven-term U.S. Congressman, George Hansen (R. Idaho) was punished severely for having the audacity to implement a plan which would make Congress instantly accountable to the American public.
"Hansen, author of To Harass Our People, an indictment of the IRS, was also the architect of the Congressional Accountability Project (CAP) which was...to use national TV and a 1-900 number to instantly post congressional floor votes and public response to them."
This legislation met with a hostile congressional response and began a series of events in the life of the congressman that makes the term "bizarre" seem woefully inadequate.
The real substance of Rep. Hansen's nightmare began when James Cole, special counsel to the House Ethics Committee (the same special prosecutor assigned to deal with Newt Gingrich's ethics case), went after Hansen on alleged violation of Title 18 sec. 1001 of the United States Code. He was accused of lying to the government by omitting specific information on his financial disclosure statement. Even after the Supreme Court handed down its decision, years later, vacating Hansen's conviction and calling the litigation a "wrongful prosecution", Cole was still presenting his handling of the Hansen case as his preeminent qualification in order to be assigned the Gingrich matter. After successfully receiving the case, a story published by Associated Press included a photograph of Cole with the caption, "APPOINTED. Special counsel James M. Cole made a name by prosecuting a congressman who falsified his disclosure forms," — the AP still apparently ignorant that Hansen was declared innocent of the charge by the highest court in the land.
In an extensive interview with The WINDS, Rep. Hansen detailed the chronology of events, up to and including his torture and incarceration by federal marshals. The following is that chronology.
Congressman Hansen's trouble really began, he told this reporter, about 1964. "I'd been in a running battle with the Feds for years because I don't like what they do to people — so they tried to take me down. The big part started in 1975.
"The IRS came after me with their criminal division." Other congressmen, Hansen alleges, "had the IRS foil their re-election bids claiming they evaded taxes, thus labeling them as 'scoff- laws', a term used to imply that the legislators thought that they were above the law, "something the American people don't like". "In my case," Hansen says, "my people [his electorate] knew better. They [the IRS] were after me with criminal [proceedings] for three years and they finally had to give me back $10,000 in overpaid taxes. Then they got their 'big brother', the Department of Justice, to come after me on campaign contributions. When that didn't work, they [pursued] ethics violations like they did with Newt Gingrich which also didn't work. Then they claimed I didn't report my wife for [income] tax purposes."
The method the government used that finally resulted in a "successful" prosecution, the congressman told The WINDS, was when they took him to downtown Washington, D.C. "where," Hansen says, "you could indict a ham sandwich," and was indeed indicted for "failure to report" under the previously stated U.S. Code. "As a result of this I ended up in and out of jail for a ten-year period — four years solid time behind prison bars. Finally the Supreme Court" handed down a decision in May of 1995 claiming that the case was a "wrongful prosecution" — translation: it should never have been brought to court.
During his incarceration Rep. Hansen was subjected to what federal inmates refer to as "Diesel Therapy," so named because of the continuous transport by diesel-powered vehicles. This takes place in transit to or from whatever detention facility to which the prisoner is ultimately assigned. The congressman detailed this form of "institutionalized torture" for The WINDS. The reader should be advised that the incidents described therein depict graphic details that some may find extremely disturbing. Also in the following account it is well to remember that this treatment was being perpetrated upon a 63 year-old man.
"When they chain you up, legs and wrists, they put a thing called a stiffener on those they don't like. That's a small black box slightly larger than a pack of cigarettes. This is placed on the chains between the handcuffs and makes them rigid so your arms can't move. Then they run a chain from your arms and fasten it to your waist. When they do that it pulls your arms from a normal 180-degree angle to 90 degrees, putting your arms in a bind which cuts into the nerves of your wrists so badly that, the result is, after an extended period of time like that, it requires weeks and sometimes months to get feeling and circulation back to your hands — and pretty much the same for your feet."
After placing these manacles on hands and feet, "they strap you into a seat and you're so bound up with chains that if you have to go to the bathroom, you can't do anything about it. You can't pull your pants down or do anything to relieve yourself."
According to Hansen, the vehicles he was transported in reeked of urine and feces because the prisoners were chained in that position for twenty hours a day, forcing them to accommodate their bodily functions without access to sanitation facilities.
"The best thing you could do," Hansen advised others, "is the Biblical act of fasting. If you don't eat and don't drink, you don't have to go to the bathroom. They do this to you for four or five weeks at a time; they put you in chains about two in the morning, you get out about ten at night. And when you're bigger than average [Rep. Hansen is 6'6"], you're wedged in, sitting there twenty hours a day and you can't move your legs. Because the shackles cut off the return blood flow from your lower extremities, soon your legs fill with blood, especially when you're 63 years-old as I was then. Then you get to walk around with two barrels full of blood where your calves and lower legs should be.
"The result of this is that your feet swell and become two to three sizes too large for your shoes. [Hansen claims that the marshals intentionally provided him with shoes several sizes too small]. This causes your toes to jam into the ends of your shoes and blood blisters form underneath your toenails. They then start growing straight up and to the side in the most grotesque manner. You can't believe what happens under those conditions. Your toes turn to knobs, becoming very disfigured, making it impossible to wear shoes. The only way I could get shoes on was to pull my toenails out by the roots, myself, with pliers. I now have ten toes without nails.
"Because of the blood pooling in my shins for such extended periods of time, if I just skinned them, on the back of a seat or something, it formed open sores that didn't heal for as long as a year and a half. I couldn't get any medical attention because of their attitude toward me. They were trying to send me a message.
"I found a foil container in the garbage with a couple of, what used to be, iodine swabs all dried out. I put some water on it to try to activate what was left of the iodine and applied that to the sores. It did cause some coagulating and eventually, after some time, healed over.
"My legs looked like they were beaten with two-by-fours. When I went to Iran several years before, I was the only public official to get into the country during the hostage crisis, and that's what they showed me the Shah had been doing to his people. If they didn't like what you were doing, they would smash your shins with boards and pull your nails out and break your teeth. I went to Congress recently and detailed what happened in Iran and told them I didn't even have to leave the country — I got the job done down the road about a hundred miles — right here in the United States of America. It shook them up pretty badly.
"The way they smashed my teeth out is they isolated me, arbitrarily, to a place where I had no communication with the outside world. They placed me where I had to do chemical testing on extremely hazardous substances with absolutely no protection. That caused my bones and teeth to go soft. I ended up with twenty-four teeth breaking off at the gum line. For three years I was not allowed to see a dentist. So far, it has cost me about $14,000 to try to repair my mouth. My dentist says I'm a dental cripple for life because the chemicals eroded not only my teeth, but my jawbone and gums. I went through about the same thing they do in a foreign prison. I got it done a little differently, but the results were the same."
The actual "diesel therapy", Hansen says, is for the purpose of isolating a prisoner from the rest of the world for extended periods of time by keeping him in transit. This is a form of physical and emotional torture somewhat akin to sleep deprivation and brainwashing, but with much more serious physiological consequences.
"I saw the U.S.A. in a different way," he continued, "I surrendered to custody in Pocatello, went to Blackfoot [Idaho], down to Salt Lake City, Davis County jail, was put on an airplane, went to Seattle, down to Sacramento, to Phoenix, over to Lompoc, down to Los Angeles, back to Phoenix then to Lompoc again then to Los Angeles and San Diego — all at taxpayer expense- -then up to Denver and down to Oklahoma City to El Reno [detention facility] then to Atlanta, then hopscotched up the coast by bus to several jails and prisons till I reached Petersburg Federal Correctional Institution in Virginia where I stayed. That was one "diesel therapy" trip," which, Hansen said, took over a month.
When later released, the process was done in reverse, the congressman told this office, to transport him to a parole hearing in Boise.
Upon presentation of the requirements and restrictions of his parole, Rep. Hansen informed the parole board he would not accept the terms of financial reporting because it would reveal the names of people he was representing who were experiencing difficulties with the government. This would result in the betrayal of those people, Hansen claimed, and he told them if they didn't like it, "I'll just stay here and serve more time." The parole board acceded to his demands in writing then, according to Hansen, "ten days later they told me, 'we can't do that.' I said, 'You already did'. I was already released. I told them that if they didn't like it, to put me back in prison. They said they couldn't unless I violated the terms of my parole. 'I'll tell you what,'" he informed the parole board, "'I will live up the terms I signed out on and you do what you want to do.'" When asked what they would do if he violated their version of his parole — whether they would notify him so he could present himself and surrender, or if they would send the marshals after him with guns and chains, they told him they would notify him to surrender. "That was a lie," Hansen said.
"I went to my own church on a Sunday morning and sat right beside a federal marshal who was also a member of the congregation. That became my parole violation going to my own church in my own home town — because they didn't approve my travel, even though they signed an agreement that said they wouldn't restrict my travel. They just make up the rules as they go along," he said.
While addressing a church congregation in Omaha, Nebraska, Hansen claims black cars began prowling the parking lot, helicopters appeared overhead, "the next thing I knew," he said, "I was in chains and they had changed my name to Fredrick Smith, heisted me off in the dead of night in a Lear jet, all at the expense of the taxpayer. They took me to an abandoned jail where I spent Good Friday and Easter Sunday. My wife couldn't find me, Congress couldn't find me, my attorney couldn't find me and the media couldn't find me. I was just a lost soul for several days while they had me strapped to a wall in an old jail."
"That's our government," the congressman added with a note of sadness.
The purpose of the aforementioned treatment, he claims, was to send him a message not to mess with their system. "They take you out on the road where you have no communication with anybody. You can't write, you can't call, you can't be called — you're lost" where no legal process can intervene. "They get away with it because it is also a form of transferring prisoners."
It could be effectively argued that "diesel therapy" is an ingenious method of blowing a very large hole in Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution which says, "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it." When a legal system does what Rep. Hansen claims was done to him, it has effectively abolished the "privilege of the writ of habeas corpus" which historically extends through the U.S. Constitution back in time to the Magna Carta, A.D. 1215.
"When they kill people out there, and they do, " Hansen continued, "and there are instances I'm thoroughly familiar with where they've killed people while they've been in transit — what they will do then is to take everyone who has witnessed the killing and scatter them throughout the huge jail system they run around the country so they can't communicate with one another. They then give themselves enough time for a court hearing to substantiate that the death was accidental."
After the Supreme Court declared Congressman Hansen innocent of any wrongdoing and that his case should never have been prosecuted, it still took the former legislator eight months to be released. When he applied to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco for the vacating of his sentence, and his release was imminent, the Justice Department, Hansen asserts, in one more bid to harass the former Congressman claimed, "'we think there are some technicalities you haven't looked at', and kept it going from May to Christmas. Then, the lower court judge decided, rather than to release me to travel on my own across the country to be present at a release hearing, which was nothing more than a proforma matter [administrative technicality], he had to jerk me around, put me back on "diesel therapy" and go back through the whole system again."
That lower court judge that Rep. Hansen claims made this final jab at him was Edward Lodge, the same judge against whom petitions for malfeasance of office are being presented to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for, among other things, his alleged judicial mishandling of the Randy Weaver/Ruby Ridge affair.
This "odyssey" of former U.S. Representative George Hansen is apparently not an isolated instance of abuse by federal authorities of those to whom they desire to "send a message." Recently, such a case has come to light concerning Whitewater defendant, Susan McDougal.
Whether or not one agrees with McDougal's refusal to testify before the Whitewater investigators or whether Special Prosecutor, Kenneth Starr was justified in pressing contempt of court charges on her, McDougal's situation can certainly be scrutinized and cited as a likely example of, as Rep. Hansen puts it, "a legal system run amok."
A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (McDougal v. Ramon) charges that:
Since December 1996, [McDougal] has been held in isolation, under lock-down up to 23 hours per day, while other inmates, even those charged with serious violent crimes, are allowed 12 hours a day outside their cells; [she is] consistently kept in handcuffs when other inmates have not been; variously denied visitation, medical visits, worship services, reading materials, and even a Bible; forced to wear a red jail uniform reserved for despised informants and baby killers; forced to endure the spectacle of male prisoners taunting her, exposing themselves and masturbating in front of her without intervention from guards.
"The abusive treatment of Ms. McDougal by Mr. Starr's office," said Mark Rosenbaum, Legal Director of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, "must be the subject of a congressional investigation to ensure that, in the future, no federal prosecutor be permitted to wield authority in so brutish and inhuman a manner."
In July of this year, "the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit charging that the United States Government was holding McDougal illegally in the L.A. jail to punish her for refusing to testify to investigators in the Whitewater affair. U.S. Marshall Michael Ramon was named in the lawsuit because he had technical custody over McDougal."
Quoting from an ACLU press release, "McDougal's continued confinement in the L.A. County jail, despite the state court order releasing her, was designed to break her spirit and force her to testify before the Whitewater Special Prosecutor."
Could it not be logically reasoned that all that kept Susan McDougal from receiving the "diesel therapy" to which Hansen was subjected was that she was a much higher profile figure, being more closely scrutinized by the public? This certainly would make the degree of abuse Congressman Hansen experienced impractical in McDougal's case, from the point of view of the federal marshals.
When Rep. Hansen was asked if he had any future plans to regain his congressional seat, the veteran legislator, who not once displayed a note of bitterness over his ordeal, simply replied, "My wife says if I ever run for anything again it had better be the border."
If one looks objectively at these instances, would it not seem to stretch the fabric of statistical probabilities to the breaking point to suggest that these occurrences are the only ones, and that they just, by chance, came to public attention? Perhaps no more unlikely than one viewing an iceberg and concluding that it stops at the waterline, merely because the remainder of it is lost to view.