Jan. 6 defendants held in D.C. jail request transfer to Guantanamo Bay

WASHINGTON — Nearly three-dozen people charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol who are being held at D.C.’s jail have asked to be transferred to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp if conditions don’t improve at their facility.

On seven pages of yellow legal pad paper recently submitted in federal court, the 34 defendants described the jail in the nation’s capital as having “medieval standards of living” and “hellacious conditions” that it “insists on tormenting its traumatized guests with.” They demanded that their problems be addressed, saying they no longer want to be “trapped within the wretched confines of cruel and unusual punishment.”

In the letter, the group listed numerous concerns and complaints about their experience across more than two pages. They said, for example, that they “continue to endure” things like “begging for help/water/medical aid.” They claimed that they are not allowed visitations, access to religious services or access to their attorneys. They reported that their laundry has been returned with “brown stains, pubic hair and or reeking of ripe urine.”

The group said they’ve found “worms” in their food and haven’t been provided with calorie counts for meals. They wrote that “due to malnourishment,” they’ve experienced hair loss and a loss of eyesight. Defendants said they’ve seen mice and cockroaches in their cell blocks and have seen rush in the water and black mold on walls, floors and vents.

Serious complaints have been lodged against the D.C. jail for years for inhumane living conditions. In November 2021, for example, the U.S. Marshals Service transferred 400 inmates at the D.C. jail because of such conditions and treatment to a prison in Pennsylvania, according to the ACLU.

The Jan. 6 detainees also wrote in their complaint that they’ve been presented with critical race theory “propaganda” on tablets, along with “re-education propaganda” and “racially-biased information.” They claimed that they’ve been physically harassed, maced and assaulted by guards.

“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,” said their letter, which added that the facility that houses detainees charged with terrorist acts provides “nutritional meals, routine sunlight exposure, top notch medical care, is respectful of religious requirements, has centers for exercise/entertainment.”

A request for comment was not immediately returned by the D.C. Department of Corrections.

Dominic Pezzola inside the Capitol building
Dominic Pezzola, center, inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP file

More than 850 people have been charged so far in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection, the vast majority of whom were not detained pre-trial. The defendants who have been ordered held at the D.C. jail are largely accused of more serious crimes, like assaulting police.

The defendants who signed the letter include Ronald Sandlin, who pleaded guilty in early October to two felony charges relating to him assaulting police officers and breaking into the Senate chamber during the Jan. 6 riot, which he filmed. Another signatory, Andrew Taake, was arrested for pepper-spraying and attacking police officers that day with a whip and was tracked down with the help of the dating service Bumble. Jonathan Mellis, nicknamed #cowbodyscreech by online sleuths who have identified rioters, is charged with assaulting police and took credit online for storming the Capitol after getting mad that people were giving credit to Antifa for the insurrection. David Dempsey was arrested in August 2021 for using a crutch, a metal pole and other bludgeoning weapons on Jan. 6, according to the FBI. And Chris Quaglin, who went by “Chris Trump,” was on video wearing a MAGA sweatshirt during the riot spraying an officer directly in the face with bear spray. In September, he threatened to go on a hunger strike in jail because he was worried about his gluten intake. Taake, Mellis, Dempsey and Quaglin have all pleaded not guilty.

The New York Times reported in 2021 that conditions at the American military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had been relaxed in recent years, but it had long been known for its harsh practices. During the period when the CIA held and interrogated the prisoners after the Sept. 11 attacks, detainees spent their days and nights in isolation, the report said.

“When they were allowed out of their cells, guards would take them in shackles and chains so short they could only shuffle,” the Times said.

About three dozen detainees now remain at the facility, according to a recent update by a tracker published by the New York Times. Over the last 20 years, about 780 people have been imprisoned there.

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