Fidel Salinas Jr is being tortured by the US government right this very moment.
Salinas, a 29-year-old computer expert, was accused of disrupting the normal operation of the web server at co.hidalgo.tx.us in January 2012. In response, the Hidalgo County government claimed Salinas caused a ludicrously inflated figure of $10,000 in damages. The damages were based on slowing down access to human resources data on the website for a day.
What Salinas allegedly did was referred to by the mainstream media as a “brute force SQL injection attack.” In reality, it was a single instance of Salinas submitting “junk text” in a contact form to the Hidalgo County website. The depiction of Salinas’s alleged crime was deliberately used to paint his actions in a negative light to those without a background in computer security.
Salinas was also reported by mainstream media as “having ties with Anonymous” after an FBI raid of his computer turned up IRC chat logs with the hacker group AntiSec. Although no conversation with the group involved the discussion of hacking the Hidalgo County website, this was used as evidence in court to demonstrate criminal intent.
Salinas was prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which many have criticized for being vague and overreaching. In 2013, a set of failed reforms to the law were proposed following the suicide of famed computer programmer and activist Aaron Swartz, who was prosecuted under the act.
Instead of counting the alleged hacking incident as one crime, Salinas was charged with 44 separate felony counts of computer fraud, based on a technicality in the method that was used. Even more ludicrous than the damages that were claimed by the Hidalgo County government was the potential 440 year prison sentence if Salinas was convicted. The state leveraged its position against Salinas by making use of a bogus method of prosecution, coercing him into accepting a misdemeanor plea deal. The deal, which Salinas no doubt agreed to in the hopes that it would be best for him and his family in the face of his outrageous circumstances, resulted in a six month prison sentence and a $10,600 fine.
It is unlikely Fidel Salinas Jr, his family, or friends, expected the six months of prison time to be a literal torture sentence.
Andrew Auernheimer, better known to the Internet as “weev,” faced similarly unfair and dehumanizing conditions in 2012 after being convicted of violating those same laws for allegedly “hacking” an AT&T website by exposing (without maliciously capitalizing on) a security flaw that put over 100,000 AT&T customers at risk. In Auernheimer’s trial, the judge who sentenced him was the wife of a former AT&T lawyer. Auernheimer spent much of his sentence alone in a cell for 23 hours a day, held in what the prison refers to as “administrative segregation” — a euphemism for solitary confinement.
Since his release from prison after being vacated in federal appeals court, Auernheimer has made it a personal mission to help prison inmates and expose solitary confinement for the torture that it is.
Confinement in Special Housing Units causes neurological damage that is so profound you can see it on a CT scan. It atrophies your hippocampus. From the perspective of longterm effects on your life, solitary confinement is orders of magnitude worse for you than having blades shoved underneath your fingernails, or being shocked with a car battery.
— Andrew “weev” Auernheimer
Auernheimer reportedly spent weeks searching for Fidel Salinas’s inmate number, 52306-379, on the Bureau of Prisons inmate locator, with no success. He discovered Salinas was being shuffled in and out of county facilities, being held exclusively in solitary confinement with no access to medical necessities or correspondence of any kind. Given these circumstances, it is possible not even Salinas’s own family knows his whereabouts.
Holding prisoners in solitary confinement is widely criticized by many, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, as both torture and infringement of human rights. In addition to its recognition as psychological torture, solitary confinement is also seen as a violation of due process and the Fourteenth Amendment, as “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and as an ethical issue because of the limits to health care that it imposes.
More and more evidence shows that the US government is at war with hackers — technically-savvy, creative thinkers — especially those who dare question its authority. Auernheimer points out that, given how relatively few there are, hackers are subject to violence and death at the hands of the state at a rate that rivals the worst governments on Earth. This war shows no signs of stopping, especially in light of President Barack Obama’s most recent proposal for expanding federal regulation.
In furtherance of this war, the state uses torture against its “enemies” — perhaps one of the most important segments of the population when it comes to exposing its tyranny. The systematic inflated prosecution of hackers and use of torture against the convicted is evidence of nothing less. If the state tortures Fidel Salinas Jr for six months because they believe he disrupted the normal operation of a small county web server for a day, one has to wonder what they would do to someone like Edward Snowden for exposing their campaign of mass surveillance.