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

The Jan. 6 detainees also said in a complaint that they’ve been presented with critical race theory “propaganda" at the Washington jail, which has faced serious complaints for years.
Military officers stand at the entrance at the Guantanamo Bay Facility
Military officers at the entrance to Camp VI and V at the U.S. military prison for "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in June 2013. Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Nearly three dozen people charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol who are being held at Washington, D.C.'s jail have asked to be transferred to the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 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."

The group listed numerous concerns and complaints about their experiences across more than two pages. They said, for example, that they "continue to endure" things like "begging for help/water/medical aid." They claimed 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 inmates said they have found "worms" in their food and have not been provided with calorie counts for meals. They wrote that "due to malnourishment," they have experienced hair loss and loss of eyesight. Defendants said they have seen mice and cockroaches in their cell blocks and have seen rust in the water and black mold on walls, floors and vents.

Serious complaints about inhumane living conditions have been lodged against the Washington jail for years. In November, for example, the U.S. Marshals Service transferred 400 inmates at the jail because of such conditions and treatment to a prison in Pennsylvania, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Jan. 6 detainees also wrote in their complaint that they have been presented with critical race theory "propaganda" on tablets, along with "re-education propaganda" and "racially-biased information." They claimed they have 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 Cuba facility, which 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."

The Washington Corrections Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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

More than 850 people have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection, the vast majority of whom were not detained before trial. The defendants who have been ordered held at the Washington 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 his assaulting police officers and breaking into the Senate chamber during the Jan. 6 riot, which he recorded. Another signer, Andrew Taake, who was arrested and accused of pepper-spraying and attacking police officers with a whip that day, 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 he got mad that people were crediting “antifa” for the insurrection. David Dempsey was arrested in August 2021 and accused of 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 recorded 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 last year that conditions at Guantanamo Bay 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, 2001, terrorist 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 remain at the facility, according to a recent update by a tracker published by The Times. Over the last 20 years, about 780 people have been imprisoned there.