FBI File: Attica Prison Uprising


PDF: FBI File: Attica [336 megs \ 1322 pages]

In September 1971, the staggeringly inhumane conditions at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York State led to a spontaneous violent riot during which a guard was killed, the takeover of the prison by the inmates, and a five-day stand-off. Negotiations were happening, but Governor Rockefeller, President Nixon, and FBI Director Hoover all wanted a forceful, manly retaking of the prison. They got it.

Authorities incapacitated the prisoners with massive amounts of tear gas, then more than 700 state police, local cops, and guards swarmed in, indiscriminately killing and brutalizing everyone in sight. Many prisoners who had already been subdued or wounded were executed. Some had their skulls caved in with rifle butts. Twenty-nine prisoners died. So did all nine hostages — from gunshot wounds. The cops and guards retaking the prison were the only ones with guns. The prisoners were armed with knives and other cutting weapons.

Immediately after the prison was taken back, guards and cops systematically tortured prisoners – rubbing lime powder in their wounds, shooting them in the arms and legs, burning them with cigarettes, forcing them to drink piss, threatening to castrate them, denying them medical treatment…. The authorities tried to hide what really happened for decades, but much of the truth has come out in pieces (though a huge amount of documents remains unreleased).

FBI has released some of its file on the Attica uprising to earlier requesters, but no one has ever put it online. Under FOIA, I requested the previously released portions, and FBI sent me 1,322 pages as six PDFs. I combined them into one large file above and ran text-recognition on it. (I arranged the sections in approximate chronological order.)

FBI’s cover letter notes that in addition to the 1,322 pages, 1) other portions of the Attica file have been sent to the National Archives and 2) further portions are still in possession of FBI but apparently have never been processed/released. (I’ve put in another request for this material and will post it here when I get it.)

UPDATE [July 11, 2018]: The FBI has responded to my follow-up request for further material from the Attica file. They say that 1) the remainder of the material is being withheld because it deals with individuals who are still alive and 3) other portions of the file have been destroyed, supposedly in keeping with the National Archives’ guidelines. Click for the letter as a PDF.


Documents from the Office of the Attorney General of New York State (released Sept 2016)

A good short summation of the Attica uprising in the form of an article about Heather Ann Thompson‘s groundbreaking, Pulitzer-winning book, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy

The book’s many revelations include how police had removed their identification prior to the raid and how prisoners were misled into believing negotiations were ongoing at the time. Thompson reveals that the state took its actions knowing its own employees, then being held hostage, would likely be killed. She lays out how officials as high up as President Richard Nixon supported many of these actions and how in the years following the riots, the state went to extraordinary lengths to try to obscure facts and protect offenders.

“I found a great deal of what the state knew, and when it knew it,” she writes, “not the least of which was what evidence it thought it had against members of law enforcement who were never indicted.”

For a longer version, there’s this New Yorker piece about Thompson’s book.

And here’s a video of a lecture by Thompson, a podcast interview, and her New York Times op-ed, “Attica: It’s Worse Than We Thought

This esteemed physician, a man working for two of New York’s most respected hospitals and receiving generous research funding from the N.I.H., was indeed conducting leprosy experiments at Attica.






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