May 08, 2004

Prisoner Abuse Not New

Anyone who visits Talk Left gets semi-regular updates on abuse of prisoners in the U.S. And today, an article by a New York Times reporter points out that not only do some of the same things happen in prisons here, but that at least one known abuser was brought to manage prisons in Iraq:

...The experts also point out that the man who directed the reopening of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year and trained the guards there resigned under pressure as director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 after a mentally ill inmate died while shackled naked to a restraining chair for 16 hours.

The Utah official, Lane McCotter, later became an executive of a private prison company, one of whose jails was under investigation by the Justice Department when he was sent to Iraq as part of a team of prison officials, judges, prosecutors and police chiefs picked by Attorney General John Ashcroft to rebuild Iraq's criminal justice system.

McCotter, 63, is director of business development for Management & Training Corp., which operates 13 prisons.

When the Abu Ghraib pictures first came to light, I was among those who thought it was ridiculous to say that Muslims and Arabs would be more offended by them just because of their culture. But it occurs to me after a couple days of reflection, and being reminded of the prison culture in the U.S., that we really are less offended by acts like this than other cultures, and it's an enduring shame.

Prisoner rape is enshrined in American humor, exemplified by the 'Office Space' character worried about going to a "pound-me-in-the-ass prision." It strikes most Americans as unremarkable that prisoners should be abused, and anyone who gets too concerned about it is supposedly soft on crime.

The article above mentions sex slavery rings, gangs allowed to operate openly, routine prisoner humiliation, and investigations which no one seemed to take very seriously.

Certainly, the Bush administration didn't take them seriously. Just as they never took Chalabi's fraud seriously, or the convictions of the Iran-Contra felons, or indeed any action which abuses or defrauds the lower and middle classes of society. Some of the worst abuses mentioned in the article occurred in Texas while Bush was governor.

But to paraphrase Jon Stewart, Bush isn't to blame for this proliferation of callousness, we are. We laugh at prisoner abuse at home, refuse to make a serious issue of it during election time, and encourage a culture of punishment. Now, the country is now visited with the humiliation of having our vile prison culture exposed before the world in the most damaging way possible.

Teresa makes the case that the level of cruelty at Abu Ghraib is consistent with intelligence training being mishandled by the unprepared, and it seems clear that this is correct. But why is it that so many of our reservists, people who spend more time outside military culture than inside it in a normal year, didn't find the treatment of these prisoners alarming? Possibly because our culture at large doesn't find the mistreatment of prisoners very alarming.

So, is it really outrage being heard in the public, or embarassment at getting caught? When little such outrage is heard over the treatment of American citizens in American prisons, I can only think it must be more the latter.

"Mistrust those in whom the urge to punish is strong." - Nietzsche

Posted by natasha at May 8, 2004 08:06 PM | Iraq | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |