community-based, non-corporate, participatory media
Examining the prison culture of the United States in conjuction with the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
As the national attention begins to focus on the passing of former President and “Trickle-down” economic theorist, Ronald Reagan, the cries of outrage stemming from the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq have been reduced to whispers of an afterthought. If Dostoevsky’s concept of a society’s state of civilization being reflect by prisons, then Abu Ghraib has sent a message that cannot be ignored.
Like all aspects of the Bush Presidency, these incidents are unlikely to be answered with any hint of veracity or policy creation with basic human dignity at the forefront. Bush’s rationale for The War Against Terror (which he recently likened to World War II), has not stood up to any scrutiny when examined. Whether or not it was a proclamation to free citizens of Iraq from the iron hand of Saddam Hussein, searching for weapons of mass destruction, or casually blurring lines between Hussein and the Al Quaida terrorist network; no explanation by the United States regime is adequate for the bloodshed.
In addition to the Statesman of the world’s most powerful military not being able to correctly the pronounce Abu Ghraib, the history of Bush’s policy on torture is equally as inept. In 2003, Bush remarked to the Republican National Committee Presidential Gala that, “Iraq is free of rape rooms and torture chambers.” Less than a year later, in January of 2004, Bush reiterated this bold statement by declaring, “One thing is for certain: there won’t be any more mass graves and torture rooms and rape rooms.”
Ironically, for an individual seemingly so concerned about civil rights of Iraqi citizens, the breeding ground for the Abu Ghraib incidents was created inside the state law enforcement and correctional facilities of the United States. The degree of certainty that no such torture chambers exist in Iraq is now as jaded as searches for fictitious weapons of mass destruction.
It is no secret that much of the United States reserve army is comprised of individuals that work in correctional facilities and as police officers in their civilian functions. As a result, their domestic training has readied them for situations like Iraqi prisons. Such was the case with Charles A. Garner Jr., who so brashly immortalized his exploits through photographs.
Garner, a current employee of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (more specifically SCI Greene in Waynesburg), is no stranger to controversy regarding civil rights. Prior to his tour in Iraq, Garner and others were the subject of an internal investigation by the Department of Corrections in 1998, following numerous documented allegations of prison abuse. The investigation resulted in the transfer of the prison superintendent, the termination of two Lieutenants, and disciplinary action against two dozen guards. None of these actions included the dismissal of Garner.
In actuality, the probe merely attacked effects of a prison and punitive based culture rather than the underlying causation. That prison culture also reflects one of sexually abusive connotations. According Nicholas Yarris, an exonerated former inmate from SCI Greene maximum security prison, all situations involving inmates being taken out of their cells, involve stripping them naked, bending over, and lifting genitals in front of transport teams. This observation makes the psycho sexual abuse reflected at Abu Ghraib simply a half of a step beyond what is already policy in the United States prisons.
For female inmates, the situation is equally as dire. According to executive director of Amnesty International, William Schulz, “The sexual abuse of women inmates is torture, plain and simple. Shackling and medical neglect of women in prison constitute cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.” Reports from Amnesty International have concluded that sexual abuse toward female inmates is rampant but many cases go unreported for fear of retaliation. This, combined with other common practices in United States prisons, provides the answers to the “How do Americans do this type of thing” puzzle that was rhetorically being asked by most aspects of mainstream media.
From a true cowboy’s perspective, Bush has answered the cries of outrage with his new plan that the U.S. will impose on Iraq. “A new Iraq will also need a humane, well-supervised prison system. Under the dictator, prisons like Abu Ghraib were symbols of death and torture. That same prison became the symbol of disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values,” Bush explained.
In actuality, if the “new” prison system proposed by George W. Bush follows the same model reflected by the U.S. penal system, the results have already been conclusive. One dictator with a history of civil rights abuses has merely been exchanged with one questionably elected official of a foreign country facilitating a regime that will reflect his own capital inspired interests.
As the prison population grows in the United States, the rate of incarceration is higher than any other country in the world, save their former cold war opponents, Russia. The sheer amount of U.S. citizens involved in the corrections program is making the misdeeds of the U.S. prison system more mainstream. Today, 1.8 million U.S. residents are in jail or prison. Specifically, that means 672 inmates per 100,000 residents. This number is significantly higher the 1990 figure of 461 inmates per 100,000 residents. The “plan” for Iraq may mark a new introduction to westernized concepts of prison; however, it’s the same old story for any resident of the United States that has ever been involved with law enforcement.
Hasta La Victoria Siempre!
Adam Corwin (Joad)
United Against the Death Penalty http://www.pa-abolitionists.org
*Various Bush Speeches and public addresses
*personal observation + interviews (go visit a prison and make your own conclusion)