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May 10, 2004

Exporting "incarcerocracy"

America is just barely operating at the standards of democracy these days, but one thing we excel at is locking people up. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the demise of the Apartheid regime in South Africa, our closest competitors fell far behind. We lock up about 5.6 million of our fellow citizens--2.7% of our population, or one out of every 37 Americans.

So behind the bright and shining lie of "exporting democracy to Iraq," it's clear now after the Abu Ghraib incident that what we've really been exporting is something we have a lot more of on hand--our commitment to lock people up needlessly and then treat them savagely.

This sickening New York Times piece (linked to by Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo) drives the point home with quotes like this:

Physical and sexual abuse of prisoners, similar to what has been uncovered in Iraq, takes place in American prisons with little public knowledge or concern, according to corrections officials, inmates and human rights advocates.

In Pennsylvania and some other states, inmates are routinely stripped in front of other inmates before being moved to a new prison or a new unit within their prison. In Arizona, male inmates at the Maricopa County jail in Phoenix are made to wear women's pink underwear as a form of humiliation.

At Virginia's Wallens Ridge maximum security prison, new inmates have reported being forced to wear black hoods, in theory to keep them from spitting on guards, and said they were often beaten and cursed at by guards and made to crawl.

The corrections experts say that some of the worst abuses have occurred in Texas, whose prisons were under a federal consent decree during much of the time President Bush was governor because of crowding and violence by guards against inmates. Judge William Wayne Justice of Federal District Court imposed the decree after finding that guards were allowing inmate gang leaders to buy and sell other inmates as slaves for sex.

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 an inmate died while shackled to a restraining chair for 16 hours. The inmate, who suffered from schizophrenia, was kept naked the whole time.


America--home of the imprisoned, land of the sadistic jailer. Are these pictures really a surprise, or are we experiencing the shock of recognition? As we decline into imperial despotism under Bush, Cheney, Rove and Rumsfeld, our prisons here and abroad increasingly resemble the apparatus of torture that links evil empires throughout history.

One wonders--how many Iraqis will we have to lock up to ensure a pro-US government is elected there? I'm sure we have somebody working out the math right now.

Posted by jay at May 10, 2004 02:50 PM | TrackBack
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