location: news

May 08, 2004


The following article appeared in yesterday's Globe and Mail:

WASHINGTON -- Horrific abuses, some similar to those revealed in Iraq, regularly occur in U.S. prisons with little media attention or public outrage, human-rights activists said yesterday.

"We certainly see many of the same kinds of things here in the United States, including sexual assaults and the abuse of prisoners, against both men and women," said Kara Gotsch, public policy co-ordinator for the national prison project of the American Civil Liberties Union. "This office has been involved in cases in which prisoners have been raped by guards and humiliated, but we don't talk about it much in America and we certainly don't hear the President expressing outrage," she said.

President George W. Bush said he was disgusted by the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Yet, there were many cases of abuse in Texas when he was governor from 1995 to 2000.

In September of 1996, for example, guards at the Brazoria county jail in Texas staged a drug raid on inmates that was videotaped for training purposes. The tape showed several inmates forced to strip and lie on the ground. A police dog attacked several prisoners; the tape clearly showed one being bitten on the leg. Guards prodded prisoners with stun guns and forced them to crawl along the ground. Then they dragged injured inmates back to their cells.

In a 1999 opinion, federal Judge William Wayne Justice wrote of the situation in Texas state prisons: "Many inmates credibly testified to the existence of violence, rape and extortion in the prison system and about their own suffering from such abysmal conditions."

Judy Greene of Justice Strategies, a New York consultancy, said: "When I saw Bush's interview on Arab TV stations, I was thinking, had he ever stepped inside a Texas prison when he was governor?"

Michelle Deitch, who teaches criminal justice at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, said there are many parallels with Iraq.

"The levels of abuse, the humiliation and degradation, the lack of oversight and accountability, the balance between human rights and security interests, overcrowding issues -- I ask myself, how can we get people equally concerned about what goes on here?" she said.

As this Globe and Mail article reveals, the recent disclosures of torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers has focussed unparallelled public attention on the importance of respecting human rights protections in the treatment of prisoners, a subject that otherwise rarely finds its way onto the front pages of the print media or to national network TV news.

The mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners, as the "other", also reflects well-entrenched attitudes that are sometimes prevalent within the perimeters of both American and Canadian prisons and which render prisoners within our own borders vulnerable to abuse, requiring, as in Iraq, vigilant public supervision and public accountability. These themes of vigilance and accountability and the need for political and professional leadership that values the rule of law above military or correctional necessity has been the subject of an op-ed piece by Anthony Lewis in the New York Times.

Read the story.

Michael Jackson