Our Own Abu Ghraibs
November 18, 2006
With all the attention on U.S. torture and abuse of prisoners overseas, we’ve been neglecting to pay attention to one haunting fact: Our country treats some prisoners here at home in a similar way.
Dogs are used on prisoners.
Sexual abuse is commonplace.
Prisoners are held in isolation for months at a time.
Prisoners are shocked with tasers and stun guns while they are handcuffed or even while they are in restraint chairs.
Prisoners, including mentally ill ones, are left in restraint chairs or are shackled to the floor for hours and sometimes days at a time, left to urinate and defecate on themselves.
Two judges in recent days have cast a spotlight on these horrors.
In Michigan, Judge Richard Alan Enslen ordered the state to stop using nonmedical restraints in cells after a twenty-one-year-old mentally ill prisoner, Timothy Joe Souders, died naked and shackled to the cement floor lying in his own urine for four days.
The judge said Souders’s treatment amounted to torture, and he castigated prison officials.
“You are not coat racks who collect government paychecks while your work is taken to the sexton for burial,” he said.
In another case, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that a Wisconsin supermax prison resembled a Soviet “gulag” if the conditions described in a case about inmate Nathan Gillis were accurate.
“Stripped naked in a small prison cell with nothing except a toilet; forced to sleep on a concrete floor or slab; denied any human contact; fed nothing but ‘nutri-loaf’; and given just a modicum of toilet papers—four squares—only a few times. Although this might sound like a stay at a Soviet gulag in the 1930s, it is, according to the claims in this case, Wisconsin in 2002.”
The treatment of our own prisoners should shock the conscience not just of judges but of all of us. We have versions of our own Abu Ghraibs here at home, as Anne-Marie Cusac wrote about in The Progressive in a July 2004 article entitled “Abu Ghraib, USA.”
“When we tolerate abuse in U.S. prisons and jails,” she wrote, “it should not surprise us to find U.S. soldiers using similar methods in Iraq.”
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the ACLU, among others, have documented this abuse time and time again.
We must bring it to a stop.