Patrick Cox, Prisoner Abuses and Bilateral Logic, Tech Central Station, May 10, 2004.
"The horrors experienced by many young inmates, particularly those who are
convicted of nonviolent offenses, border on the unimaginable. Prison rape
not only threatens the lives of those who fall prey to their aggressors,
but it is potentially devastating to the human spirit. Shame, depression,
and a shattering loss of self-esteem accompany the perpetual terror the
victim thereafter must endure."
This statement does not, as some might expect, refer to Iraqi detainees,
but is commentary by Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun, in Farmer v.
Brennan, about the U.S. prison system.
Those who draw a straight line of responsibility between the abuses of
Iraqi prisoners by military guards to either Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld or President Bush ought, at the very least, to have their own
logic, or lack thereof, applied bilaterally.
Rep. Charles Rangel of New York has filed articles of impeachment against
Rumsfeld, and says "This rises to the point that it is a high crime and
misdemeanor." To the best of my knowledge, however, he has never
considered resigning over serious ongoing abuses in his own state's
prisons -- including the stomping murder by guards of part-time
deliveryman, Thomas Pizzuto, while serving a 90-day sentence for a traffic
violation during Rangel's tenure.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has called for Rumsfeld's firing,
intoning that, "The sad fact is that the abuses could have been prevented
with proper leadership at the top of the chain of command." In her own
state of California, however, she did not apply this standard to the
ongoing scandal of California prison conditions. Even in her state's youth
facilities, studies document widespread tolerance of violence and inmate
rape. The recent hanging deaths, apparently suicides by two teenagers
unable to deal with conditions, have not yet been fully investigated.
Massive campaign contributions to Gray Davis's recall election campaign by
the prison guards union, combined with a series of lavish salary increases
he gave that group, surely merit similar outrage by the Minority Leader --
as did the union's successful opposition to legislation that would have
investigated abuse of prisoners by guards. California's court system under
Gov. Davis was markedly unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute
allegations of prisoner deaths at the hands of guards and the intentional
subjection of targeted convicts to known rapists. In fact, Pelosi opposed
Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, angling for a high-level firing or
resignation, complained that, "No one has stepped forward to take
responsibility for the conditions in Iraqi prisons. Instead, fingers are
being pointed in every direction. With whom does this buck stop?"
Apparently, the buck did not stop with Byrd or any of his cronies when it
was discovered that Fred Zain, the villainous West Virginia State Police
Serologist, had falsified lab and test results on numerous occasions to
put an unknown number of innocent people into his state's prisons. The
laws of probability almost insure that at least some of these falsely
imprisoned individuals were allowed to be abused and raped by hardened
John Kerry, who sees evidence of the administration's incompetence in the
abuse of Iraqi prisoners, wants Rumsfeld fired. He did not, though, make
similar demands when his own state's prison officials nearly guaranteed
that pedophile priest John Geoghan would be murdered by putting him within
reach of violent inmates known to want his death.
Do I seriously believe that top state officials should be forced to resign
whenever an abuse of a prisoner takes place under their watch? No.
My point is that those vilifying the military and administration for
allowing lesser abuses than those that occur in prisons in their own
states are either completely uninformed or dishonest.
According to the Criminal Justice Institute, in the year 2000 alone, 55
inmates were murdered, 39 died "accidentally," and 118 died for unknown
reasons in American prisons. Studies by the nonprofit Stop Prisoner Rape
assert that 1 in 5 male prisoners is raped while in custody, a view taken
seriously by President Bush when he signed national legislation furthering
research into the problem -- spurred by estimates that one in four
prisoners is HIV positive.
Even many Republican supporters of the administration are publicly calling
for a proud double standard, saying that America cannot allow the sort of
abuses shown in the prison photographs that have sparked outrage and
prompted congressional interrogations. Most admit that much greater evil
took place under the rule of Saddam Hussein and continues to take place in
many Middle Eastern countries that oppose the democratization of Iraq, but
none has mentioned that worse abuses of prisoners takes place in America
Moral posturing may serve political interests, but no honest person can be
particularly surprised that wartime prisons manned by relatively untrained
and inexperienced reservists are not superior to our own domestic penal
institutions. Those feigning horrified outrage ought to look to their own
backyards before portraying abuses by a relative few in Iraq as
particularly surprising or unprecedented.
Secretary Rumsfeld promised, in the hearings, that, "We will strive to do
our best ... as imperfect as that may be." Those who promise more than
that do America no service.