Abuse Common in U.S. Prisons, Activists Say

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Horrific abuses, some similar to those revealed in Iraq, regularly occur in U.S. prisons with little national attention or public outrage, human rights activists said on Thursday.

“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 coordinator 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 Bush has said he was disgusted by the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Yet, there were many cases of abuse in Texas when he served as governor from 1995 to 2000.

For example, in September 1996, 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 face down back to their cells.

America vs. Human Rights

“The United States has long regarded itself as a beacon of human rights, as evidenced by an enlightened constitution, judicial independence, and a civil society grounded in strong traditions of free speech and press freedom. But the reality is more complex; for decades, civil rights and civil liberties groups have exposed constitutional violations and challenged abusive policies and practices. In recent years, as well, international human rights monitors have documented serious gaps in U.S. protections of the human rights of vulnerable groups. Both federal and state governments have nonetheless resisted applying to the U.S. the standards that, rightly, the U.S. applies elsewhere.”
Human Rights Watch

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 City 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?”

PRISON GUARDS INVOLVED

Michelle Deitch, who teaches criminal justice at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, said there were 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.

Two of those allegedly involved in the abuse of Iraqis were U.S. prison guards. Spc. Charles Graner, who appears in some of the most lurid photographs, was a guard at Greene County State Correctional Institution, one of Pennsylvania’s top security death row prisons. Two years after he arrived at Greene, the prison was at the center of an abuse scandal in which guards routinely beat and humiliated prisoners.

Prison officials have declined to say whether Graner had been disciplined in that case.

Staff Sgt. Ivan “Chip” Frederick was a corrections officer at Buckingham Correctional Center in Virginia. In a statement published by the Richmond Times Dispatch on Thursday, Frederick compared his role at Abu Ghraib in Iraq with his job as a guard in Buckingham, where he said he had “very strict policies and procedures as to how to handle any given situation.”

In Iraq, he said, there were no such policies.

BRUTALITY DOCUMENTED

In Cook County Jail in Chicago, the elite Special Operations Response Team has been implicated in scores of incidents of racially motivated violence and brutality in recent years.

One of the most dramatic took place on Feb. 4, 1999, when SORT members accompanied by four guard dogs without muzzles ordered 400 prisoners to leave their cells in response to a gang-related stabbing three days earlier.

According to a 50-page report by the sheriff’s Internal Affairs Division, the guards ransacked cells, then herded inmates into common areas where they were forced to strip and face the wall with hands behind their head. Anyone who looked away from the wall was struck with a wooden baton.

Some prisoners were forced to lie on the floor, where they were stomped and kicked. One inmate, who did not leave a cell fast enough said he was beaten with fists and batons until he urinated on himself and went into convulsions. At least 49 inmates told investigators they had been beaten. After the beatings, guards prevented inmates from receiving immediate medical care.

Corrections officer Roger Fairley testified in a deposition last year that guards were afraid to come forward to tell of what they had seen in case their colleagues took revenge.

“On many and many occasions I witnessed excessive force, abuse of power, intimidation,” he said.

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