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Question: Is torture part of the American psyche?|
Widespread Torture Exists in US Prisons
Far from the aberration painted by the Bush Administration,
to find horrendous examples of torture in U.S. society, one
need look no further than America's prisons.
PHILADELPHIA -- November 11 -- Far from the aberration
painted by the Bush Administration, to find horrendous
examples of torture in U.S. society, one need look no
further than America's prisons.
On Monday, the President said in response to criticism of
reported secret CIA prisons that handle terrorism suspects,
"We [in the United States] do not torture." However, torture
in American prisons is frighteningly widespread.
"The wall of silence that exists around prisons, prisoners
and the use of torture in our criminal justice system must
come down," states Bonnie Kerness, Prison Watch coordinator
for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) which has
been tracking such abuses for decades. "As a human rights
advocate, I receive testimonies of brutality, humiliation,
physical and sexual abuse from men, women and children in
So widespread are the practices and human rights violations
that major human rights groups have all reported on the
pattern. The problem is so pervasive that the United Nations
Committee on Torture has cited the United States as a human
rights violator -- noting egregious violations, including
the use of electric stun belts and restraint chairs on
prisoners, prison chain gangs, and sexual assault of female
"We receive reports from people being forced to live in
prolonged isolation for ten even twenty years, being abused
with devices of torture such as stun belts or restraint
chairs," Kerness states. "We hear from women being forced to
engage in sexual acts. We hear from children as young as 12
being placed in isolation, saying that 'if they don't beat
you physically then they mentally abuse you.'"
Abuse in American Prisons. Think the horrors of Abu Ghraib
or Guantanamo Bay can't happen here? Think again. Here are
some real examples:
Prison guards in a California jail put an inmate in a bath
so hot it boiled 30% of the skin off his body. The use of
chain gangs, sexual assaults, and racially motivated torture
and ill treatment by police and prison guards has been
widely cited. An increasing percentage of the U.S. prison
population lives in some form of extended enforced
isolation, placed in a cage the size of your bathroom for
months and even years.
"Imagine being placed in what is literally a human warehouse
where you will stay 24 hours a day, day in and day out, year
in and year out," Kerness describes. "In the more
progressive units, you may be allowed into a tiny bare
concrete yard for exercise twice a week. Mail and reading
material are censored. When you leave your cage, you are
strip-searched; this often includes a humiliating anal
probe. You are shackled around your waist and handcuffed.
You are entirely under the control of guards who carry long,
black clubs they refer to as 'nigger beaters.'"
An inmate from Wallens Ridge State Prison, Big Stone Gap,
Virginia, states: "I was strapped down to [four] point
restraint . . . I've never in my life been strapped to a bed
-- it's terrible . . . being strapped down and under
circumstances of helplessness and officers coming in the
cell while I'm strapped down displaying their racism --
saying, 'We hate niggers. If it was up to us you['d] be
hung.' To say the least I was . . . scared. I would have
preferred the beat-down -- instead of the mental torture I
was put through."
Prisons are one of the largest growth industries in the
United States. While the United States has 5 percent of the
world's population, it holds an astounding 25 percent of the
world's prisoner population.
"Reports of torture devices in prison largely come from the
isolation units, called 'control units'," adds Tonya
McClary, national director of the AFSC criminal justice
program. "Torture devices commonly used in U.S. prisons are
four-point restraints, restraint hoods, belts and beds, stun
grenades, belts and guns, tethers, waist and leg chains and
Add to this the U.N. treaty positions on the racially biased
death penalty, abuses involving the mentally ill, prison
labor, children's rights and the shocking treatment of
people in Immigration and Naturalization Service detention
"U.S. prisoners are mostly poor and working-class people who
need jobs and education," McClary concludes.
Bonnie Kerness, AFSC Prison Watch coordinator. Bonnie has
been active in the Civil Rights movement since the 1960s.
She saw Black children in the South being hosed by police
and bitten by police dogs when all they wanted was to go to
school; she has witnessed the death of activists at the
hands of police, state troopers and the National Guard. By
the time she was twenty in the early 60s and living in
Tennessee she had become an activist and organizer. Her work
with the American Friends Service Committee Criminal Justice
Program dates from 1976.
Oskar Castro, AFSC Youth and Militarism program. Oskar works
to educate young people about the risks, horrors and
misconceptions of military life. "GIs returning from Iraq
report that methods used in United States military prisons
and detention centers mirror the questionable tactics used
in America's prison system," Castro states. "That indicates
the problem is more a part of our cultural make-up than most
care to admit."
There is a report on torture in the U.S. prisons up at the
AFSC web site
(Prison Reports located at http://tinyurl.com/8oklx )
[ Last edited by changabula at 2007-5-20 05:26 PM ]