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
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.
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
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.
© Reuters Limited 2004