3rd August 2004

Column 39

Yes, I am still here and I am still writing. I havenít written for a while because I didnít really feel I had anything to say. I donít want to write just to fill up space, so I prefer to wait until I feel I have something pertinent to talk about. Hopefully I have something interesting to talk about this time as well.

I have been trying to follow the Iraqi prison abuse scandal the best that I can and have noticed some things that were very interesting to me. I was not at all surprised when I first saw this story on the news. I am sure most countries have abuses to one degree or another, that take place in their prisons. In America it seems that what the rest of the world would consider as abusive, have become common practices in our prisons and jails. Maybe the abuses are not the same type of abuses that have taken place in Iraq, but the circumstances are different, so that is to be expected as well. There are some of the things that are similar I think.

I was also hoping the News Media would use the opportunity of the prison abuse scandal in Iraq to raise the issue about abuses in American prisons and jails, but there was only one TV network who even touched on that aspect. If there were others that discussed this, then I missed it.

One of the interesting parts of the Iraqi prisoner abuse story is that some of the people the US Government brought in to run the prisons in Iraq, are former Prison officials from here in the States. From what I gather, two of these people, who were brought in to administer and run the prisons, had histories of abuses in the prisons they worked in over here. One even had a Justice Department investigation done regarding his involvement when a prisoner died in the prison (in Utah) he was running. Because of his prior record, this man wasn't able to get a job in any prisons here in the states, but evidently he was qualified to run a prison for the US Government over in Iraq.

There are some low ranking soldiers who have been charged for the abuses. They are the ones you see in the photos where the abuses are taking place. From what I understand, two of the soldiers have been convicted so far. I also found it interesting, but not surprising, that many of these guards work as prison guards and police officers here in the states. I suspect the reason they committed these abuses is because they had done the same things (maybe to a lesser degree) here in America and didn't think there was anything wrong with what they were doing. They claim they were following orders when they committed these abuses and I believe them, but that doesn't mean they are not responsible for their actions as well.

The senior military and Bush Administration people all claim they were not aware of these abuses and the abuses happened without their approval. I think that is a case of the ones ultimately responsible shirking the blame and passing it on to the low ranking types, which is pretty despicable. I suspect knowledge and consent for what was going on in the Iraqi prisons was approved all the way up to Bush. But of course Bush is someone who will never admit he made a mistake, or accept responsibility for his actions in any wrongdoing. So, of course he is going to let some low ranking kids take the blame for what he is ultimately responsible for.

I mentioned earlier I had seen one story on the TV news about the abuses in American prisons and it was interesting to see what they had to say. They talked about this Sheriff in Arizona who is famous for doing outrageous things to the prisoners in his county jail and getting on TV and bragging about how he humiliates his prisoners, such as making the men wear pink underwear and making the prisoners sleep in tents out in temperatures that are well over 100 F.
They also talked about these torture chairs that are used in another state where the prisoner is restrained to this chair in a very uncomfortable position as punishment until a prisoner died during one of these sessions.
This story also talked about the abuses in some of the prisons here in California. One was a case of torture where a prisoner was dunked into a boiling bath of water and he suffered severe burns on his legs and body. They also talked about the incidents in another prison in California where the guards would set up fights between prisoners and bet on the fights. There was one (or more) deaths as a result of these fights. The guards would shoot the prisoners with rubber bullets to break up the fights, but in one case, they shot and killed one prisoner with bullets from a real rifle.
They talked about other abuses as well, in various other prisons, but you can get the gist of it I suspect.

I haven't personally witnessed abuses like this since I have been in San Quentin, but I have seen many abuses when I was in the County Jail waiting for my trial. Somehow I doubt if these abuses were an aberration limited to the County Jail I was in either.

It is not surprising our news media hasn't focused more on abuses in our country. After all, they would rather spend their time doing stories about trials that have no importance to anyone except those it directly effects, rather than doing stories about topics that effect ten's of thousands of people and their families, like stories about prison abuses. Just another example of the news media shortchanging the public and ignoring stories of substance in order to focus on more tabloid aspects of the news.
I don't mean to lump all the news media together because that wouldn't be accurate. I am talking about the mainstream news media. The mainstream news media has a long track record of doing stories about topics that are a distraction and not covering stories that are of a concern to everyone.

I think a good example of this is the Martha Stewart trial. The news media spent an enormous amount of time covering a trial and conviction of some woman who made some questionable decisions with her stock sales and which effected no one at all.
On the other hand, the news media never talks about how vice president Cheney's old company (Halliburton) has gotten all these sweetheart deals from the US Government for these contracts in Iraq. Or the other policies Bush and his people have implemented that effect not only American's, but the world as well.

I don't know if the attention of the news media on prison abuses can result in any changes being made. I would like to think so. Prisons and the way they are operated is very hard to change and the culture of prisons is something that varies very little over time.

I think I have said enough for this one, so I'll go for now.
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Take Care,