Ashcroft's Connection to Abu Ghraib

The New York Times reports Saturday on the routine mistreatment of prisoners in America. After setting out numerous sickening examples, the article reverts back to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and we learn that the man who was responsible for directing the re-opening of the Abu Ghraib prison after the U.S. invaded Iraq, and for training the guards, was Lane McCotter of Utah, who was selected for the job by none other than Attorney General John Ashcroft.

[McCotter] resigned under pressure as director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 after an inmate died while shackled to a restraining chair for 16 hours. The inmate, who suffered from schizophrenia, was kept naked the whole time.....McCotter later became an executive of a private prison company, one of whose jails was under investigation by the Justice Department when he was sent to Iraq as part of a team of prison officials, judges, prosecutors and police chiefs picked by Attorney General John Ashcroft to rebuild the country's criminal justice system....In Utah, in addition to the death of the mentally ill inmate, Mr. McCotter also came under criticism for hiring a prison psychiatrist whose medical license was on probation and who was accused of Medicaid fraud and writing prescriptions for drug addicts.

Mr. McCotter, 63, is director of business development for Management & Training Corporation, a Utah-based firm that says it is the third-largest private prison company, operating 13 prisons. In 2003, the company's operation of the Santa Fe jail was criticized by the Justice Department and the New Mexico Department of Corrections for unsafe conditions and lack of medical care for inmates. No further action was taken.

McCotter reports he left Abu Ghraib after training the guards and cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremony last September. As for Ashcroft, who picked McCotter,

When Mr. Ashcroft announced the appointment of the team to restore Iraq's criminal justice system last year, including Mr. McCotter, he said, "Now all Iraqis can taste liberty in their native land, and we will help make that freedom permanent by assisting them to establish an equitable criminal justice system based on the rule of law and standards of basic human rights."

Then there's this quote, which turns out to be quite prescient:

In an interview with an online magazine, Corrections.com, last January, Mr. McCotter recalled that of all the prisons in Iraq, Abu Ghraib "is the only place we agreed as a team was truly closest to an American prison. They had cell housing and segregation."

Meanwhile, here's the situation at the prisons at home:

Nationwide, during the last quarter century, over 40 state prison systems were under some form of court order, for brutality, crowding, poor food or lack of medical care, said Marc Mauer, assistant director of the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group in Washington that calls for alternatives to incarceration. In a 1999 opinion, Judge Justice wrote of the situation in Texas, "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."

According to one prison official:

"In some jurisdictions in the United States there is a prison culture that tolerates violence, and it's been there a long time." This culture has been made worse by the quadrupling of the number of prison and jail inmates to 2.1 million over the last 25 years, which has often resulted in crowding, he said. The problems have been compounded by the need to hire large numbers of inexperienced and often undertrained guards, Mr. Riveland said.

We wonder how many sadistic U.S. prison guards were sent over to Iraq and Abu Ghraib. Here's an example we mentioned yesterday:

Specialist Charles A. Graner Jr. is a guard at one of Pennsylvania's most heavily secured death row prisons, accused by his former wife of violent behavior.

Graner is the guard who purportedly was romantically involved with Lynndie England and got her pregnant. Here's what his ex-wife had to say about him:

Graner married Staci Dean in 1990, after she had become pregnant with the first of their two children. Their marriage ended in 2002 in a bitter divorce. Police were called to the home in March 2001, after the couple had separated. In Fayette County court papers, Staci Graner, who has since remarried and declined to be interviewed, reported that her husband came into the room where she was sleeping and yanked her head by the hair, banged her head against a wall, and tried to throw her down the steps. Criminal charges were not filed.

This prison scandal will get worse for a while. We hope it costs Bush the election.

< Reservist Sabrina Harman Charged With Abusing Prisoners | Amnesty International Letter to Bush >
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