Abu Ghraib Reflects US Prison Policy

by TChris

Anne-Marie Cusac has been "reporting on abuse and mistreatment in our nation's jails and prisons for the last eight years." When Donald Rumsfeld claimed that the abuse at Abu Ghraib "doesn't represent American values," she wasn't convinced.

Reporters and commentators keep asking, how could this happen? My question is, why are we surprised when many of these same practices are occurring at home?

Writing for The Progressive, Cusac recounts some of the horror stories she's investigated, draws connections between those practices and the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and asks whether "we have so dehumanized U.S. prisoners that we have become as distant from them as we are from foreign captives in faraway lands."

How could this happen? Apart from the tendency of prison administrators to adopt a military model of punishment (including "boot camps"), Cusak suggests that much of the public has accepted (and the media haven't challenged) the "tough on crime" assumptions about people serving sentences:

We have acquired a set of unexamined beliefs: 1) people who land in jail deserve to be there; 2) criminals are bad people--almost subhuman--who can't be rehabilitated; 3) therefore, punishment can be as harsh as possible; and 4) we don't need or want to know the details. These beliefs ... may help to explain why revelations of prison and jail abuse in the United States, which have been numerous in the past two decades, can fall on deaf ears in this country even as they prompt protest abroad. The revelations at Abu Ghraib shock us because our soldiers abroad seem to have acted out behaviors that we condone, yet don't face up to, at home.

Further TalkLeft discussion of the connection between abuse at Abu Ghraib and at home can be found here and here and here and here.

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