administration officials express shock and outrage over allegations
of the torture and murder of Iraqi prisoners by US forces, a deeper
look into Bush's stateside prison-system record shows disturbing
Despite Taguba's report
detailing US "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses" of Iraqi
detainees, the President declared, "We acted, and there are no
longer mass graves and torture rooms and rape rooms in Iraq."
In George Bush's America,
denial about inmate mistreatment runs similarly rampant. As Texas
governor, Bush oversaw the executions of 152 prisoners and thus
became the most-killing governor in the history of the United
States. Ethnic minorities, many of whom did not have access to
proper legal representation, comprised a large percentage of those
Bush put to death, and in one particularly egregious example, Bush
executed an immigrant who hadn't even seen a consular official from
his own country (as is required by the Vienna Convention on Consular
Relations, to which the US was a signatory). Bush's explanation:
"Texas did not sign the Vienna Convention, so why should we be
subject to it?"
Governor Bush also flouted the
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child by choosing to
execute juvenile offenders, a practice shared by only Iran,
Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Significantly, in 1998 a full 92%
of the juvenile offenders on Bush's death row were ethnic
Conditions inside Texan
prisons during Bush's reign were so notorious that federal Judge
William Wayne Justice wrote, "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."
In September 1996, for example,
a videotaped raid on inmates at a county jail in Texas showed guards
using stun guns and an attack dog on prisoners, who were later
dragged face-down back to their cells.
Funding of mental health
programs during Bush's reign was so poor that Texan prisons had a
sizeable number of mentally-impaired inmates; defying international
human rights standards, these inmates ended up on death row. A
Emile Duhamel, for example, with severe psychological disabilities
and an IQ of 56, died in his Texan death-row jail cell in July 1998.
Authorities blamed "natural causes" but a lack of air conditioning
in cells that topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit in a summer heat wave
may have killed Duhamel instead. How many other Texan prisoners died
of such neglect during Bush's governorship is unclear.
As president, Bush presides
over a prison population topping 2 million people, giving America
the dubious distinction of having a higher percentage of its
citizens behind bars than any other country. When considering that
the US has three times more prisoners per capita than Iran and seven
times more than Germany, the nation looks more like a Gulag than the
Land of the Free.
Abu Ghraib has left
administration officials falling over themselves with protestations
of compassion, but it's worth remembering that the
Bush White House has fought hard against the International
Convention Against Torture, especially a proposal to establish
voluntary inspections of prisons and detention centers in signatory
countries, such as the United States.
It's not difficult to see why:
if even a fraction of Bush's devastating legacy with Texan prisoners
has been transferred to the US prison system as a whole, then the
scandal over Abu Ghraib will seem like child's play.
The White House also wants to
stifle investigation into the roughly 760 aliens (mainly Muslim men)
the US government rounded up post-911, ostensibly for immigration
violations. Amnesty International reports
911 detainees have suffered "a pattern of physical and verbal abuse
by some corrections officers" and a denial of "basic human
Then of course, there's
Guantanamo, where the US is holding hundreds of detainees in top
secrecy and without access to courts, legal counsel or family
visits. Add to that the roughly 1000 civilians the US imprisons in
Afghanistan, the 10,000 civilians thought to be detained in Iraq and
who knows how many others across the globe, and it looks as if
incarceration is the nation's best export.
But blame can't stop with Bush.
A recent CNN poll asking "Is torture ever justified during
interrogation?" yielded 47% of respondents answering in the
affirmative, which explains why there hasn't been much stateside
outrage over prisoner neglect in the past. It's that Faustian
with-us-or-against-us mentality rearing its ugly head once again,
promising safety but tempting us to dehumanize others and lose our
souls in the process.
is a free-lance writer with a background in clinical psychology. Her
work as been featured in publications and websites internationally.
Heather can be contacted via her website:
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