Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Prison Abuse Exaggeration

Okay. Enough with this happy, feel good, love everybody garbage. I haven't been in a good blog fight in a while so lets get this party started:

Before I explain how the prisoner abuse scandals should be relegated to shows like Jerry Springer and off of news television, let me say that there are real abuses going on to prisoners throughout the world. Countries everywhere are abusing prisoners and America is no exception. The happen and they are disgraceful to everyone. However I don't think it is not happening the way you would think it is.

Contrary to what is being called a scandal that goes all the way to the American president, abuse is much more localized and contrary to American policy. I have yet to see a smoking gun of any kind that would suggest that any sort of policy was put forth from above a local level that even suggests real prison abuse. There is only evidence of an outbreak of incidents at Abu Ghraib by a night team of guards and a special forces unit. There have been reports of a female taunting some of the prisoners at Guantanamo and some others there that have been removed and punished for their actions. These are isolated incidents that demonstrate what can happen when the rigors of war, poor judgment of low level leadership or there is a lack of a leadership structure in place. It is not evidence of some vast conspiracy or a secret abuse policy from a high official.

So why have any abuses happened at all? Doesn't the fact that these abuses happened indicate that there was an intent to commit war crimes by a higher source? Soldiers would not do this had they not been trained to do so would they? Sadly, the answer is yes, they would. The best example of how this could occur is Phil Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment. The study explains in detail how when guards are left to their own devices, such as when they continually work nights without supervision, or in the case of small special forces units, they will invariably violate both physical abuse rules but sexual abuses as well. The nudity and sexual embarrassment of Abu Ghraib took place in almost the exact same manner over 30 years ago at Stanford. It is a known sociological effect.

"So what about the other wide-scale abuses that are taking place? Those really are policies that has come from people like American Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He's given the go ahead on these war crimes and deserves to be tried for them. How can you say that there are only isolated incidences?"

Just because something is being touted as a heinous war crime against humanity doesn't make it all that heinous. Taking a look at some of the things being called crimes against humanity don't really appear to show abuse.

One of the tactics being used is to put the prisoners in extreme climate conditions, particularly extreme cold. It has been said that they are literally freezing the prisoners. I have yet to hear a report about any prisoners contracting hypothermia, frost bite, or even a severe illness related to the temperature. Are we going to start accusing people of war crimes because they keep the thermostat turned way down? This may be a bit of a stretch but this would give me grounds to sue my high school gym teacher for making us run outside with snow on the ground.

People are being forced to stand in uncomfortable positions for extended periods of time. This is one that I would be forced to ask: how long? What is the marked time limit for making someone sit, stand, kneel or squat in an uncomfortable position. Many jobs require you to stand in the same spot for prolonged periods of time. What positions are we talking about? How long? Until we, the public, know the particulars we can only speculate. There is no undeniable evidence of abuse.

Prisoners are being embarrassed and feel shame. It demoralizes them. Is this abuse? I recently read an article saying that one of the abuses being mitigated in an Australian prison with "Jihad Jack" being forced to wear an orange jumpsuit. Isn't this supposed to be a prison? Isn't the fact that you're in prison an embarrassment in itself? Isn't that the point? Maybe it's because they're threatening them, using raised voices, lying to them, threatening them. Should I go to jail for yelling at my son now? I am familiar with verbal abuse and the psychological ramifications of such acts but I'm not so sure that what is happening could be considered psychological torture.

From what I've seen and heard a standard police interrogation tactic is to make the witness tired, uncomfortable, scared and confused. The intention is to make them want to confess to what they know so that they may escape their uncomfortable and inconvenient surroundings. They make them weary and try to get them to make errors in their statements. I see the current military prisoner situation the same way. Standard techniques for interrogation are being used to extract information.

What constitutes an abuse? How far is too far? Has America crossed the line with the policies it enacts? It doesn't appear so to me. There is no smoking gun, no video tape or signed policy paper. All we have are allegations of a greater crime with no hard evidence. We have isolated incidents being blown out of proportion.


Jenkins, Melissa. "Jihad Jack being held 'inhumanely'". Dec 2, 2004.,4057,11562873%255E421,00.html

Childs, Nick. "Rumsfeld in Iraq abuse complaint". Dec 1, 2004.

Zimbardo, Phillip G.. "Stanford Prison Experiment". 1999-2004.

O'Brien, Soledad "Zimbardo's famous experiment 30 years ago sheds light on abuse photos". May 21, 2004. CNN Interview

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