Imprisonment and Mistreatment

This week’s keyword “War” by Susan Jeffords contrasts war’s explicit definition as armed conflict between two parties to a late twentieth century definition that includes more than direct military encounters. These statements introduce the idea that in a modern world, war transcends traditional boundaries to encompass a wider range of interactions between conflicting parties (Jeffords, p 236). Gordon’s description of United States prisons in dealing with anti-American terrorists in his “Abu Ghraib: imprisonment and the war on terror” presents the prison system as a facet of war in a modern political climate.

The article describes security housing units (SHU), where prisoners are subjected to excessive force and abuse. These forms of abuse include forced cell extractions, electronic stun devices, chemical sprays, total isolation, and sensory deprivation/overload. (Gordon, p 50). These practices are inhumane and are human rights violations. “While these practices violate both the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights and UN standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners, the US does not recognize these standards (Gordon, p 50).” The United States fails to recognize international standards for the treatment of prisoners. Why is it that the United States feels justified in maintaining abusive policies in the treatment of prisoners?

Gordon poses the answer of this question to be the United States belief in its own exceptionalism. “Bush government has indeed formulated a policy of exceptionalism, claiming the right of the US, as a sovereign God-given Christian nation, to exempt itself from the same laws that govern conduct of other nations” (Gordon, p 44). The US justifies the abusive practices in prisons as protection of their nation. However, reported abuses in prisons are often cruel and unusual and ought to be viewed as unacceptable practices to preserve national security. The leaked pictures of prisoners in Abu Ghraib include images of prisoners completely naked being threatened by dogs, piled on one another, and handcuffed in contorted positions. There is limited justification in these practices as necessary for preserving national security and must be viewed as the voluntary dehumanization of these prisoners.

It does not appear that the incidents of mistreatment of prisoners are the exception to the rule. The article presents the case of Corporal Charles A. Graner, Jr who had been fired from a position at Fayette County Prison after being accused of routinely beating and humiliating prisoners. In May 2003, Graner was called to duty and served in a supervisory position at Abu Ghraib because of his experience as a prison guard (Gordon, p 48). The hiring of Graner after reported abuses of prisoners in the United States can be logically concluded as a deliberate choice by the United States to not only preserve inhumane practices but to actively seek out prison guards willing to practice these abuses on foreign captives.

The development of prisons by the United States government has increased to an estimated eighty-nine military prisons as well as the presence of secret prisons. Extensive methods are used to preserve the secretive practices surrounding these prisons and expulsion and discredit are the consequences of exposing these practices (Gordon, p 43). If it is not in the goals of the United States to modify these practices and the US continues to disobey international law, there appears to be a bleak outlook in the just treatment of terrorist prisoners in the future.

One thought on “Imprisonment and Mistreatment

  1. caalamo

    I think there is reason for the bleak outlook that you discuss in this post. The continuous unveiling of state secrets and terror has become so normalized that we are left wondering only what will be next. But I also think that Gordon’s article is a challenge to us all to think more critically about the ways that we treat our domestic population of prisoners. At minimum she is telling us a story about what such forms of abuse does not just to those being victimized and the prison guards but also to each and everyone of us. She is showing how we ourselves come to see these state practices of permanent war as so normalized that we loose our ability to question the legality and humanity of such things when they are happening right underneath our own noses. At best, she is asking us to think what military imprisonment would look like if we didn’t have our current prison industrial complex as a model?

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