Paper Says Torture and Abuse at Abu Ghraib Has Roots in “Cruel But Usual” U.S. Prison Culture; U.S. “Exported” Brutality to Iraq

NEW YORK—The revelation of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, as first exposed by CBS’ 60 Minutes earlier this year, provides evidence that America’s “dehumanizing prison culture and brutal penal practices have now been exported to Iraq,” according to a paper released by the Open Society Institute’s U.S. Programs.

OSI’s Ideas for an Open Society paper, “From Abu Ghraib to America: Examining Our Harsh Prison Culture,” by Judith Greene, a Soros Justice Fellow and criminal justice policy analyst, points out specific instances of abuse in U.S. prisons and jails-deaths resulting from excessive force, degrading and humiliating strip searches, inadequate and sometimes rotten food, and denial of medications, medical care, and mental health treatment.

Greene also explores how the Iraqi prison was “restored to operation by Lane McCotter, a U.S. prison consultant handpicked by the U.S. Department of Justice for the job,” although he had “resigned as director of the Utah Department of Corrections amid controversy following the death of a mentally ill man who had been strapped in a restraint chair for sixteen hours.”

“Experienced observers of conditions in U.S. prisons are quick to recognize that the Abu Ghraib photos reek of the cruel but usual methods of control used by many U.S. prison personnel,” Greene says in the paper. “Our vengeful penal philosophy and harsh prison culture has led to a dreadful level of brutality and human rights abuses in our own prisons, and now this maliciously punitive mentality has been exported to Iraq by U.S. prison personnel.”

Greene also offers recommendations for improving prison conditions but says what is ultimately needed is “a thorough overhaul of the harsh sentencing laws and policies that have driven the prison system to this unmanageable scale.”

Current and past issues of Ideas for an Open Society are available on the Web. Ideas for an Open Society, an occasional paper from OSI, debates provocative and innovative strategies for social change to advance democratic and open society values.