Tony Newman at (212) 613-8026 or Elizabeth M
Since last week, the nation has been horrified and outraged by graphic photographs of Iraqi prisoners abused by American soldiers. This abuse of power has driven calls for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and prompted President Bush to apologize on Arab TV stations.
Many U.S. human rights workers were struck by the similarities between the horrific photos from the Abu Ghraib prison and the conditions they’ve encountered in their work in U.S. prisons. The perverse nature of the photos mirrors many recorded incidents of sexual humiliation and abuse. In one U.S. facility 27% of female prisoners reported being pressured or forced into a sex act by male staff members, according to the Stop Prison Rape website (www.spr.org).
As top law enforcer, Attorney General John Ashcroft is the “General” most accountable for this country’s policies of mass incarceration. “Ashcroft and his state counterparts owe us an explanation for why our brothers and sisters behind bars are treated as caged animals instead of as caged human beings,” said Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Americans’ powerful sense of justice has been ignited by the horrors in Iraq. The last thing the incarceration generals want is to be the next focus of that same moral outrage.”
3 of the 7 people who have been charged in the Abu Ghraib scandal worked as prison guards in the United States. One of them, Charles Graner, who has also been charged with domestic violence, worked at a Pennsylvania maximum security prison during a 1998 abuse scandal, in which guards were charged with routinely beating and humiliating prisoners.
Of the 2 million people incarcerated in the United States, close to 500,000 are locked up for non-violent drug offenses. After receiving harsh sentences (that often exceed those for murder and rape), these Americans face the brutality of guards and conditions of overcrowding and violence created by those in charge. “You can’t look at the number of people incarcerated in the United States without looking at the drug laws,” said Michael Blain, Director of Public Policy for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The U.S. incarcerates more people for drug offenses than all of Europe–with a hundred million more inhabitants– does for all criminal offenses combined.”