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Iraqi Dungeons and Torture Chambers Under New, American Trained Management

Just a year ago, Attorney General John Ashcroft pointed to the Iraqi prison system as a shining example of the freedoms that the U.S. would bring to Iraq. He said, "Now, all Iraqis can taste liberty in their native land, and we will help make that freedom permanent by assisting them to establish an equitable criminal justice system, based on the rule of law and standards of basic human rights."

The rhetoric of law and justice was in full force after the fall of Saddam Hussein, but now in the wake of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, the dicourse surrounding Iraqi prisons has become far removed from the self-congratulatory statements of Ashcroft. As U.S. credibility disentigrates in Iraq there is a public outcry to assign blame to those responsible for torture, rape and murder.

There are the obvious culprits: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his initiation of a special access program that encouraged harsher interrogations at Abu Ghraib, the government officials who pestered lawyers with questions on the legality of torture and the U.S. prison guards turned soldiers who let the dogs loose, literally and figuratively. But as the military continues to shift the blame up and down the chain of command, there are some lesser known officials who have barely managed to slip past massive public scrutiny. It's their involvement that implicates the American government and its policy of mass imprisonment and brutalization at home in the torture of prisoners in Iraq.

History of ICITAP

In May 2003, Ashcroft appointed an envoy of mostly American prison officials to help "restore law and order in Iraq" by chipping away at Hussein's much feared torture chambers until they resembled something closer to American prisons. For six months, the envoy would take on the monumental task of preparing pre-existing Iraqi prisons for prisoners. Through the International Criminal Investigative Training Program (ICITAP), these officials would decide details such as the number of bunks per prison and the training of Iraqi prison guards.

ICITAP is based in the Justice Department, but receives funding for individual projects through the State Department. ICITAP has embarked on many missions since its inception in 1986, from the former Soviet Union to Haiti to Indonesia. The missions may change locations, but their teams have managed to accrue a consistent record of questionable activities while operating under the guise of rebuilding criminal justice systems.

Typically the ICITAP serves to prop up the police and prison systems of American client states. It is a successor to the police training program run by the Agency for Intenrational Development. That program was halted in the mid 1970's when it became public knowledge, after the Watergate scandal, that US AID officials were training police and prison officials around the world in techniques of murder and torture, mostly for use against leftist insurgencies. Film director Costa Gavras made a movie, State of Siege, in 1973 about the kidnapping and execution of US AID employee Dan Mitrione by Tupamaro guerrillas in Uruguay. Mitrione had been training Uruguyan police in torture and assassination techniques which were used against dissidents in that country. The activities of ICITAP are not new, only the name is.

In Russia throughout the mid 90's, Justice Department officials were accused of illegally acquiring visas for their Russian girlfriends, sharing classified information with uncleared parties and hiring people through favoritism, in what the Department's inspector general summed up as "egregious misconduct".

In Haiti, ICITAP was sent to train the Haitian police force and restore the criminal justice system. After millions of dollars in funding, the Haitian police force was deemed "largely ineffective" and accused of serving only "a small segment of the population", according to a report by the U.S. Government Accountablity Office. Which has historically been the case.

Terry Stewart _ Son of Sam

Terry Stewart accepted this mission. Like the others serving on the team, Stewart had numerous years of experience in prisons, both as former director of the Arizona Department of Corrections (1995-2002) and as a consultant for the private prison firm Advanced Correctional Management. According to Donna Hamm, founder and Executive Director of Middle Ground Prison Reform, "20 years of credentials is just one year repeated 20 times. There's no change." Hamm witnessed Stewart in action in Arizona, where he accumulated many accusations of human rights violations. [Editor's Note: As in the other cases below, PLN has reported extensively on the human rights abuses accrued in the US prison systems these men oversaw before going overseas.]

In 1995, after prisoners set fire to buildings at Safford Arizona State Prison as a response to unacceptable conditions, all 613 prisoners were gathered in a central area outside, handcuffed and forced to lie face down. During the first day, prisoners claimed that prison guards would not allow them to eat or to use the bathroom and as a result, they urinated and defecated on themselves. Prisoners also suffered from severe sunburns and heat strokes. The prisoners were kept outside for a total of four days. Eventually, the case went to trial, but the jury sided with the Department of Corrections, claiming that the department's actions were "rational."

Though the abuses weren't attributed to Stewart directly, Hamm said that it's the director's attitude that sets the climate within the department. "They don't have to adopt a policy of abuse, it's a given that people will not be fired and will not be held accountable. The guards abuse the prisoners and they know that they won't be charged under the current director."

Hamm also said, "This isn't a leash on the neck, but the intent is the same: degradation, humiliation, and complete denial of humanity."

This chain of abuse in the Arizona Department of Corrections did not begin or end with Stewart. Hamm says that Sam Lewis, Stewart's predecessor as director, was simply carrying on the tradition of abuse within the department, leaving Stewart with the nickname "Son of Sam" after the notorious serial killer. Recently, Lewis has come out in Stewart's defense. Lewis claims that the 1997 Justice Department confirmation of widespread female prisoner assault within the department shouldn't mar Stewart's record. Lewis said, "If someone is going to be dumped on, I guess it should be me." The abuse has only continued with the current director, Dora B. Schriro. Recently, a mentally ill prisoner was ordered to clean up the blood of an HIV patient. In reality, a documented record of human rights abuse seems to be a requirement for overseas eployment by the ICITAP, not a hindrance. Steward is also vice president of the American Correc tion Assoiation(ACA), a lobbying group of prison officials.

Arizona soon became a distant memory to Stewart as he seized opportunities to participate in the world of international prisons. Stewart's record in Arizona did not prevent him from obtaining a position on the ICITAP team sent to Iraq. Recently, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has criticized the Department of Justice for allowing individuals like Stewart with checkered pasts to assist with prison oversight in Iraq. In a June 2004 news conference, he said, "When you ask yourself why is there a mess in the Iraqi prisons, just look at the kind of oversight and checking that was done with the people that were put in charge hardly any, obviously, or these people wouldn't have been put in the prison system. With these kind of people in charge, was there any hope that the prison system would be run in a decent way? Absolutely not."

Upon arrival in Baghdad, Stewart and the ICITAP team found that out of 151 prisons located, none were operational. Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer informed them that they were to start assessing and re-opening prisons immediately. One of those prisons was Abu Ghraib.

In a interview, Stewart remarked that at Abu Ghraib, "the CPA[Coalition Provisional Authority], at the request of the Iraqi people, took the execution chamber and made a memorial out of it." Stewart also put together a three-day training program for future Iraqi prison workers on human rights and anti-corruption. Stewart said, "I gave them an eight-hour course on human rights and anti-corruption and the daily regiment of prisons. It was interesting teaching through an interpreter. And when I said, `You can't physically hit an inmate,' I thought the staff would riot. They said, `How can we control them?'"

DeLand of DeFree

Gary DeLand arrived in Iraq three weeks after Terry Stewart. DeLand's history in prisons, though abundant, was mired with allegations of misdeeds and abuse. As director of the Utah Department of Corrections in the eighties, he faced numerous charges of denying prisoners adequate medical treatment and subjecting them to cruel and unusual punishment.

Attorney Brian Barnard tried civil action suits against Gary DeLand while he was head of the Utah Department of Corrections. During DeLand's reign, Barnard claims he would receive at least two to three letters a week of complaints from prisoners, which could possibly stem from what Barnard calls DeLand's philosophy: "to lock them [prisoners] up until they were too old to commit crimes." [Editor's Note: Mr. Barnard represents PLN in censorship litigation against Utah jails and the Utah Department of Corrections.]

DeLand touched base with the rest of the ICITAP team in Baghdad and then set out to do the most fundamental task of re-opening prisons: hiring prison employees. The ICITAP team posted recruitment flyers and passed out applications to Iraqis and at one point, DeLand claims, "the MPs had to run over and fire shots in the air because the crowd got so angry."

Finding willing Iraqis to fill prison positions was not a problem, but according to DeLand, training new Iraqi employees was filled with obstacles. In a interview, DeLand said, "We had a very high attrition rate. Some people found out they couldn't take bribes and just got up and left. We explained that this was a new system and that this is how we did things in the United States. They would get up and walk out. Or they would ask, `What happens when an inmate has a problem, don't you beat them up?' We would tell them that we just don't do that in the U.S."

Maybe DeLand was confused by the question because prisoners suffered horrendous treatment under his watch at the Utah Department of Corrections. In 1981, a prisoner brought a lawsuit against DeLand, both individually and as supervisor at the Salt Lake City County Jail, for cruel and unusual punishment. The man, who was suffering from a mental illness, had been arrested and charged with disorderly but nonviolent conduct. While in detainment, the prisoner was kept naked for 56 days in a "strip cell", described in court documents as having "no windows, no interior lights, no bunk, no floor covering, and no toilet except for a hole in the concrete floor which was flushed irregularly from outside the cell."

John J. Armstrong

Before John J. Armstrong became the assistant director of operations of American prisons in Iraq he was the Commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Corrections for eight years (1995-2003). Like Stewart, DeLand and McCotter, Armstrong was appointed to his post by a Republican governor, John G. Rowland, who has since been impeached. Governor Rowland complained that prisons in Connecticut resembled "club-med style" resorts; he wanted a commissioner that would toughen up the prisons that, he claimed, had gone soft under the previous commissioner. Enter John J. Armstrong.

Armstrong vowed to put security above all else and during his first months in office he oversaw the opening of Connecticut's first "Supermax" prison, Northern Correctional Institution. The Connecticut DOC website describes Northern as a "highly structured, secure and humane environment", while a representative from National Prison Project called Northern a "high-tech dungeon" in a 1996 Hartford Courant article.

Northern is an autocratic guard's dream: prisoners locked up in their closet-sized cells for 23 hours a day and almost everything can be operated by remote control. Though the prison was intended to house only prisoners who pose "a threat to the safety and security of the community, staff and other inmates", many prisoners were sent there on minor offenses, like participating in a work stoppage protest or exhibiting symptoms of mental illness.

Throughout Armstrong's command, it wasn't necessary to travel to Northern to find examples of abuse. In a 2001 Amnesty International report studying abuse of women in prisons, Connecticut was used as an example of how not to treat female prisoners. At the York Correctional Institution in Niantic, there were numerous allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct by male guards against female prisoners, including sexual assault and watching female prisoners undress.

In 1999, Timothy Perry, a 21-year-old mentally ill prisoner, was beaten to death by guards at Hartford Correctional Center. Perry put up no resistance when guards entered his cell, used excessive force against him and beat him to death. Guards continued to subdue Perry, but by this time Perry was already dead. To cover up the murder, the guards continued to act as if Perry was alive and put him in four-point restraints. The nurse even injected Perry's corpse with Thorazine, a psychotropic drug that he was allergic to. At no time did anyone bother to call a doctor or to check and see if he was breathing. All was caught on film.

PLN editor Paul Wright viewed the film and described it as "Perry's naked, dead body is laying on a gurney, his corpse is surrounded by guards when a nurse pretends to examine the corpse and then gives it a shot to cover up the fact Perry is dead. The most surreal moment is when the guard video taping the scene says, in a totally deadpan voice `Inmate Perry is still resisting.' In fact, the film shows Perry laying dead on a gurney!" None of the staff involved in Perry's murder were disciplined. The state of Connecticut paid $2.9 million to Perry's estate for the murder.

Armstrong continued to face a dilemma in Connecticut's prisons: overcrowding. To ease the burden on the prison population, Armstrong initiated the exodus of 484 prisoners to Virginia's "Supermax" Wallens Ridge Prison in 1999. Some contended that it was principally minorities being sent to Wallens Ridge, but Armstrong maintained that the numbers being sent were representative of the prison population. As the prisoners settled in at Wallens Ridge, allegation of mistreatment began to fly. Yet these charges went ignored by Armstrong and it was the prisoners who paid the price for his negligence.

In April 2000, guards at Wallens Ridge saw a prisoner in his cell jump from his top bunk. 4 ½ minutes later, the guards entered the cell of David Tracy, 20, and found that he had hung himself with his bed sheet. Tracy had been transferred to Wallens Ridge from Northern Correctional Institute with Connecticut officials knowing that the transfer would endanger both his mental health and life. Before his transfer, Tracy had attempted suicide three times and even requested to be placed on suicide watch. As a result of his actions and mental illnesses, his mental health status had been classified as "Mental Health 4", the highest level possible. Wallens Ridge would not be able to meet Tracy's needs and Connecticut officials knew it. At Wallens Ridge, Tracy was not given frequent access to mental health staff and was not monitored.

Months after Tracy's suicide, James Lawrence Frazier, another transferred prisoner, died at Wallens Ridge. Frazier, 50, went into a diabetic shock and was shocked repeatedly with 50,000 volts of a stun gun. Days later, Frazier died of heart failure.

After two years, two deaths, an ACLU class action suit, and over 70 other lawsuits, the prisoners were brought back to Connecticut. Now, public attention was focused on the multiple charges of sexual harassment brought upon Armstrong and others by female prison employees. Armstrong was implicated both directly and indirectly in sexual harassment. Female prison employees asserted that there was a sustained atmosphere of disrespect towards women in the department with charges ranging from male guards watching pornographic movies while on duty to vandalism and theft of female employee's belongings.

In one incident, Deputy Warden Murdoch made explicit comments in front of 80 employees. He said that women are sensitive during "that time of the month" and that he would keep a box of underwear in his office in case any women had "an accident at work." Many others at similar staff meetings made these comments and Armstrong was aware of and condoned the comments.

When female employees would file sexual harassment complaints, many were called "snitches" or would face further retaliation from their harassers. Armstrong claimed that sexual harassment would not be tolerated within the department, but many of the perpetrators were never disciplined and were sometimes promoted. While Armstrong left office in a cloud of controversy, it did not impact his ability to find employment with the ICITAP.

Lane McCotter

Lane McCotter has been shuffled in and out of the prison business for the past three decades. He has taken on the title of director of corrections in three states, Texas (1985-1987), New Mexico (1987-1991) and Utah (1992-97) and is currently working as the director of business development for Management and Training Corporation, a private, Utah based prison firm that operates 16 facilities. In 2003, McCotter took the position of a lifetime when he was appointed to the ICITAP team headed to Iraq. McCotter may feel comfortable in many of America's prisons, but according to a interview, flying in the plane headed to Iraq felt just "like coming home." He did two tours in Vietnam and worked as an MP.

McCotter and DeLand both oversaw the rebuilding of Abu Ghraib prison and attended the ribbon cutting ceremony when the first 500 beds were opened. The team had started rebuilding Abu Ghraib when they saw that it was "the only place that we agreed as a team was truly closest to an American prison," according to a interview. McCotter claimed that he spent $1.9 million dollars in government funds reconstructing Abu Ghraib so it could house prisoners captured by the US military.

On his experience in Iraq, McCotter said in a interview, "It was almost like you have been preparing for something like this your whole life _ to bring together everything you have ever learned and to put an entire system together and watch it come to life from absolute and utter chaos and destruction and operate the way you know it should or could. It was such a fascinating and personally rewarding experience for all of us."

When McCotter left for Iraq, he was leaving behind an extensive record of misdeeds in American prisons.

Beginning in Texas, where McCotter served as director of the DOC for two years, he faced allegations in 1985 of erasing the parts of a video that showed the beating of a prisoner by a guard. McCotter said that it was an "accident", but the incident leading up to and after the beating were still on the tape. On the tape, the prisoner was cuffed and shackled and the prisoner said that he was beaten and slammed against the wall. McCotter was only in the nascent stages of his prison administrator career and by the time he arrived in Utah he was a seasoned prison official.

In Utah, McCotter served five years as director of the DOC. It would be the position that would attract the most attention to McCotter's actions and inactions in the department. In July 1994, prisoner Lonnie Blackmon was stabbed 67 times by another prisoner in a Utah state prison while eight guards looked on and did nothing. The lawsuit filed by Blackmon's family said that Blackmon was placed in an area of the prison that housed a majority of white supremacist gang members. Guards cuffed Blackmon and left him in the area "defenseless." While Blackmon was being stabbed, cameras were recording everything and the guards had a high-pressure hose and weapons at their disposal, yet no one acted.

In March 1997, the death of another prisoner was also caught on tape. Michael Valent, a 29-year-old schizophrenic, died of a blood clot that had formed in his legs and traveled to his lungs after being strapped naked to a restraining chair for 16 hours. Prison officials claimed that Valent had been restrained in the chair because he was banging his head against the wall and posing a threat to his own safety. The videos disprove that claim. The videos show the 115-lb Valent in his cell with a pillowcase wrapped around his head, some claim to shut out the voices in his head, while the guards forcibly remove him from his cell and cut off his clothing. He was then strapped to the chair, with the leg restraints being strapped to the tightest level. After 16 hours, Valent was removed from the chair and three hours later he died in the shower. Valent's death was ruled a homicide. Valent's mother received a $200,000 settlement.

McCotter claimed that Valent could've developed those clots anywhere. And in a 1997 Salt Lake Tribune article, Don Corcoran, president of AEDEC international, the company that made the chair said, "The irony is that this chair is so humane it's unbelievable, It's a unique little chair. It's safe. It's real comfortable. It's like they're sitting back in an easy chair." Maybe if easy chairs had catheters for urination and a hole in the seat for defecation then his claims might hold their ground.

The photographic evidence showing American soldiers subjecting Iraqi prisoners to sexual abuse and assault, torture and at least 20 known murders of prisoners, in addition to hiding prisoners from the International Committee of the Red Cross, have been seen around the world. These well documented abuses were carried out after the ICITAP team had refurbished the Iraqi prison system and prepared it for its new users.

Given the track record of the ICITAP team in managing US prisons, and the historical record for how the U.S. conducts counter insurgency wars against nations who resist American invasions and control, the only amazing thing would have been if massive human rights abuses did not occur. The four American leaders of the ICITAP team had a lot in common. They were all Republican Party connected prisoncrats with lengthy track records of brutality throughout their careers in American prisons. Internationally, the United States runs one of the most regressive prison systems in the world. That said, it does not appear that anyone considered progressive by American standards (which are below the world norm) was even considered for the ICITAP team, much less appointed to it. Three of the four members are employed by the private prison industry when they aren't helping administer colonial prisons overseas.

One good thing that may come from the international exposure of the Abu Gharaib scandal and that is educating the world about what the term "human rights" means, and has meant, for American prisoners and what other countries can expect under U.S. occupation.

In January, 2004, President Bush said of Iraq, "One thing is for certain: There won't be any more mass graves and torture rooms and rape rooms." On June 29, 2004, an Oregon National Guard unit told a different story. According to an article in The Oregonian, a solider saw several Iraqi prisoners blindfolded and bound at the Iraqi Interior Ministry. They were being beaten and tortured by Iraqi officials of the American installed puppet government. The soldier radioed for assistance and the unit was sent to the Interior Ministry to investigate. When they arrived, the soldiers passed out water and moved the prisoners far from the Iraqi officials. The bound Iraqis said they hadn't eaten anything in days. Upon further investigation, the Unit found metal rods and other torture mechanisms. They also found 78 more Iraqi prisoners in a 20 by 20 foot room. The Iraqi officials claimed that they hadn't beaten anyone and soon, the unit was ordered by their superiors in the U.S. military to return the prisoners back to the officials. Several of the soldiers took pictures showing Iraqi prisoners being beaten by puppet regime officials. Since then, there have been no new developments on the status of the Iraqi prisoners.

Contrary to what President Bush has said, the rape and torture rooms of Iraq haven't closed. They're just open for business under new management.

Leah Caldwell is a student and writer for Issue, c/o Austin Independent Media Center, 300 Allen St. Austin, TX 78702,

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