Abolish Prison! The US Incarceration System Is Broken and Needs to Be Replaced
Prisons are terrible, torturous places where people—who are usually poor and disproportionately of color—are subjected daily to crimes more horrific than the ones that probably sent them there. The vast majority of individuals behind bars are there for nonviolent drug and property offenses. Now, which is worse, do you think: Stealing a late-90s Honda or putting someone in a cage for years where we know they will be physically and emotionally abused? We ask whether criminals can be reformed, when we think of them as people at all, but maybe we should stop to consider whether the idea of prisons and jails can be rehabilitated in the wake of all the injustice they have wrought.
Perhaps the evils of incarceration outweigh the good. Maybe the goal shouldn’t be reform, as welcome as that may be, but something more radical: release.
The Chicago Man Accusing Police of Raping Him with a Gun
Angel Perez’s story about how he was treated at the hands of Chicago police officers sounds like a horror story from the days when crooked cop Jon Burge tortured the city’s citizens with impunity. But the incidents in question happened just 15 months ago—and, Angel claims, the officers who abused him are still out there.
In October 2012, the 32-year-old aspiring documentary film producer says, he was beaten and sodomized with a gun by Chicago police officers until he agreed to be a drug informant. His story received some media attention when a Courthouse News write-up appeared last year after Angel filed a federal lawsuit against his abusers, but VICE is the first outlet he’s spoken to publicly about the incident.
“I can’t have this happen to someone else if I can stop it,” Angel told me, opening up about his experience against the advice of his lawyers, who’d prefer him to only do his talking in court. He has a decent chance of procuring a settlement, but told me, “Money is not justice… I want these guys to be off the job, charged for what they did, and given jail time.”
Self-Help Advice from a Defense Contractor
Dr. Phillip Jack London is the author of Character, the Ultimate Success Factor, a new self-help book that offers the guidance you need to become a better human being. In addition to pushing his fellow man to be a better person, Phillip is also the executive chairman of CACI International, a defense and surveillance-contracting firm that was implicated in the 2003 abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the formerly US-run prison in Iraq.
When the US District Court stated in July that the abuses committed by the contractors at Abu Ghraib were beyond its jurisdiction, CACI counter-sued the torture victims to recoup its court costs, eventually winning $14,000. Talk about character…
Last week, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed six amicus briefings, including one from the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, asking the court to reinstate the case. Meanwhile, in September, 56 detainees brought another lawsuit against CACI to the Eastern District Federal Court accusing its employees, among other dastardly things, of forcing one detainee to watch while her mother was tortured and to observe the sexual assault of a male inmate. Another detainee said his tongue was cut with pliers and a string was knotted tightly around his genitals.
Earlier this month, I talked over the phone with the inspirational author about his chipper new book, which he feels will show the world, “how a good character, a good reputation can permit you to achieve your dreams.” Then I grilled him on his role in atrocious war crimes.
VICE: Tell us about your new book?
Dr. Phillip Jack London: It’s a philosophical perspective on how to comport yourself, how to get on with life, and how to achieve your ambitions. It’s about how to create and live a life that you’ll be pleased with and at the end of the day you’ll be proud of what you’ve accomplished. One of the main takeaways of this book is that the individual owns his character and his lifestyle.
In addition to being a self-help author, you’re also the executive chairman of a little, nefarious thing called CACI International. How’d you land that gig? What was the trajectory?
I have a military background. I was a graduate of the Naval Academy. My family has a long history of patriotic service to our country.
How did I come to the position of being the chief executive and the executive chairman and so on of CACI International? I built it. It wasn’t something that was hanging around and I came in and became the CEO. I joined the company 43 years ago. I was 35. The company had less than a million dollars in sales. There were only a handfull of people. Then I worked, and was very successful. I have devoted myself to this field, to this industry.
How Jihadists Are Blackmailing, Torturing, and Killing Gay Syrians
Even between the plush sofas and mood lighting of one of Beirut’s hippest bars, Ram shook with fear as he relived his ordeal. He turned his large green eyes from me to the translator and then back to me again, speaking in a low voice, even though we were the only people in the room.
"I think I was targeted for two reasons: because I’m a Druze, and because I’m gay," he said. "They told us, ‘You are all perverts, and we are going to kill you to save the world.’"
Ram’s nightmare, which unfolded on a hot summer’s afternoon in Damascus, forced the then 19-year-old to flee his home for Beirut, with just a few hundred dollars in his pocket. Even in Damascus, the stronghold of Assad’s regime—where the elite still dance and drink cocktails in exclusive nightclubs—society has broken down into a chaotic quagmire where criminal gangs operate with impunity and radical Islamist groups are strengthening their stranglehold.
Maybe it was only a matter of time before Ram was picked out as a target. He is a Druze—a member of the small religious group that makes up just three percent of the Syrian population—and comes from a wealthy family well known for supporting Assad’s regime. From the beginning of the revolution he had known that these things could put him at risk. But his homosexuality was always a secret between him and his gay friends; he never thought that it could finally force him to flee.
"I got a phone call from my friend," he recalled. "He asked me to come over to his house because he’d lost all his money and he needed my help. I could never refuse him anything, so I went there straight away."
But Ram had walked into a trap.
The World’s Most Depressing Museum Is in Iraq, of Course
"They used the wood so that nobody could hear the screams," explained Bawer, a smartly dressed Iraqi Kurd. He stood over a desk that once belonged to Ali Hassan Al Majid—Saddam Hussein’s right-hand man, better known as Chemical Ali—and ran his hand over the room’s wood-panelled walls.
On the other side of the room, a plaster mannequin hung on a hook from the ceiling, its hands bound behind its back and electrodes running from its head to a metal box on the desk. “And here,” Bawer said, as he walked towards the model, pointing directly at its groin, “is where they would attach the weights, usually 20 to 30 kilograms [about 45 to 65 pounds]. Sometimes more.”
Most cities have monuments to the past, so it seems appropriate, given the bloody history of Iraqi Kurdistan, that Sulaymaniyah’s main tourist attraction is a torture museum. Tucked away in a now relatively quiet and leafy suburb, Amna Suraka is the former headquarters of the Mukhabarat, Saddam Hussein’s intelligence agency, and a building known to all Iraqi Kurds. Until the armed Kurdish fighters (known as the Peshmerga) liberated it in the early 1990s, the prison held students, dissidents, and Kurdish nationalists, as well as anyone else who happened to attract the attention of Baathist authorities in northern Iraq.
Omar Khadr: War Criminal, Child Soldier… or Neither?
Omar Khadr made his first appearance in a Canadian court on Monday. After an 11-year journey from Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay to Canada’s Millhaven Institution, the Toronto-born man is now in Edmonton’s federal prison. He was 15 when he was captured and tortured at Bagram. He turned 27 last Thursday.
If you’re not familiar with the case it goes loosely as follows: When the Americans first arrested Omar in Afghanistan, he was accused of throwing a grenade that killed an American solider. For eight years he maintained his innocence, until he signed a plea deal in 2010 that got him out of Guantánamo. Omar was then convicted of five counts of war crimes for his actions, which were not recognized as such anywhere else in the world including Canada.
Omar’s case is complex. While the American solider he is accused of killing certainly died from a grenade, there is no evidence showing that Omar ever threw one. And while Omar confessed to these crimes, it was after eight years of torture—and given his option to either insist upon his innocence and stay in Gitmo or confess to the crimes and see a judge in Canada, the context of his confession was problematic at best.
The Canadian Supreme Court has even ruled that that Omar’s right were violated, but left the remedy up to the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who of course declined to provide any solution.
Harper himself has been making strong statements about the trial in an apparent attempt to influence the court proceedings—he’s said that “It is very important that we continue to vigorously defend against any attempts, in court, to lessen his punishment for these heinous acts.”
Omar’s counsel, Dennis Edney, argued that he should be transferred to a provincial prisonfrom a federal institution due to his age when the alleged crimes took place. In a confusing instance of legal doublespeak, the Crown’s prosecutors are arguing that Omar has not really been sentenced to eight years, but rather to five eight-year sentences served at the same time. Associate Chief Justice J.D. Rook has reserved judgment to a currently undetermined future date.
Heather Marsh, a journalist who has followed Omar’s case closely, was in court on Monday and wrote about it for us.
The media swarming Khadr’s lawyer outside of Monday’s hearing. Photo by the author
The court was filled with what seemed to be Omar’s supporters. Many were wearing orange or orange ribbons and I spoke to several of them. There was a high schooler who said she was done with classes for the day, students from several different universities skipping class even though they had exams next week, and people of all ages and ethnic groups. After the media were moved to the jury box and people were encouraged to squeeze together, 120 people were in the courtroom and a live feed was set up for those who had to watch from the overflow room.
Hearing from Three Guantanamo Bay Prisoners Who’ve Been on Hunger Strike for 100 Days
On the 7th of February, 2013, there was a dispute inside Guantanamo Bay over prison guards searching Qur’ans. For the following two days, inmates ate the remainder of the food they had—including stuff that was reportedly two years out of date—and, once finished with all of their decomposing rations, embarked on a hunger strike. Yesterday was the 100th day of the inmates’ protest against their treatment and, out of the 166 still being held at Guantanmo, 102 are on hunger strike, with 30 being force fed.
Authorities at the prison camp have revised their guidelines to allow them to shackle hunger-strikers to a chair, before fitting them with masks and inserting tubes through their noses and into their stomachs to force feed them for up to two hours at a time. Despite these efforts, some prisoners claim to weigh as little as 85lbs.
Several attempts have been made to punish or dissuade inmates against their starvation efforts.According to Shaker Aamer (the last British resident being held in Guantanamo) prison wardens have begun inflicting sleep deprivation on inmates, as well as adopting a new practice where, instead of shackling their hands and legs and pushing them along from behind, they’re now clipping cloth dog leashes to inmates’ waists and dragging them around like animals.
Aamer is one of 86 inmates who have been cleared for release but are still being held inside the facility. Something that, according to Clive Stafford Smith—a lawyer representing inmates at the prison—is completely irrational. “Any prison, even in the most despotic dictatorship, should not have 86 of 166 [52 percent] prisoners cleared for release,” he told me, before adding, “Obama hasn’t shown the political will to do the right thing.”
Stafford Smith provided me with testimonies from three Guantanamo hunger-strikers in order to gain a little more insight into the Cuban detention camp that President Obama promised to close within a year back in 2009.
I Guess We Need to Say It Again: George W. Bush Was the Worst
above: Look at this colossal fucking piece of shit. Photo via Rex USA
Americans get stereotyped as stupid, but I think it’s unfair to call us ignorant, exactly—the problem is that we, as a nation, have a short memory. Sometimes this constant state of collective amnesia serves us well, allowing the country to move on from tragedy and put out of our minds the failures and injustices of, but sometimes it results in 47 percent of Americans say that they approve of George W. Bush. That’s according to a poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC in advance of the opening of his new presidential library, which opened today and seems devoted to telling visitors, “Sure, Dubya started wars, condoned torture, dug the country deeper into debt, and watched as terrorists launched the most successful attack on US soil ever, but it was really, really hard to be president, you guys. Would you have done any better? Thought not, asshole.” Even if that 47 percent number is too high, it’s clear that a majority of Republicans still think he did a pretty good job
That’s a fucking disgrace, y’all.
I guess we have to issue a disclaimer: any look back on an ex-president’s record is going to be tinged with ideology and personal beliefs—conservatives really hate Woodrow Wilson, for reasons Glenn Beck can explain to you; liberals despise Ronald Reagan, who’s practically a saint in Republican circles. And parts of Dubya’s legacy are open for debate. You can have wonkish arguments over the pros and cons of Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit he signed into law; you can scoff, as Ron Paul has, at Bush’s expansion of foreign aid or you can note how much good he did Africa. But the big-ticket stuff, the important things he did and didn’t do when he was the most powerful elected official in the world, were all pretty much uniformly awful.
Start with the Bush tax cuts, which were enacted thanks to the GOP’s pathological hatred for taxes and the surplus the government was running at the time. They jacked up the deficit while mostly giving money back to rich people, but the real trick was setting them up to expire in 2010—when, the people pushing the cuts must have known, allowing them to do so would have been the same as raising taxes, which is political poison in America. (Sure enough, after a hideous fight on the edge of the “fiscal cliff,” most of the cuts are permanent.)
Marineland Is a Hellhole Filled with Animal Abuse and Mass Graves
Marineland, Niagara Falls’ premier tourist destination, was opened in 1961 by John Holer. At the time, John was a portly Slovenian immigrant who couldn’t find work when he arrived to Canada. With what little money he had, and what little English he could speak, Holer built two water tanks and acquired three sea lions. When he opened Marineland’s doors, admission was 25 cents per person. In the 52 years since then, Marineland has expanded to include a large collection of animals, animal shows, and a theme park with over a dozen rides. His is the kind of story that gives one hope, and makes one look nostalgically to the past when things were simpler, right? No. According to an exposé headed by Toronto Star reporter Linda Diebel, Marineland is rife with animal neglect and poor facility conditions that have led to an ever-evolving series of depressing stories, distressing events, and grim accounts from Marineland employees. Not to mention the protests, lawsuits, and public overload of bleeding hearts.
In the original Star report, a group of former Marineland employees came forward with allegations that the park suffered from poor water quality. They also noted that the park was understaffed and mentioned several cases of animal neglect. Doesn’t sound so hellish at first, right? Well, the water in some of the facilities was turning green and causing seals to lose their vision, and one of them even had an eye pop out of its socket when it barked because the water eroded its eye lens away. Several dolphins were losing their skin, which was coming off in chunks in the pools. A baby beluga named Skoot contracted bacterial meningitis, and was then attacked by other whales that threw her into a stone wall and killed her. After that, she was pulled from the pool by two trainers and “convulsed and died in their arms.” There is even a logbook from a former Marineland supervisor, who wrote that water was coming up from a sewer near Friendship Cove that was so corrosive itate the tires off a pickup truck.
But Marineland doesn’t limit their severe conditions to aquatic animals. There are also land animals that get to feel the pain, and their problems are even more grim. According to this article, Marineland has a cramped collection of 15 bears. They share four dens and are underfed. They have to fight for corn pops, which people throw at them, and occasionally eat their own young. There was an incident where one bear was killed by four other bears as a crowd observed.
I Was Tortured as a Bahraini Political Prisoner
Thirty-six-year-old Bahraini journalist Ahmed Radhi was one of the roughly 500 prisoners of conscience who were detained following the citizen uprising against Bahrain’s government that began in February 2011. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights estimates that the country has the highest number of political prisoners per capita worldwide. Ahmed told us about the supposed reasons for his detention and the extremely poor conditions he faced while in prison.
Being a journalist in Bahrain comes with many risks. The press has no freedom to move and work independently without being harassed by the regime. I was investigated by the Ministry of Information for reporting on the US presence in Bahrain, but it was a May 13 phone interview with the BBC, during which I criticized a proposed union of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, that led to my recent arrest. Clearly, America and Saudi Arabia are topics that the Bahraini regime doesn’t want anyone to discuss.
I was arrested on May 16—police and masked civilians surrounded and broke into my father’s house at around 3:30 AM without a court order. I was interrogated from the moment I was arrested until I reached the Criminal Investigation Department building.