April 17, 2006
In the Bushian view of life, the world is primarily divided into two parts: America, the incarnation of Freedom, Justice and Democracy, which allegedly has a divinely-sanctioned mission to the world that mimics the mission of the Catholic Church "to teach all nations"; and "the outposts of tyranny."
Tyrannies can, of course, take on many forms but there is little doubt that underlying this diversity there are certain attributes to be found in all the forms. One universal attribute appears to be that large numbers get killed in one way or another. A second universal attribute is that imprisonment ceases to be an exceptional fact in the life of a society, and tends towards becoming an ever-expanding industry. The justifications for the growing prison system will vary, but the end result is always the same. Whether one is dealing with "criminals," "terrorists," "subversives," "dissidents" or whatever makes little difference. Thus, in this sense, when obeying the law (understood as societal regulations founded on Justice and the Common Good, and drawing upon the Natural and Divine Law) is redefined to mean all kinds of other and unconnected things, we can say that prison populations become a good measure of the degree of tyranny in a society.
If one were to believe the mainstream media of the Western world for the last two decades or so, Saddam’s Iraq was a tyranny of the first order; and if this were so, it follows, logically, that the prison system and its size would reflect that tyranny reasonably accurately. So, let’s see what we can find out on this subject.
If one consults the International Center for Prison Studies website ( www.kcl.ac.uk ) we find that under Saddam the Iraqi Correctional Service came under the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice. Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, it was ascertained that there were precisely 8 prisons/detention centers in the country as of July 2003. Naturally, this was just before the occupation forces began to create detention centers and prisons of their own in order to deal with the "terrorists" of the Iraqi Resistance. Of the eight prisons, one has become internationally famous: Abu Ghraib. Said to have been the center of Saddam's torture system, it has since become even better known as the center of American torture of alleged Iraqi terrorists. Seymour Hersh's Chain of Command tells much of that horrific story, and websites in many languages recount in dreadful detail what the American "liberation army" has been - and still is - doing to the "liberated Iraqis." It does not make pleasant reading.
Abu Ghraib is some 20 miles outside of Baghdad. The prison is the size of a small town built on 280 acres of land which was built in the 1960s by British contractors. According to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, the prison is divided into five separate walled compounds in order to cater for different categories of prisoner. Nonetheless, each block in a compound comprises, in addition to cells, a dining room, a prayer room, an exercise area and rudimentary washing facilities. Wikipedia also informs us that "the section for the political inmates of Abu Ghraib was divided into 'open’ and 'closed’ wings. The closed wing housed only Shiites." The online source then speculates - without giving sources - that in 2001 the prison "was believed to hold as many as 15,000 inmates."
That the Wikipedia estimate is no more than speculation can be gauged by the fact that an article in the Christian Science Monitor in 2002 says that "built for 2,000, Abu Ghraib was crammed with an estimated 10,000 inmates living in appalling conditions." Between the "estimate" of the CSM and the "estimate" of Wikipedia there is a difference of 50% - a far from negligible discrepancy. More interestingly, the same CSM article refers to "Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, the country’s biggest and most infamous jail. Most [inmates] are thought to have been common criminals rather than political prisoners." This is an important admission for it contradicts the underlying assumption of Western media reports that virtually everyone in Abu Ghraib was either a political prisoner or an innocent person just being tortured for the fun of it. The consequence is that most people in the prison were there because they had broken standard laws: theft, murder, racketeering and the like. In order words, just like in most Western prisons.
Given that the CSM says that most inmates were not political prisoners, and given that the prison was divided into five compounds, only one of which was for "politicals," it seems reasonable to assume that only one in five actually were "political prisoners." However, given that we do not know the number of inmates in the prison beyond widely different speculations, and given that we do not know what constituted a political prisoner, we can go no further than asserting that most people were in the prison for good reasons; that is to say, if they had lived in France, Germany or America and committed their crimes they would have ended up in the prisons of such countries too.
According to the International Center for Prison Studies, it was believed that as of mid-2003 - and using a United Nations population total for Iraq of 25.2 million - that the prison population rate was circa 60 per 100,000. That translates into a grand total of 15,000 nationwide. If 10,000 inmates were in Abu Ghraib - as the CSM surmised - it meant that the other 7 prisons in Iraq had an average of fewer than 1,000 inmates. If the number of inmates in Abu Ghraib was 15,000 as Wikipedia suggests, then it means that the other 7 prisons were empty! This is a best-case scenario, for the prison population rate covers every man woman and child in the country - and it is unlikely, even in Saddam’s Iraq, that babes-in-arms and toddlers of 5 years of age were ever imprisoned. On the basis of an adult population of 18 million - which is widely held to be the high end of the adult population scale - the number of prisoners on the basis of 60 per 100,000 would be a little under 11,000 people.
But in order to arrive at an estimate of the degree of tyranny under Saddam, let’s assume the worst - indeed let us be totally unrealistic so that all doubt is eliminated from the discussion. Let’s imagine that there were 15,000 inmates in Abu Ghraib prison, the biggest in the country, and let’s imagine that every other prison in Iraq was the same size as Abu Ghraib. That would give us a national total of 120,000 prisoners. The estimate is absurd because Abu Ghraib dwarfed all the other prisons; it is absurd because it is based on the entire population of the country rather than merely the adult population; and it is based on the highest number that we could find on the web about Abu Ghraib’s alleged prison population.
The best way to express how extreme have been our assumptions is to remember that the largest prison in America, in terms of inmates, is Louisiana State Penitentiary with some 5,000 prisoners. If we were to assume that every other prison in America was the same size as the Louisiana prison, we would, of course, arrive at an absurd figure for the United States. How absurd? According to the International Center for Prison Studies, there are 5,069 detention centers and prisons in the United States. On that basis, it would mean that America would have a prison population of over 25,300,000! But we have decided to apply this kind of rationale to Iraq to paint Saddam as black as black could be. Of course, reason suggests that the real figure in Iraq was probably well below 25,000 inmates at best - but let’s keep the extreme figure as our baseline, and let’s remember too that only a small percentage of this absurd total would have been political prisoners as opposed to good old-fashioned criminals.
Now let’s look at America - "a light unto the world" according to its most fervent worshippers.
The United States incarcerates more people per head of population than any other country in the world. More than 2.2 million people are in American prisons - that is 1 in every 75 males. Put another way, America has over 500,000 more prisoners than China which has a population four times greater than the United States. Furthermore we find that the Americans who make up the correctional population total out at 6.9 million. That means that between prison, county jail, police custody, probation, parole and community service 1 in every 31 Americans is accounted for. The current incarceration rate in the USA is 715 per 100,000 people, whilst almost two-thirds of the world’s countries have incarceration rates of 150 or fewer per 100,000 people. Australia, for example, has just 143 per 100,000 people.
This information comes from the statistics of the U.S. Bureau of Justice, the statistics of the FBI, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Sentencing Project.
Now let’s start comparing America to Iraq in terms of their prison systems and populations to grasp the degree of tyranny present respectively.
We came to the absurd total of 120,000 prisoners for Iraq. Now given that the adult population of America is 200 million (that is not including the under 18s), and given that the population of Iraq is somewhere around 25 million (including men, women, children and babies), we find that the U.S. population is 8 times larger than Iraq’s. That means that if we scale up Iraq’s absurd figure of 120,000 to encompass the United States’ population, it means that the latter ought to have a prison population of around 960,000. What we find, however, is that the U.S. prison population is 2.2 million; that is well beyond double what it ought to have been. And if we have used figures to show Saddam in the blackest possible light, what do these figures tell us about the Bush regime and its predecessors? It tells us that in terms of prison population and tyranny, they leave Saddam standing far behind! And this is the best-case scenario for the Bush regime, for if we calculate Iraq’s figures on the basis of the more probable 25,000 figure, it means that the U.S. should have a proportional prison population of around 200,000; that translates into ten times more than Saddam’s record! So whether you take estimates for Saddam’s Iraq which are patently absurd, or whether you take figures calculated on reason, you still end up with the same conclusion: America is far more tyrannical, in terms of prison population, than Saddam’s Iraq, and the only "consolation" that Americans can have is whether or not they have the courage to use reason-based figures for Iraq or Star Trek-style figures. However you look at it, America comes out as either much worse than Iraq (courageous position) or unbelievably worse than Iraq (Dr. Spock position)!
Unfortunately, it is actually worse than this, for the United States prison totals do not include the many places around the world that the United States has access to, like Guantanamo Bay.
On December 18, 2003, James Risen and Thom Shanker jointly penned an article in the New York Times entitled "The Struggle for Iraq: Terror Captives." It begins:
Saddam Hussein is now prisoner No. 1 in what has developed into a global detention system run by the Pentagon and the CIA, according to government officials. It is a secretive universe, they said, made up of large and small facilities scattered throughout the world that have sprouted up to handle the hundreds of suspected Al-Qaeda, Taliban warlords and former officials of the Iraqi government arrested by the United States and its allies since the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the war in Iraq. Many of the prisoners are still being held in a network of detention centers ranging from Afghanistan to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. Officials describe it as a prison system with its own unique hierarchy, one in which the most important captives are kept at the greatest distance from the prying eyes of the public and the media. It is a system in which the jailers have refined the arts of interrogation in order to drain the detainees of crucial information.
This is frightening stuff. These prisons are all over the world. We do not know how many of them there are. We do not know who is inside, or how many inmates are being held. In referring to the "prying eyes of the public and the media," this is effectively declaring that there are no checks and balances on the system. People are being held in limbo, without charge, without legal recourse or representation, and, it seems, largely without outside people knowing that given people are being held. There seems to be precious little justice and democracy in this system, and the whole edifice is built on "national security considerations." What this means in practice can be gleaned from the experience of Murat Kurnaz.
In the Washington Post on March 27, 2005, Carol Leonnig told the story of Kurnaz in a piece entitled "Panel Ignored Evidence on Detainee," and which demonstrated just how much confidence can be placed in the current American government’s assertions that detainees are being treated both well and justly.
A military panel of three officers, who remained anonymous, judged that Kurnaz merited being kept in Guantánamo Bay because he was an "enemy combatant" and thus could be held indefinitely. They took their decision, they say, "based largely on classified evidence that was too sensitive to release to the public." It is an argument that is being heard with ever-growing frequency in both the United States and Britain: "we cannot tell you the precise proof because it is vital to national security, but believe us and our judgment for we are doing all we can to protect you and your families." Given the known and exposed lies of Bush and Blair that’s a stretch!
Fortunately for Kurnaz some of the material pertaining to his case was declassified recently - probably by administrative error. The material shows that both the German security services and U.S. Military Intelligence said that there was no evidence whatever to link Nurnaz to al-Qaeda, or any other terrorist group, or to any terrorist activities! Yet Kurnaz had been held in Gitmo since at least January 2002.
In January 2005, a federal judge criticized the military panels because Kurnaz was held on the basis of a brief, unsupported memo filed by an unidentified government official! That was the material "too sensitive to release to the public." Yet when the Pentagon was asked for its response to this serious abuse of judicial power, Lt. Cmdr Daryl Borgquist stated blandly: "They [the panel judges] make the best decision based on what they saw before them at the time."
When one reflects on this scandal of an innocent man being held for years in prison on no evidence whatever, and when one considers how far ahead the U.S. is in terms of prison population rates compared to the rest of the world, one can only be stunned by the arrogance of U.S. governments posing as the agents of Freedom, Justice and Democracy. In any comparison with Bush in these terms, Saddam wins hands down, and if the Bush regime wishes to rid the world of "outposts of tyranny," it ought to begin with itself.
* D. L. O'Huallachain is the Editor of Neo-Conned and Neo-Conned Again.