I have some issues with the CRI report, but not the substance of the allegation: bad--even evil--shit is happening at SCI. However: it is equally true and disturbing that instead of acknowledging a mess made the State and ignored by all of its elected representatives [from both ruling parties] for years, it has already been bundled and politicized with the bizarre false equivalency regarding Gitmo and the interrogation of suspects there.
I will use Cato's succinct presentation at Delmarva Dealings of the same case that has been made by a variety of folks on the right, because it adroitly captures the essence of this argument in a couple of paragraphs:
It’s ironic that Democrats believe that foreign terrorists should receive all of the rights and consideration of a US citizen while many of these same people don’t blink at the mistreatment of US citizens housed in our correctional facilities. No, I’m not soft on crime. I don’t even think these people deserve to have TV and other recreational activities I also don’t believe that they should be abused by the very same people charged with guarding them.
The Caesar Rodney Institute has just released a new report, Rogue Force, outlining more abuses at Delaware’s own little version of Attica circa 1971. Abuses at the Sussex Correctional Institution are well documented. They are currently under a federal consent decree to straighten out their act. Evidently they aren’t doing too well at accomplishing that goal.
Who’s been in charge of the Delaware prison system for almost 20 years? Democrat administrations. But wait! I thought it was us evil Republicans who were brutal, fascist thugs. Isn’t that why the Obama administration wants to give all of these rights to terrorists?
It is that last paragraph that sums up the argument nicely: Democrats in charge of the prisons have allowed abuse to fester and continue; Republicans in charge of national security took the necessary steps to keep us safe.
Shorter version: hypocrites complain about interrogations of terrorists that save lives and don't care about the abuse of Americans in our prisons.
Here are the specific reasons why Sussex Correctional and Gitmo are not equivalent cases:
1. Inmates at SCI are convicted felons [or at least have been formally charged with a crime--spotted by Maria Evans]; inmates at Gitmo have not been convicted of anything. While I am equally sure that there are innocent people wrongly convicted at SCI and that there are real terrorists at Gitmo, the difference in status is important. Convicted felons retain certain rights as persons and American citizens under the 14th Amendment and other applicable laws. Violating those laws constitutes a crime. Inmates at Gitmo (or Bagram, for that matter) have been accorded no legal personhood status whatever by the United States: they are not prisoners of war and therefore protected by the Geneva Convention; they are not [and the Obama DOJ continues the Bush policy in this regard] considered even as "persons" in the meaning of the 14th Amendment. Except as aggressive attorneys [many serving in uniform, by the way] have been able to establish on a case-by-case basis in the courts, the State recognizes no statutory protections for these prisoners beyond that which faceless bureaucrats decide to provide them.
2. Prisoner abuse and enhanced interrogation [torture] are fundamentally different acts. Prisoner abuse is legally unsanctioned, if sometimes ignored or condoned by those in power, and there is no assertion that it serves any legitimate end. Enhanced interrogation, to include physical duress and intentional humiliation, was the express policy of the US government toward Gitmo prisoners for the purposes of acquiring information. At SCI the prisoners are guarded by Corrections Officers in a minimally staffed environment, with most COs possessing a high school diploma and being poor compensated. At Gitmo the interrogators were either CIA officers or contractors [on $1,000/day contracts], who represented a completely separate cadre from the US miltiary personnel who did the day-to-day guarding. In other words: prionser abuse at Sussex Correctional exists in violation of the rules; enhanced interrogation at Gitmo was one of the major points of the facility.
3. These two observations invalidate one of the main talking points used both for and against the CRI report on SCI. A great deal is being made about whether CRI should have reported that one of the victims of medical neglect and abusive treatment at SCI was a convicted child rapist. The crime, so goes the argument, does not excuse the treatment. I happen to agree with that. Unfortunately, that means you cannot have it both ways: if either a convicted rapist or a suspected terrorist is within your custody and completely within your power, then you are responsible for meeting the health and subsistence needs of that individual without abuse. The only difference that can be posited to argue for different treatment is the utilitarian argument that the suspected terrorist potentially has useful information that might save other lives, and that it is therefore acceptable to "interrogate" him under duress to access that information. But that is also true of the convicted drug dealer or the convicted mob hit man: what they have not testified to may save lives. Certainly we should be getting out the facial cloths and diapers for them as well? Either the argument has to be one you are willing to make in both directions, or you have to drop the false equivalency.
4. Resources and oversight are by no means equivalent at SCI and CRI. Sussex Correctional is funded, along with all other Delaware correctional facilties, through the General Assembly, and operates on what is essentially a bare-bones if always increasing budget. Gitmo enjoys the virtually unlimited and unaccountable support of US military and CIA budgets. In the case of Delaware, it is safe to say that our legislators haven't really cared that much about the prison system, other than trying to find ways to reduce its budget. In the case of Gitmo, large portions of the budget are "off the books," and even most Congresscritters would have difficulty acquiring data about just what's happening in the interrogation rooms.
5. The true equivalence would not be SCI/Gitmo but SCI/Abu Graib. At Abu Graib the treatment of the prisoners was not sanctioned by US military regulations, but was either ignored or condoned by higher-ranking authorities. A number of the prison guards at Abu Graib were convicted and sentenced for their abuses, even though the process did not go far enough up the chain of command by a long shot.
Unfortunately, the release of the CRI report of SCI has been used more to bash political opponents than to generate serious debate on the inherently brutal nature of our prison system or the ridiculous overcrowding that exists in Delaware and across the nation because we keep passing laws against victimless crimes and then keep refusing to pay for the prison capacity necessary to incarcerate all of those newly minted criminals in humane and legal fashion.
I have done a variety of web searches over the past twenty-four hours looking in vain for the Delaware legislator of either major party who stood up and made prison reform, corrections staffing, or the prison budget a major issue, either in a campaign or a legislative session. Not being in control of the Governor's chair for the past 17 years is not an excuse. Go online and do the searches yourself: you can find multiple complaints of abuses going back to 2000-2002; you can read the independent auditor's reports for the past four years on Delaware's continuing failure to bring its prison medical services up to par.
But what you cannot find is anybody running on a platform of the State ending abuses in its prison system, or increasing the funding for that system.
CRI makes fourteen specific suggestions for fixing the problems in the Delaware corrections system [I would agree with David Anderson, who wrote sometime last year about getting rid of mandatory minimum sentence guidelines, that there ought to be some recommendations for reducing the prison population as well.]
Those fourteen recommendations are all sound, but at least seven of them would require large amounts of money [probably on the order of millions or tens of millions] to achieve.
We live in a State that has debated without success taking actions recommended by the LEAD report on public education for the past three years. For three years we have discussed changing public education, a subject far more palatable to politicians than prison reform, and ... we have done virtually nothing up until the moment that Governor Markell killed the DSTP. All the rest of the report as just sat there, gathering dust except when politicians who know they are not going to take steps to implement it nonetheless trot it out during campaigns.
So pardon me if I am extremely skeptical that this year--the year of the amazing shrinking and mostly gambling free budget--the folks in the General Assembly all up in arms over the CRI report are actually going to sit down and talk about spending the millions necessary to clean up the problem and create a humane prison system.
No, instead they are going to grandstand and beat each other over the head with it, and turn this into a showcase for finding a few Lyndie Englands in the guard force to prosecute without addressing the key issues underlying the whole disgusting mess.
We need to discuss and debate the following issues in Delaware:
1)How do we reduce our prison population?
2)How do we establish and enforce rules, regulations, and guidelines to keep people incarcerated in a safe, humane fashion when it becomes necessary?
3) How much are we willing to spend in the process, and where is the money coming from?
Playing the false equivalency game of Sussex Correction vs Gitmo and convicted rapists vs terrorists doesn't get us even an inch closer to dealing with the substantive issues.