Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Prison Guards And Jailers As Ambassadors

I agree with Mick Arran, this story was either buried or I missed it:

Security contractors were heckled, humiliated and physically abused by U.S. Marines in Iraq while jailed for 72 hours with insurgents, one of the detainees said Friday.

"It was disbelief the whole time. I couldn't believe what was happening," said Matt Raiche, 34, an ex-Marine who was one of 16 American and three Iraqi contractors detained at Camp Fallujah last month.

"I just found it crazy that we were being held with terrorists, that we were put in the same facility with them," he told The Associated Press in an interview at his lawyer's office. "They were calling us a rogue mercenary team."

Defense officials disclosed on Thursday that the security guards for Charlotte, N.C.-based Zapata Engineering were detained for three days after they fired from trucks and SUVs on Iraqi civilian cars and U.S. forces in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad.[...]

Company president Manuel Zapata said the only shot fired by his workers was a warning blast after they noticed a vehicle following them.

Raiche, of Dayton, Nev., said the contractors were stopped and taken into custody on May 28. He said a Marine told him that shots had been fired, and Raiche told him, "It wasn't us."

Raiche said several of the contractors were interrogated before they were released June 1 with no official explanation for their detention.

Raiche said guards intimidated the detainees with dogs, made them strip and told them to wear towels over their heads when they went to the restroom so insurgents in the facility would not recognize and harm them, Raiche said.

One of his colleagues was slammed to the ground by a guard, he said.

"His head bounced off the asphalt." Raiche said. "He told me he heard one guard say to another, 'If he moves, let the dog loose.'"

Raiche said his colleague told him that a guard then reached down and "squeezed his testicles so hard he could barely move."

When Raiche first arrived at the facility, he said a guard ordered him to the ground and put a knee in his back. He said he heard one Marine say, "How does it feel now making that big contractor money?"

Raiche said the Marines handcuffed them with "zip lock ties." When the detainees complained they were so tight they were losing circulation in their hands, they were cursed at and told to shut up, Raiche said.
Now if this is how American contractors - ex-military at that - are being treated, is there any expectation that Iraqis are being treated any better? This is reminiscent of the story of the US soldier who while posing undercover as a detainee at Gitmo, was beaten so savagely by military guards who were unaware of his status as an American that he suffers permanent brain damage. Further, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain that all detainees in Iraq are terrorists when there are standards for detention such as these. Look, the bottom line is this is one of the reasons counterinsurgency is so tricky and occupations so difficult - especially when there are cultural divides. Given the stresses of combat, and the perverse dynamic of the jailer and jailed, people will tend to over-react, seek vengeance against vague embodiments of the "enemy" and allow for crueler, more sadistic tendencies to come to the surface.

But this is true in almost every setting, no matter if the prison happens to be in a war zone or not. Consider, for example, the findings of the Zimbardo experiment as discussed by TTN:

In 1971 Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo conducted a psychological study to determine the effects of the prison environment on those within its walls. To do this, he constructed a simulated prison in the basement of Stanford's Psychology Department building. The simulation protocol was developed in consultation with a group of experienced prison consultants (including one former inmate) in order to ensure an accurate reflection of the reality of incarceration. To populate the prison, Zimbardo placed an ad in a local newspaper offering $15 a day for participants. Respondents were screened to eliminate candidates with health issues, psychological problems, histories of drug abuse, or criminal propensities. The remaining sample of 24 was randomly split into two groups; one half would serve as prisoners, the other half as guards.

Originally Zimbardo had planned to run the experiment for two weeks. However, in merely five days, the situation in the faux prison had spun wildly out of control. The prisoners were beginning to exhibit serious psychological pathologies, including deep interpersonal withdrawal and hysteria. In contrast, the guards had become sadists, subjecting the prisoners to ever-increasing levels of cruelty and humiliation. For the safety of everyone involved, the prisoners were released and the prison disassembled.

In spite of the fact that the experiment participants were identical as the study commenced, a few short days in the prison transformed them in hyperbolic fashion. The prisoners began as healthy men, but left as broken shells. The guards began as kind and civil individuals, yet quickly evolved into hideously sadistic abusers. No pre-existing condition could possibly explain the manifestation of these behaviors.

Quite literally, the participants were transformed by the prison itself.
This prisoner/guard relationship is particularly problematic for America's efforts in Iraq because there was a pre-existing mistrust and animosity to the United States amongst much of Iraq's population, and the abuses unfortunately fall in line with the otherwise implausible propaganda. Given that most of the detainees in these prisons are eventually released back into the population, the prison guards, jailers and MPs - who are all too often (caveat: though not always) transformed by the prison itself in less than savory ways - are serving as one wing of our ambassador corps in Iraq. What kind of message, what attitude toward insurgents and coalition forces, do you think these released prisoners bring to their respective communities? Unfortunately, the likely tales told only serve to reinforce the anti-American bias rampant in the region, which obviously complicates matters further.

So you can imagine why this is not exactly good news:

Faced with a ballooning prison population, U.S. commanders in Iraq are building new detention facilities at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison and Camp Bucca near the Kuwaiti border and are developing a third major prison, in northern Iraq.

The burgeoning number of detainees has also resulted in a lengthy delay in plans for the U.S. to transfer full control of Abu Ghraib to the Iraqi government.

Maj. Gen. William Brandenburg, who oversees U.S.-run prisons in Iraq, had planned to be out of Abu Ghraib by early spring. "I believed it until mid-December, but the numbers just weren't going that way," he said. "Business is booming."
I'm not suggesting we have many options in this regard, though I think it would be incumbent on the military units in charge to try to maintain better order and enforce stricter conduct guidelines amongst the jailers and guards. In reality, though, such close, around-the-clock monitoring may not be logistically possible while the incarceration of insurgents is absolutely necessary - but we know that many innocents and petty criminals will inevitably get ensnared by the net set to trap such insurgents. Again, this is why occupying a foreign country, and counterinsurgency operations in general, are such monumentally difficult tasks. Many of the tools you must use in pursuit of your objectives only serve to exacerbate the situation, making your goals that much harder to attain.

(cross posted at Liberals Against Terrorism)

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