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Former Military Police Officer Jailed for 17 Yrs Describes Routine Mistreatment and Brutality in U.S. Prisons

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We speak with former military police officer Paul Wright, editor and founder of Prison Legal News, who was recently released from prison after serving 27 years for murder about the physical and sexual abuse of that regularly takes place in American prisons with little public knowledge or concern. [includes rush transcript]

The LA Times reported Friday, that prison video cameras have captured images of a prison officer allowing his police dog to attack a prisoner who was not resisting. Those who have seen the still-secret tape say it shows a canine officer letting his German shepherd bite a 20-year-old prisoner on the leg, even though the inmate was following orders and lying on the floor.

No this is not yet another picture of Iraqi prisoners being tortured by American military in Abu Ghraib. This prison abuse took place in California. Physical and sexual abuse of prisoners–similar to what has been uncovered in Iraq–regularly takes place in American prisons with little public knowledge or concern.

  • Paul Wright, editor and founder of Prison Legal News. He started the publication 15 years ago while incarcerated. He was released this past December from the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe after serving 17 years in jail for murder conviction. He is the editor of two collections, “The Ceiling of America: An Inside Look at the US Prison Industry” and “Prison Nation: The Warehousing of America’s Poor.” He joins us on the phone from his home in Vermont.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now! Paul Wright.

PAUL WRIGHT: Thanks for having me, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: As you listen to this discussion from Abu Ghraib to the story of specialist Charles Grainer, Jr., who is one of those captured in the photographs. One of the U.S. guards involved in the torture in Abu Ghraib, he was a prison guard in Virginia. They say that’s why he was given a senior role at Abu Ghraib. One of the few trained prison guards, he also worked at S.C.I. Green. You’re a military police officer. Can you respond?

PAUL WRIGHT: Yes. Basically, I think that there’s a real continuity of treatment not just between American prisons and the U.S. Treatment of Iraqi prisoners, but this is also kind of a longstanding measure in the U.S. counter insurgency wars. I think it was around 30, 35 years ago now that the pictures of Vietnamese prisoners and the tiger cages in Vietnam became public and, once again, the United States government and military reported to be absolutely shocked that the Vietnamese — the political prisoners and prisoners of war were being held and tortured in subhuman conditions. It seems that these things are part and parcel with the counter insurgency wars. Here in the U.S., where there is little political opposition, prisoners are routinely brutalized and mistreated as a matter of course.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this guard connection with Grainer and your own experience as a military police officer before you were incarcerated?

PAUL WRIGHT: Pretty much… as far as Grainer I don’t know any of the specifics about his career or role in Iraqi prisons. I understand from some of the news reports there’s actually two, two of the guards involved in the abuse had civilian employment as prison guards, and Grainer, he was apparently a guard at S.C.I. Green in Waynesburg and what Prison Legal News has reported over the years is there’s a high rate of very racist brutality by the guards at that prison. A majority of the prisoners are Black and Hispanic men from the inner cities in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. A majority of the guards — it’s a rural, it’s a very rural area, I understand — are white and there’s been a lot of incidents where prisoners are being beaten. In one case, guards were found to be smearing KKK in the blood of prisoners on the walls of the prison in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. So, I think that the fact that that type of culture permeates certain American prisons; it shouldn’t be a surprise that that carries over into Iraqi prisons. The key issue both in Iraq as well as in American prisons is the lack of accountability. One of the things as far as my own experience when I was a military policeman — I served during peacetime, I should say during the cold war — there wasn’t the actual hands-on experience that is now being seen in Iraq and in other counter insurgency wars whether it’s Vietnam or Central America and other places. But I think it just goes with the whole mindset. The military like prisons. It’s a brutal dehumanizing environment where people are reduced to characters of human beings; they aren’t even seen as being human. That’s the key thing that makes these abuses possible, whether it’s in an American prison or overseas. People are no longer seen as being human and just being the other guy or non-humans that makes any type of abuse possible because you’re no longer dealing with or talking about human beings.

AMY GOODMAN: Paul Wright, editor and founder of the Prison Legal News, started the publication when he himself was in prison for 15 years, now out, was a former military police officer, MP.

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