The usual assortment of interesting articles for your weekend reading! They are worth reading in full; excerpts are provided below.
- “Reform School“, John Pfaff, Slate, “Five myths about prison growth dispelled”
- “The Death Dealers took my life!“, By Mark Benjamin and Michael de Yoanna, Salon, 9 February 2009 — “Adam Lieberman tried to kill himself when he returned from Iraq. Only then did the Army take his mental health seriously.”
- “Cancel Water-Boarding 101“, David J. Morris, Slate, 29 January 2009 — “The military should close its torture school. I know because I graduated from it.”
No excerpt provided, but worth reading:
- “OKC officer pulls man over for anti-Obama sign on vehicle“, The Oklahoman, 13 February 2009 — Then the Secret Services searchs his home.
- “Bill Clinton’s Bastard Army“, Ares Demertzis, New English Review, February 2009 — A different version of our intervention in Yugoslavia.
- “The Forgotten Entitlements“, Henry Olsen and Jon Flugstad, Policy Review, Feb/Mch 2009 — “Bad budget news on Long Term Care and Disability Insurance”
- “Pax Corleone“, John C. Hulsman and A. Wess Mitchell, National Interest Online, 29 February 2009 — The current geopolitical situation seen in terms of the movie “The Godfather.”
“Reform School“, John Pfaff, Slate, “Five myths about prison growth dispelled” Excerpt:
The United States has a prison population like nowhere else. With one out of every 100 adults behind bars, our incarceration rate is the highest in the entire world. Our inmates-1.5 million in prison, with another 800,000 in jail-comprise one-third of the world’s total. This is a surprisingly recent development. After barely budging for 50 years, our incarceration rate increased sevenfold (to 738 per 100,000 people) between 1978 and 2008.
The system is now at its breaking point. Federal judges in California just issued a tentative order demanding that the state release nearly 60,000 inmates over the next three years to alleviate intolerable overcrowding. New York state’s sentencing commission released a 326-page report calling on the Legislature to cut back on severe drug sentences. And with budgets growing ever-tighter in a collapsing economy, states are beginning to realize that large prison populations are boom-time luxuries they can no longer afford.
Reform is inevitable. But if we are going to rein in our prison populations, we should do so based on facts, not on unfounded perceptions or shocking anecdotes. So let’s start by dispelling some of the myths that surround the breathtaking prison growth of the past three decades.
- Long sentences drive prison population growth.
- Low-level drug offenders drive prison population growth.
- Technical parole and probation violations drive prison population growth.
- In the past three decades, we’ve newly diverged from the rest of the world on punishment.
- The incarceration boom has had no effect on crime levels.
“The Death Dealers took my life!“, By Mark Benjamin and Michael de Yoanna, Salon, 9 February 2009 — “Adam Lieberman tried to kill himself when he returned from Iraq. Only then did the Army take his mental health seriously.” Excerpt:
The day before Halloween 2008, Army Pvt. Adam Lieberman swallowed handfuls of prescription pain pills and psychotropic drugs. Then he picked up a can of black paint and smeared onto the wall of his room in the Fort Carson barracks what he thought would be his last words to the world
“I FACED THE ENEMY AND LIVED!” Lieberman painted on the wall in big, black letters. “IT WAS THE DEATH DEALERS THAT TOOK MY LIFE!”
Soldiers called Lieberman’s unit, the 1st Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, the Death Dealers. Adam suffered serious mental health problems after a year of combat in Iraq. The Army, however, blamed his problems on a personality disorder, anxiety disorder or alcohol abuse — anything but the war. Instead of receiving treatment from the Army for his war-related problems, Adam faced something more akin to harassment. He was punished and demoted for his bad behavior, but not treated effectively for its cause. The Army’s fervent tough-guy atmosphere discouraged Adam from seeking help. Eventually he saw no other way out. Now, in what was to be his last message, he pointed the finger at the Army for his death.
It would be a voice from beyond the grave, he thought, screaming in uppercase letters. The last words, “THAT TOOK MY LIFE!” tilted down the wall in a slur, as the concoction of drugs seeped into Adam’s brain.
Late last month the Army released figures showing the highest suicide rate among soldiers in three decades. The Army says 128 soldiers committed suicide in 2008 with another 15 still under investigation. “Why do the numbers keep going up?” Army Secretary Pete Geren said at a Pentagon news conference Jan. 29. “We can’t tell you.” The Army announced a $50 million study to figure it out.
It is not just the suicides spiraling out of control. Salon assembled a sample of 25 cases of suicide, prescription drug overdoses or murder involving Fort Carson soldiers over the past four years, by no means a comprehensive list. In-depth study of 10 of those cases revealed a pattern of preventable deaths. In most cases, the deaths seemed avoidable if the Army had better handled garden-variety combat stress reactions.
Interviews, Army documents and medical records suggest that Adam might not have attempted suicide if he had received a proper diagnosis and treatment. His suicide attempt seems avoidable. But the Army’s mistreatment extended well into its aftermath.
“Cancel Water-Boarding 101“, David J. Morris, Slate, 29 January 2009 — “The military should close its torture school. I know because I graduated from it.” Excerpt:
On his first day in office, President Obama kept his most important campaign promise and began the process of closing Guantanamo. But this eliminates only the most visible part of the U.S. torture bureaucracy. In order to ensure that the atrocities of Guantanamo aren’t visited upon the world by future administrations, Obama must also eviscerate the structures that enabled and supported torture. At the top of a long list is the U.S. military’s secretive torture school, known as SERE, which stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape.
… I served in the Marine Corps in the 1990s, and I attended SERE as a young lieutenant in November 1995. I have since been to Iraq three times (as a reporter), and I can attest that the school isn’t relevant to the threats American soldiers face abroad. It resembles more of an elaborate hazing ritual than actual training.
While I was in the school, I lived like an animal. I was hooded, beaten, starved, stripped naked, and hosed down in the December air until I became hypothermic. At one point, I couldn’t speak because I was shivering so hard. Thrown into a 3-by-3-foot cage with only a rusted coffee can to piss into, I was told that the worst had yet to come. I was violently interrogated three times. When I forgot my prisoner number, I was strapped to a gurney and made to watch as a fellow prisoner was water-boarded a foot away from me. I will never forget the sound of that young sailor choking, seemingly near death, paying for my mistake. I remember only the sound because, try as I might, I couldn’t force myself to look at his face. I was next. But for some reason, the guards just dropped the hose on my chest, the water soaking my uniform.
I was incarcerated at SERE for only a few days, but my mind quickly disintegrated. I became convinced that I was being held in an actual prisoner of war camp. Training had stopped, from my point of view. We had crossed over into some murky shadow land where the regulations no longer applied. I was sure that my captors, who wore Warsaw Pact-style uniforms and spoke with thick Slavic accents, would go all the way if the need arose.
Based on my conversations with recent graduates of SERE, it’s clear that the school continues to inflict on trainees the techniques I experienced, such as sensory deprivation, extreme confinement, and exposure to loud music and recordings of wailing babies. According to congressional testimony given in November 2007 by Malcolm Nance, a former SERE instructor, they still water-board at SERE. If water-boarding is torture, then why are we still doing it to U.S. servicemen? Yes, enlistment in the units that attend SERE is a voluntary act, but must it entail the signing away of basic human rights?
The question is especially pertinent because America’s enemies haven’t used SERE’s techniques of “mind control” since the Korean War.
… But a review of the experiences of American servicemen captured in Iraq and Somalia shows that our enemies don’t water-board their captives. Nor do they have the resources to mount a program of systematic sensory deprivation and humiliation, as we did in Guantanamo and in the American prison at Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base. In fact, our soldiers need training from SERE based on an entirely different premise, as illustrated by the experience of Michael Durant, the helicopter pilot who spent several weeks in captivity when he was captured by Somali fighters during the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” raid. Durant survived by befriending his captors and forcing them to see him as a fellow human being. SERE conditions servicemen to expect nothing but the worst from their captors; Durant’s life depended on his ability to understand his captors and find ways to manipulate them psychologically.
At the same time, the problem with SERE extends far beyond its questionable relevance to the threats that the war on terrorism pose to American soldiers. The school, which all pilots and special-forces soldiers attend, unintentionally serves to legitimize the use of torture by U.S. personnel in the field. In at least one documented case, special-forces soldiers in Afghanistan modeled their interrogations on the SERE training they received. The unit, the “20th Special Force Group,” forced prisoners to kneel outside in wet clothing and repeatedly kicked and punched prisoners in the kidneys, knees, and nose if they moved, resulting in the death of one detainee, according to Mayer’s book.
The experience of torture at SERE surely plays a role in the minds of the graduates who go on to be interrogators, and it must on some level help them rationalize their actions. It’s not hard to imagine them thinking, Well, if I survived this, then it’s OK to do it to this guy. This acceptance of abuse from up high down to the lowest levels is the root of our military’s torture problem. … But unless we stop torturing our own servicemen and training them how to torture others, unless we close SERE and retrain its instructors, Guantanamo could happen again.
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