Tx. Prison Abuse Case Linked to Abu Ghraib

Human rights abuses similar to those revealed in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal have occurred regularly in U.S. prisons, but they have sparked far less attention and outrage, critics say.

A week after the Iraqi prison scandal broke in April, President Bush sat for an interview with the Arab-language Alhurra, a U.S.-financed satellite television network .

"The people in Iraq must understand that I view those practices as abhorrent," the president said in the interview. "They must also understand that what took place in that prison does not represent America that I know. The America I know is a compassionate country that believes in freedom. The America I know cares about every individual."

But Alan Elsner says the America he knows is not as compassionate as it should be, and does not care about every individual.

Elsner is the author of Gates of Injustice: The Crisis in America's Prisons, a book that takes a critical view of the human rights situation in the U.S. penal system. He says he "was not that surprised" when he first heard allegations that U.S. soldiers had abused Iraqi detainees, "especially when it became clear that two of the correctional officers who were involved in Abu Ghraib actually had been prison guards in the United States."

Elsner is referring to Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick, who recently announced he plans to plead guilty to some charges, and Spc. Charles Graner Jr. Both men are military police with the 372nd Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit based in Maryland.

Frederick worked at the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn, Va., for more than five years before going to Iraq. Graner began work at the State Correctional Institute at Greene, Pa., in 1996, and is still considered an employee there, receiving a $500 per month stipend on top of his military salary.

Others from the U.S. penal system were involved in Iraqi prisons. In May, ABC News reported that four of the six former state prison commissioners chosen by the Bush administration to help set up prisons in Iraq had left their previous posts after allegations of neglect, brutality and prisoner deaths.

One of the four, Terry Stewart, was sued by the Justice Department in 1997, when he ran Arizona's Corrections Department. The lawsuit charged that at least 14 female inmates were repeatedly raped, sexually assaulted and watched by corrections workers as they dressed, showered and used the bathroom.

At the time, officials also charged prison authorities had denied investigators access to staff and prisoners to examine abuse complaints. After the state agreed to provide more stringent oversight of employees handling female inmates, the suit was dropped. Neither Stewart nor any other state officials admitted any wrongdoing.

Another former state prison commissioner was "Lane" McCotter, who resigned as head of the Utah Department of Corrections after a mentally ill inmate died after spending 16 hours strapped to a restraining chair.

Allegations of prison abuse continue to surface all over the country, including recent cases in Massachusetts, California and Texas.

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