Americans are properly appalled and nauseated by photos of the torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military guards in the Abu Ghraib prison. But this is hardly America's first dance with the vicious devil of prison torture -- something our own officials have long tolerated and condoned here at home.
It has received scant media attention, but the name of O. Lance McCotter recently popped up in conjunction with Abu Ghraib. McCotter is a career prison official who ran military prisons, headed up state prison systems in both Texas and Utah, and now serves as a top executive for a corporation that runs private prisons in New Mexico and elsewhere.
The Houston Chronicle recently revealed that McCotter was chosen by Attorney General John Ashcroft to go to Iraq last year to oversee the reopening of Abu Ghraib (which had been Saddam Hussein's notorious torture prison) for use as the main U.S. military prison. McCotter was a curious choice, for everywhere he has gone, the word "controversial" has been applied to his tenure.
In Texas, he lasted only 18 months as commandant -- a time in which prison violence made frequent headlines and a federal judge threatened to fine the system $1,000 a day for abuses of prisoner rights. In Utah, McCotter was forced to resign after a mentally ill inmate was stripped naked and strapped to a chair for 16 hours. The inmate collapsed and died -- a death McCotter's administration tried to cover up as a suicide. The state ACLU says that McCotter "had a horrifying record on human rights."
Ironically, only three months before Ashcroft sent McCotter to Iraq, Ashcroft's own Justice Department had issued a damning report on inhumane conditions in the New Mexico prison run by McCotter's corporation.
Of all the capable prison officials who exist in our land, what kind of message did it send to have put this guy in charge? Ashcroft should be asked: Why McCotter?
Publication date: 05/27/04