I live in a country (the USA which in 2013 has 315 million people) that imprisons more than 2.5 million of its citizens on an average day in more than 9,000 jails and prisons, boasting the highest per capita detention rate in the world by far – 800 prisoners for every 100,000 people. [Prisoners in local jails: 745,000; state prisoners: 1,385,000; federal prisoners: 219,000; prisoners in juvenile facilities: 141,000; prisoners in immigrant detention: 34,000 = Grand Total: 2,524,000 U.S. prisoners]. Rwanda has the second highest detention rate at 595; Russia comes in third at 568. The world’s average per capita detention rate is 146, or 18 percent of the US rate of 800.
More than 60 percent of U.S. prisoners are from racial and ethnic minority groups yet they comprise only 36 percent of the general population. The U.S., with 4.6 percent of the world’s population, holds 25 percent of the world’s 10.1 million prisoners. At least 80,000 of these, and as many 110,000, are locked up in solitary confinement in facilities for years such as continues at Pelican Bay Prison in California, and Angola Penitentiary in Louisiana, among dozens of locations. Being held in solitary for more than 15 days was determined by the UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez in 2011 to be the point at which devastating, often irreversible physical and mental ill effects occur, and is therefore considered torture. Force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strikes in the U.S. is also not unusual, itself another form of torture in violation of international law. Solitary confinement inevitably contributes to increased risks of prison suicides, of which hundreds are reported every year. Nine Guantanamo prisoners are reported to have died, and at least six of these deaths were suicides.
I studied the regular use of torture in Massachusetts prisons in 1981, where force feeding of striking prisoners was common; as was the withholding of rights and privileges such as necessary medicine, mail, or winter clothing during cold weather; the imposition of hazards such as flooding cells, igniting clothes and bedding, providing too little or too much heat, and spraying mace and tear gas; inflicting physical beatings of prisoners filing prison complaints or litigation, of those protesting conditions using hunger strikes; and various forms of intentional psychological abuse such as arbitrary shakedown of cells and brutal rectal searches, ordering prisoners to lie face down on cold floors or the outside ground before receiving food, and empty announcements of visitors or family only later to say it was a joke. [“Walpole State Prison: An Exercise in Torture (June 1981), brianwillson.com/Walpole-state-prison-an-exercise-in-torture/].
During the Spanish-American war in the Philippines, President Teddy Roosevelt proudly defended water boarding torture as part of the arsenal of techniques to achieve “the triumph of civilization over the black chaos of savagery and barbarism” of the Filipinos, or “googoos”. In Haiti in 1920, the NAACP investigated the conduct of U.S. Marines who were murdering thousands of Haitians while practicing widespread torture to overcome a Haitian revolt of “savage monkeys” against the continuing unwanted U.S. presence there. The word googoo morphed into “gook” as the derogatory term used by U.S. soldiers against the Vietnamese.
In 1931 President Hoover’s Wickersham Report (National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement) concluded that the use of torture (intentional infliction of various methods of pain and suffering) was “widespread” throughout the entire U.S. criminal justice system. The U.S. school of the Americas has been teaching torture (“interrogation”) to Latin American military personnel since 1946.
Torture IS U.S. policy.