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  • Rob Will

Relative Definition Of Torture

Updated: Apr 22, 2021

I’ve been hearing about the case of Raymond Azar, a civilian contractor in Iraq who was arrested by the F.B.I. for a bribery charge. He was arrested in Iraq and flown back to the U.S. to face charges.

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A few days ago I listened to Mr. Azar’s lawyer on the most excellent Democracy Now! talk about how he was stripped naked and handcuffed and shackled, as if this was an outrageously rare and unusual act of torture. When I hear things like this I’m reminded of just how uniformed the general public is about what goes on in jails and prisons on a daily basis. Not to downgrade Mr. Azar’s situation — and really I don’t know much about it besides the snippets of news reports I’ve heard — but being stripped naked and manacled is a regular part of being arrested and jailed. In Harris County you’re considered lucky if you’re not slammed around or beaten.

I’m reminded of when the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisoner abuse scandals broke out. It seemed that every day some new form of abuse and torture was revealed: vicious barking dogs used to intimidate prisoners, beatings, hoods put over heads, sexual humiliation, etc., etc. People rose up in protest. Lawyers sued. Events and marches were held. Everyone was shocked. I wasn’t.

Much love to everyone who fought against these abuses — and who continue to do so — but worse abuses happen on a daily basis in U.S. prisons and jails. This is why I wasn’t surprised when hearing about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Take the cases of sexual abuse and humiliation for example. In Abu Ghraib detainees were made to strip off all of their clothes. They were forced to lay on top of each other naked. Some were forced to masturbate. Unconscionable actions. Terrible actions. A while back I read an article that talked about how Texas prisons have the highest rate of sexual assaults out of all prisons in the U.S. A terribly high percentage of rapes of prisoners were committed by officers. Keep in mind that these are official government statistics of reported sexual assaults. A guarantee that probably 85% of rapes in prison go unreported.

The mainstream media rarely ever talks about officers raping inmates in jails and prisons, or assaults and murders of inmates either. If a person does some online research they can surely read about it fairly in-depth. Generally, however, these type of abuses are reported solely in prison-specific news sources or perhaps in a small article in the back of a local newspaper.

The images of dogs barking ferociously at Iraqi detainees just came to mind. Vicious dogs used to intimidate prisoners? Nothing new. This tactic has been used in U.S. jails and prisons for decades. (Interesting note: Nazi officers used dogs as a tool of intimidation in concentration camps.)

Dogs have been used during shakedowns here on TX Death Row. When I was in Harris County jail, a tank I was in was one time stormed by a gang of about 30 SWAT team officers accompanied by growling menacing dogs. K-9 unit dogs. Swat dogs. Dogs trained to kill.

We were all stripped naked and pushed up against a single wall. About 10 officers manned the dogs just a few feet in front of us. With necks straining against the fully stretched-tight leashes, forelegs lifted in the air from the force, the K-9s growled and barked viciously at us while the other officers tore up our property.

Believe me, that was a scary experience. There is something very terrifying about facing menacing and dangerous animals when you’re helpless and unable to defend yourself. Perhaps some primordial human instinct of fear is triggered. Fear of the beast. Fear of unconquerable Nature.

What if the leash breaks? What if the officer lets go? There is no reasoning with animal instincts. Flesh will be ripped. Your throat torn out. I’d rather go toe-to-toe with, say, four raging SWAT officers than face four K-9 attack dogs.

Well, I could go on and on about this endlessly. I really just wanted to drop a few lines on this topic because I was thinking about how torture is defined in such a relative manner. Shouldn’t socially conscious people be just as upset about torture in U.S. jails and prisons as they are about torture in U.S. military detention facilities?


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