Monday, December 19, 2011

The Making of a Prison Society

William Norman Grigg

Recently by William Norman Grigg: Support
Your Local Police State

"That's why
you shouldn't bring kids to protests."

This taunt,
which issued from the sneering lips of an armored riot policeman,
struck Don Joughin with the force of a billyclub as he tried to
comfort his children – a three-year-old and a newborn – after they
had been showered with a chemical agent by a riot policeman.

That assault
did not take place during any of the recent "Occupy"-inspired
protests. It occurred in August 2002, during a fundraising visit
by then-President George W. Bush to Portland, Oregon. 

In keeping
with then-recently established "security" protocols, local
police were deployed in riot gear to keep
demonstrators confined inside "free speech zones"
located several
blocks away from the motorcade route. Joughin, who was accompanied
by his wife and three children, was present when police
unleashed a pepper-spray fusillade against a small group of protesters
who had taken a few steps outside the designated protest zone

After the police
attack began, Joughin and his family attempted to leave, but found
themselves penned in. Acting on the tragically innocent assumption
that the police were present in order to keep the peace, Joughin
politely asked the officer obstructing an exit how he and his family
could leave the turbulent intersection. "He pointed and said to
exit to the [northeast], into the spraying police opposite him,"
Joughin recalled. 

With his family
in danger of being trampled by protesters fleeing the chemical barrage,
Joughin asked the officer to let him and his family through. "He
looked at me, and drew out his can from his hip and sprayed directly
at me," Joughin recalled. He didn't bear the brunt of that criminal
assault, but his three-year-old caught some of the blast. The assailant
then turned on Joughin's wife and the infant "and doused both of
their heads entirely from a distance of less than three feet," Joughin

As his children
were screaming in agony, Joughin pleaded with the cops to allow
him and his family to leave and seek help. They responded by closing
ranks and blocking the Joughin family's escape. They didn't relent
until someone in "authority" gave them permission to set them free.
The last thing Joughin and his traumatized family heard as they
left the scene was the sadistic taunt hurled by one of the tax-devouring
thugs who had assaulted the children with a chemical weapon. 

While millions
of Americans have been horrified by recent incidents of armored
police officers beating and pepper-spraying unarmed, unresisting
protesters, those nauseating spectacles are neither novel nor particularly
rare. In "Securitizing
America: Strategic Incapacitation and the Policing of Protest Since
the 11 September 2001 Terrorist Attacks
," a heavily sourced
paper recently published in the journal Sociology Compass,
 Patrick F. Gillham of the University of Idaho observes that
current police doctrine dictates that public protests are to be
treated as "security threats," and dealt with using methods
inspired by "a new penology philosophy."

From that perspective,
every public demonstration – however peaceful and orderly it might
be –   is to be treated as the equivalent of a prison riot.
This means that police are free to employ every available means
– pre-event surveillance, pre-emptive arrest, hostage-taking, and
the use of incapacitating "less-lethal" weaponry – in
order to "neutralize" people suspected of being "disruptive"

Under the "strategic
incapacitation" model, Gillham notes, "police often refuse
to communicate at all with possible or actual transgressive protesters
except to issue commands once protest events have already begun."
(Emphasis added.) It’s not enough to confine protest to "free-speech
zones"; the right to assemble itself is subject to modification
or revocation without prior notice – even in the absence of disorderly
behavior on the part of the protesters. 

phalanxes of riot police will appear and slowly herd protesters
into a confined area. An announcement will be made that the demonstration
has been designated an "unlawful assembly," and shortly
thereafter the attack will begin, typically culminating with either
mass arrests, needless injuries, or some combination thereof. 

A September
2001 anti-war protest in Washington, D.C. offered the first opportunity
to field-test this approach. A small group of anarchists were driven
into an improvised holding area by riot police, where they were
literally held as hostages: "After 2 hours of detention, police
conveyed the terms under which protesters would be released to a
neutral third party of legal observers and not to the detained protesters."

Two years later,
during the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in Miami, "police
not only pre-emptively arrested perceived transgressive protesters,
they also arrested scores of union members and student activists
walking to permitted events, as well as credentialed reporters and
curious bystanders," recalls Gillham. Most of those arrested
had not been ordered to disperse, and had violated no law – including
a draconian anti-assembly law that had been enacted by the city
government just days prior to the summit. In addition, Gillham observes,
"Bails were set high as a further way to keep those arrested
off the streets."

The same approach
was used at both the Republican and Democratic national conventions
in 2008. In one particularly memorable application, 284 people were
arrested at a public park in St. Paul, Minnesota on Labor Day 2008
during the Republican Convention. A huge contingent of riot police
– supplemented by the National
Guard’s JTF-RNC
, and equipped with chemical munitions and gas
masks – cut off access to the park, which was bordered on one side
by train tracks and the other by a river. This turned the park,
however temporarily, into
a huge open-air detention center

An amplified
version of the same tactics was employed by police in Pittsburgh
when the 2009 G-20 summit brought the crème de la scum of
the world’s criminal class to that city.

As helicopters
plied the night air and serried rows of armored riot police assembled,
a robotic voice announced: "By order of the chief of police,
this has been declared an unlawful assembly. I order all those assembled
to immediately disperse. You must leave the immediate vicinity.
If you do not disperse, you may be subject to arrest, and/or other
police action" – the latter being a euphemism for summary punishment
through "the use of riot control agents and/or less lethal

Once again,
protesters were ordered to leave, and threatened with severe reprisals
if they didn’t – only to find that the police already had them surrounded
and were determined to arrestor assault at least some of them. 

Those crackdowns,
in keeping with the "strategic incapacitation" doctrine,
were not employed in response to criminal violence, or to deal with
any impending threat of the same. Gillham points out that under
the new approach "arrests are selectively applied to neutralize
known or suspected transgressive actors often times before any crimes
are committed." 

The same is
true of aggressive violence employed by riot police, notes Gillham:
"Less-lethal weapons such as tear gas, pepper spray, Tasers,
rubber bullets, wooden missiles and bean bag rounds are now the
weapons of choice…. Evidence suggests that police use these weapons
as a means to temporarily incapacitate potentially disruptive protesters
and repel others away from areas police are trying to defend such
as entrances and exits to secured zones." 

Of course,
once the riot police appear and the decree goes forth that a given
protest is an "unlawful assembly," the protest area itself
is designated a "secure zone," and those within it can
only leave with the permission of their captors. 

All of this
is manifestly the product of a military mind-set – one better suited
to a military prison camp than a battlefield. The behavior of domestic
police in dealing with political demonstrations is nearly identical
to that of specialized "Immediate Reaction" forces (IRFs)
deployed in military prisons such as those at Guantanamo Bay and
Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.

In his memoir,
Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo
, Turkish
national Murat Kurnaz – who was kidnapped by Pakistani bounty hunters
and sold into U.S. custody for $3,000 – describes his captivity
in Gitmo (as well as Bagram) as a supposed "unlawful combatant."
Any violation of the arbitrary – and ever-changing – rules of prisoner
conduct provoked an attack by the IRF, a unit consisting of "five
to eight soldiers with plastic shields, breastplates, hard-plastic
knee-, elbow-, and shoulder-protectors, helmets with plastic visors,
gloves with hard-plastic knuckles, heavy boots, and billyclubs."
In other words, they were accoutered exactly like the domestic riot
police who have become such a familiar presence in recent weeks.

Breaking a
rule wasn’t a prerequisite for a visit from the IRF. The team would
be summoned to inflict punishment for any act of defiance – such
as an insult hurled at an abusive guard, or even an attempt to exercise.
Typically the IRF would soften up the target by infusing the cell
with a liberal dose of Megyn
Kelly’s much-discussed "food product"
– weaponized
Once the prisoner had been left entirely incapacitated, the IRT
would swarm him to deliver a beating.

Former military
interrogator Erik Saar provides a parallel account in his remorseful
memoir, Inside the Wire.

"The five
IRF-team MPs lined up outside the cell door," writes Saar.
"Starting in the back, they each shouted `Ready!’ and one by
one slapped the shoulder of the next soldier up. The first soldier
opened the door and directed a good dose of pepper spray at the
detainee, then started to back him into a corner with his shield.
But the captive managed to swipe the shield away and tried to kick
the second soldier in line. He landed a good blow to the shoulder,
but before he could put his foot down the third soldier, thinking
fast, grabbed it and jerked. The detainee’s body rose in the air
and came crashing to the metal floor."

"All five
MPs swarmed over him," continues Saar’s account. "One
was responsible for securing his head, and the other four were supposed
to take one limb each. The detainee was kicking and squirming, fueled
by his hostility. Mo [an Army translator] was shouting to him in
Arabic to stop resisting. One of the stronger soldiers who had a
solid grip on one arm was punching him in the ribs…." 

Nearly identical
tactics were used at "Camp
in New Orleans, an improvised jail modeled after
Gitmo and operated by FEMA in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Among
those imprisoned there was Syrian-American businessman Abdulrahman
Zeitoun, who was seized in his own home by National Guardsmen, imprisoned
on unspecified charges, and escaped with his life only because of
the providential intervention of a Christian clergyman who happened
to visit his cell after Zeitoun had been transferred to the
Elayn Hunt Correctional Center

For Zeitoun
and the other prisoners, the Camp Greyhound experience was one of
tedium punctuated by sheer terror. The guards exploited any excuse
to inflict exemplary "discipline" on the detainees, most of whom
had been arrested for violating curfew or similar petty matters.

"Always the
procedure was the same," recalled
David Eggers in his book Zeitoun
; "a prisoner would be
removed from his cage and dragged to the ground nearby, in full
view of the rest of the prisoners. His hands and feet would be tied,
and then, sometimes with a guard's knee on his back, he would be
sprayed directly in the face" with pepper spray. "If the prisoner
protested," continued Eggers, "the knee would dig deeper into his
back. The spraying would continue until his spirit was broken. Then
he would be doused with [a] bucket and returned to his cage."

The victims
of this pointless and whimsical cruelty included one disturbed man
with the intellectual and emotional capacity of a child who was
"punished" because he displayed the irrepressible symptoms of mental

These ritual
acts of sadism, Eggers observes, were "born of a combination of
opportunity, cruelty, ambivalence, and sport." They were intended
to torment the other prisoners, most of whom – like Zeitoun – were
possessed of more decency than their captors and thus left sick
with rage by the spectacle of helpless men being tortured.

"Under any
normal circumstances [Zeitoun] would have leapt to the defense of
a man victimized as that man had been," observes Eggers. "But that
he had to watch, helpless, knowing how depraved it was – this was
punishment for the others, too. It diminished the humanity of them

The same treatment
continued once Zeitoun was transferred from the makeshift FEMA detention
camp to a "regular" prison. For more than two weeks he
and his cellmate were abused, insulted, humiliated, and treated
to a visit from a
Gitmo-style "Extreme Repression Force" (ERP)
. Swaddled in riot
gear, wielding ballistic shields, batons, and other weapons, the
ERP "burst in as if [Zeitoun] were in the process of committing
murder," writes Eggers. "Cursing at him, three men used their shields
to push him to the wall. As they pressed his face against the cinderblock,
they cuffed his arms and shackled his legs."

heroically subduing an unresisting man – who by this time was dealing
with an infected foot and a mysterious kidney ailment – the ERP
tore apart the cell before forcing the victim to strip and submit
to another body cavity search. By some oversight, the ERP neglected
to use pepper spray on the innocent and helpless man. All of the
prisoner-control tactics used in Gitmo and "Camp Greyhound" have
been employed against peaceful protesters in New York, Oakland,
and elsewhere

Civil libertarians
are understandably concerned about sections
1031 and 1032 of the proposed National Defense Authorization Act
which would authorize
the indefinite military detention
of Americans – including those
seized here in the United States – who are suspected of terrorism.
That abhorrent measure represents an enhancement of current policies
and procedures, rather than an abrupt departure from them. Whether
or not the Senate approves the NDAA, the people in charge of Regime
Security already consider this country to be one vast military prison,
and are willing to act on that assumption whenever the opportunity
presents itself.

with permission from Pro

29, 2011

Norman Grigg [send him mail]
publishes the Pro
blog and hosts the Pro
Libertate radio program

© 2011 William Norman Grigg

Best of William Norman Grigg

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