Correspondence on Abu Ghraib

"I've Seen This Before"

Revolutionary Worker #1243, June 13, 2004, posted at

The following is a correspondence from a reader:

All of us by now are aware of the Abu Ghraib Prison prisoner abuse "scandal." While it is something the capitalist media and its political leaders could not hide, still we have been told again and again that this is an aberration or an exception--that these were the actions only of a few lower rank "bad apples." While further evidence that has come to light has shown these statements by the mainstream press and our so-called "leaders" to be outright lies and deceptions, there are still people in the U.S. and around the world who do not understand that this abuse flows from the nature of this system--or think that this is generally a "free and democratic" nation that tries to respect human rights.

I've seen the racism that's blatant in this society--the culture of white supremacy, the idea that people in the U.S. are better than people in other countries, and the kind of power trips that leads to. This kind of abuse flows from the class divisions and white supremacy that this system is based on. Millions of Black, Latino, and other poor and oppressed people living in the ghettos and barrios inside the U.S. and the over two million people inside prisons know through firsthand experience that this system has no respect for human rights.

When I first saw the pictures of U.S. soldiers torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib I was outraged. I started tearing up. I had something in my hand and I threw it to the floor in a fit of anger. I'd seen this before. This is how they treat people who are not them. This is the nature of the military and the police apparatus of the state. This is what they do. I thought back on injustices I had seen and experienced when I was in prison and was deeply disturbed by the connection. The torture at Abu Ghraib--I mean it just pissed me off. It made me want to go out and fight the system a thousand times harder. It brought on a sense of urgency that this system needs to come down.

When I first went to prison, I was sent to the SHOCK program. SHOCK is a six month, military-like boot camp program. In theory the program "shocks" young first-time non-violent offenders from "coming back" into the prison system. In reality, it is a program where prisoners are forced to take verbal abuse and degradation from the pigs running these camps, forced to take part in military exercise programs, taught they are worthless and to blindly follow authority.

One of the rules is that when you enter into the mess hall and get your food, you have to eat everything on your tray. If you do not finish what is on your tray by when it is time to leave the mess hall, you must eat what is left-- standing up--before you leave.

Under normal circumstances I would comply with these rules, wait for my transfer and complete my bid with as little contact with the correction officers (C.O.s) as possible. This is what the old timers had taught me in county prison. One day inside the mess hall I decided I couldn't eat what was on my tray and threw it out. The C.O.s looked at each other and smiled sadistically. One told me, "You're gonna wish you had ate that." I did not respond.

My house (group) was then taken out of the mess hall. I was handcuffed and forced into a vestibule away from the other prisoners. The steel doors were shut but I'm sure my screams could be heard. They told me to get up against the wall with my hands up. I did. One C.O. took my left arm, pulled it up, over and down in a sort of counter-clockwise motion. It literally felt like my arm had come off. Another correction officer punched me in the head. I immediately went down to the floor to try and protect my face. Half a dozen C.O.s proceeded to kick my ribs and head, hit me with their batons (and, yes, there were senior C.O.s present). Finally a C.O. took his baton and drove it into my elbow joint. For the first time I screamed out in pain. These pigs pulled me to my feet and brought me to the "Special Housing Unit (SHU)." I had no feeling in my arm and wondered if it was pulled off!

I was brought into the intake and sealed off from other prisoners. There were again about half a dozen C.O.s in this room with me. When they took the handcuffs off, my arm was numb but I saw that it was still there! I was smacked in the face. Finally I said out loud in a sort of sarcastic manner (but not joking), "OK, I am kind of scared now." The C.O. continued to hit me.

I was brought to an isolation cell where I was held for over 30 days. Wait--I was allowed out once--to be hit with a disciplinary ticket for "assault on a correction officer"--an obvious excuse for keeping me in isolation for not eating! I was brought tampered food and not allowed to shower. I had no contact with the outside world. When I got out I was transferred to a medium security prison briefly and then to a maximum security prison.

I saw other prisoners put into strip cells butt naked and left in those conditions until they were forced to cooperate with doctors and guards. I witnessed bloodied prisoners being taken from SHU to the hospital after being beaten by these pigs. The October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality cites thousands of examples of individuals and families that were not as lucky as me--where victims lost their lives.

As RCP Chairman Bob Avakian wrote in "Hill Street Bullshit, Richard Pryor Routines and the Real Deal" (in his book Reflections, Sketches & Provocations ): "Pigs are pigs. Of course, that's an image, a symbol--in the most literal sense they are human beings, but they are human beings with a murderer's mentality, sanctioned, disciplined, unleashed by the ruling class of society to keep the oppressed in line, through terror whenever necessary and as the `bottom line'."

So when I see these photos of what went down in Abu Ghraib and I hear our "so-called" leaders describe these incidents as "isolated," do I buy that shit? I know different--and it burns. I know that the defenders of this system must act in this manner in order force billions of people around the world to live under the miserable conditions that they enforce. But I also know that this treatment produces hatred for the very system it upholds. And that there is potential for this hatred--if guided by the correct political line of Marxism-Leninism- Maoism--to become part of a revolutionary struggle to transform these miserable conditions to a radically different world without any oppression or exploitation.

In Reaching for the Heights and Flying Without a Safety Net, Chairman Avakian says: "Revolution opens up these possibilities, it creates the basis on which, through continuing struggle, these things can happen, and must happen, if we're going to keep going forward. And just think about that. Think about the fact that every day we're going out working among people of various strata, from the basic masses to people in the middle strata who suffer under this system in different ways, who even to the degree they don't suffer so much personally are outraged by the fact that things exist that they can see are unjust and unnecessary and they are frustrated because these things keep going, and there doesn't seem to be anything that can be done about them--which fundamentally, there isn't under this system. But all those things can be changed, transformed. A whole bunch of things which are impossible under this system, but are essential for the masses of people, become possible with revolution and the establishment of a new, revolutionary state power.

"So this is something we have to keep clearly in mind--both sides of this contradiction--that without state power all is illusion, but with state power a lot of things that are illusory become possible. And that's a very important contradiction, or unity of opposites, that we have to grasp firmly and bring out to masses of people. It's not like we're some religious nuts or something--we don't go out `glowing,' talking about supernatural nonsense--this is based on material reality and the actual necessity of masses of people, and it conforms to the way the world is tending, even though the tendencies in the world and society are sharply contradictory." (Part 2: "We Want State Power--and We Should Want It")

A reader