10 October, 2006

attack dogs used in US prisons

"Obviously a dog is more of a deterrent [than a Taser gun]. You get more damage from a dog bite. I think it’s right up there with impact weapons . . ."

— Mike Knolls, Special Operations Unit, Utah Department of Corrections, October 26, 2005


Human Rights Watch today released a report detailing the use of dogs to "extract" uncooperative prisoners from their cells. They note that currently, "There is no jurisprudence on the constitutionality of using dogs for cell extractions."

from the summary:

One of the iconic pictures from Abu Ghraib shows an unmuzzled German Shepherd straining at his leash a few inches in front of a detainee, who is crouched in terror. Two Army Sergeants have been convicted in courts-martial of using their dogs to harass, threaten, and assault detainees. Yet five U.S. state prison systems — those of Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, South Dakota, and Utah — continue to authorize the use of large unmuzzled dogs to terrify and even attack prisoners to secure their compliance with orders to permit themselves to be handcuffed and removed from their cells. While the prisoner tries to fend off the dog, officers move in to take hold of him, apply restraints and then remove him from his cell.

The use of dogs to threaten and attack prisoners to facilitate cell extractions has been a well-kept secret, even in the world of corrections. Human Rights Watch has spoken with more than two dozen current and former correctional officials who had no idea dogs were authorized, much less ever used, for this purpose. Many were, as one said, "flabbergasted."

In three of the five states that authorize use of dogs in cell extraction, the policies appear to be used rarely if at all. In Connecticut (20 cases in 2005) and Iowa (63 cases between March 2005 and March 2006), use of dogs for this purpose is far more common.

Human Rights Watch knows of no other country in the world that authorizes the use of dogs to attack prisoners who will not voluntarily leave their cells. Dogs are often used in prisons in the United States and elsewhere to patrol perimeters and to search for contraband, a use that does not raise human rights concerns.

When Human Rights Watch began this research in 2005, two additional states, Massachusetts and Arizona, also permitted the use of dogs in cell extractions. In 2006, however, corrections departments in those states instituted new policies prohibiting such use of dogs.
a few choice bits:

". . . in some prisons, however, the institutional culture permits cell extractions simply to show inmates “who’s in charge” or to retaliate against defiant inmates, even if there is no real emergency."

The dogs used for cell extractions typically are German Shepherds or Belgian Malinois—both large breeds of dog that usually weigh well over sixty pounds and stand over two feet high.3 The dogs are usually imported from Europe and often undergo preliminary training with breeders or those selling the dogs. Prison handlers continue the training, using decoys to train the dog in "apprehension" — i.e. biting on command and releasing on command. Usually, a dog lives with its primary handler, and the two develop a close bond.

When a handler and his dog enter a cell block in connection with a possible cell extraction, the dog barks loudly and continuously, jumping up against the cell door and scratching at the window, as seen in two videotaped cell extractions with dogs that are available on the Human Rights Watch website. The dog’s barking and presence outside the prisoner’s cell is intended to terrify and intimidate the prisoner into compliance with the order to "cuff up." If the prisoner continues to resist, he knows the dog will be loosed on him. Some prisoners will wrap blankets, towels, and even toilet paper around their limbs to try to protect themselves from dog bites. When the guards open the cell door, the leashed dog enters the cell first. The dog handler is supposed to maintain his hold on the dog’s leash while it attacks the prisoner. But this is not always the case. As one prisoner in Connecticut described his experience: "The dog was barking uncontrollably and jumping up and out towards me. The k-9 officers released the dog leash, and the dog, a German Shepherd, charged me."

The dog is trained to bite whatever part of the prisoner it can grasp first. According to an Iowa corrections official, "[The dogs are] taught a deep—a full-mouth bite. The dog opens his mouth real wide and gets as much as [he can] whether it’s a thigh or whatever in his mouth."

While the prisoner tries to fend off or wrestle with the dog, officers enter the cell, use whatever force remains necessary to subdue him, and put restraints on him. At some point, the dog handler will call off the dog, although the dog may remain in the cell.

Arizona's procedures were different:

Instead of going into the cell with the dog, the dog handler would remain outside holding on to a thirty foot leash attached to a harness on the dog. The dog would be let into the cell, jump up on the prisoner, and bite him. Once the dog had a hold of the prisoner, the officers would pull on the dog’s leash and drag the dog and the prisoner, gripped by the dog’s jaws, out of the cell. A training video formerly used by the Arizona Department of Corrections shows a simulated cell extraction using this method; it is available on the Human Rights Watch website
One Connecticut prisoner wrote:

I freed my leg from the dog’s mouth and I fell backward to the floor. The dog charged me again while I was down. I raised my left hand to block the dog’s bite and it sank its teeth completely through my hand . . . My left hand has suffered permanent damage. I lost a lot of feeling in my middle and ring fingers and I have a "pin & needles" feeling in my index finger and thumb. This is due to multiple nerves being severed from the dog bite.
Curiously, two controversial civilians involved in US prison operations in Iraq were hired after being forced out of the state prison systems of Connecticut & Utah.

According to SourceWatch:

In the May 21, 2004, New York Times, Fox Butterfield and Eric Lichtblau, write in "Screening of Prison Officials Is Faulted by Lawmakers" that the "use of American corrections executives with abuse accusations in their past to oversee American-run prisons in Iraq is prompting concerns in Congress about how the officials were selected and screened."

On May 20th, Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, sent a letter "to Attorney General John Ashcroft questioning what he described as the 'checkered record when it comes to prisoners' rights' of John J. Armstrong, a former commissioner of corrections in Connecticut." The letter "requested that the Justice Department conduct an investigation into the role of American civilians in the Iraqi prison system."

Armstrong is now "assistant director of operations of American prisons in Iraq" and is "apparently working under contract" for the Department of State.

Armstrong "resigned last year after Connecticut settled lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the families of two Connecticut inmates who died." Armstrong had sent the inmates "to a supermaximum security prison in Virginia," where one "of the inmates, a diabetic, died of heart failure after going into diabetic shock and then being hit with an electric charge by guards wielding a stun gun and kept in restraints."

Lane McCotter, "another official" who "was dispatched" by Ashcroft to "reopen" Iraq's prisons, "was forced to resign as director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 after an incident in which a mentally ill inmate died after guards left him shackled naked to a restraining chair for 16 hours."

Following "his resignation in Utah," McCotter "became an executive of a private prison company, the Management and Training Corporation, one of whose jails was strongly criticized in a Justice Department report just a month before the Justice Department sent him to Iraq." McCotter was the first to identify Abu Ghraib "as the best site for America's main prison." McCotter "helped rebuild the prison and train Iraqi guards, according to his own account, given to Correction .com, an online industry magazine."

Butterfield and Lichtblau write: "Speaking of the two cases in an interview, Mr. Schumer said: 'One might be an aberration. Two is getting awfully close to a pattern. ... Of all the people who have experience running prisons in this country and haven't run into trouble, how did they pick these guys?'"

According to the "Justice Department official, ... McCotter's role in overseeing prison operations in Baghdad was limited to what are regarded as civilian prisoners, rather than military ones. But the unclear chain of command at Abu Ghraib has made it difficult to distinguish between the two groups."

"'What is the civilian side?' Mr. Schumer asked. 'Many of the people who were abused were civilians.'"
HRW notes that:

International human rights law illuminates why the use of dogs in cell extractions is wrong. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the United States has ratified, mandates that "[a]ll persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person." Human Rights Watch believes that deliberately instilling terror into an inmate by exploiting the primal fear of aggressive dogs and deliberately permitting a snarling, barking dog to bite the inmate cannot be squared with fundamental human dignity.

The Covenant, as well as the Convention against Torture (also ratified by the United States), both affirm the right of inmates to not be subjected to treatment that constitutes torture or is otherwise cruel, inhuman or degrading. We believe that the use of dogs in cell extractions is degrading and could even be inhuman, depending on the extent of injury from the dog. The use of a fierce animal to control an imprisoned person is inherently humiliating, denying an inmate’s personhood.

Terrifying an inmate into compliance also denies his personal integrity. It reduces the inmate himself to an animal crouched in fear in the face of attack.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Nezua Limón Xolagrafik-Jonez said...

one amazing fact after another comes to light, in this brave new world.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Arcturus said...

Society pretty much prefers to ignore what goes on behind bars.

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Nezua Limón Xolagrafik-Jonez said...

i read through the description of what they did to him...i had to skim it. i couldn't even read every word. it was nauseating to me. physically nauseating. i see it clearly as just what torture always is, just as it was for the nazis...an experiment of sorts, nothing more than a pretend agenda created to provide an arena for sadists to play. toy with just what A or B type of horror produces on a human totally under one's control. it's..beyond scary. it's inhuman.

4:10 PM  

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