Monday, December 04, 2006

This is Disturbing

From a tour Atrios took of an 1830s era prison:


The prisoners lived in solitary confinement, in small rooms lacking natural light. The diarist expressed genuine surprise that it didn't take very long (6-12 months) for prisoners - many of whom were in for minor offenses - to start displaying signs of profound mental illness.

That type of solitary confinement was reformed away because of this problem, but it's making a comeback, not only in the War on Terror, but also in the our ever expanding prison system which must accomodate the War on Petty Drug Offenses.

Hell, the Germans were ahead of America on prison reform.

It was the openness of the early 1800's system that enabled psychologists and clinicians to begin to see differences in the people kept under such ridge conditions verses other confinement systems. It was also this openness that allowed those psychologists and clinicians to do statistical comparisons between the ridge conditions of confinement in which the senses are deprived and environmental stimulants restricted and other confinement systems.

As early as the 1830's these comparisons began to show the difference between the Philadelphia Prison of rigid confinement and the Auburn system in New York state at Auburn and Sing-Sing. These comparisons gave enough evidence for people to voice their concerns that it was not natural to leave a person in solitary; that these conditions were so unnatural they bred insanity. These comparisons showed the Pennsylvania system had a higher incident of insanity than the New York system.

In 1842, even Charles Dickens wrote his thoughts and impressions of such conditions:

"He is a man buried alive - dead to everything but torturing anxieties and horrible despair..."

Many countries in Europe emulated the American system. However, it was the Germans who took up the task of documenting its effects. This eventually lead to the demise of such systems there. From 1854 to 1909, 37 articles were printed in German scientific journals about psychotic disturbances among prisoners.
Most of the detainees at Gitmo (and most likely all those secret detention facilities) were apparently not guilty of anything. Justice will eventually require their release. In the name of combating terror by any means necessary, we may be forced to release people exhibiting some or all of the following problems:

  • hearing voices - even whispers,

  • panic attacks,

  • difficulty in concentration and with memory (example: inmates stated they could not concentrate to read) which can lead to disorientation,

  • mind wanders,

  • aggressive fantasies of revenge, torture and/or mutilation of the guards,

  • paranoia and other fears,

  • authorities trying to "break them down,"

  • doubt oneself and troubles in determining what is real, and

  • problems with controlling impulses - sometimes with random violence.

As well as being profoundly immoral, that sounds like a national security problem. And if it only takes as little as 6 months to get to that state (probably less time for "detainees" who aren't just left in a cell, but hooded, bound, forced into "stress" positions, kept awake for long hours -- oh, and waterboarded), then what is the point in continuing the "interrogations?"

Maybe, since the captors know the administration is planning to imprison those people for the rest of their lives (regardless of guilt, who cares), their mental health really isn't important. In fact, the more crazy they are, the more our conscience can be clean as we physically neglect them, too, since they're too insane to care that they're starving, cold and in pain. Maybe they're living in a happy fantasy land of warm sunshine and butterflies that have a WMD program and an intention to harm the U.S. -- well, that's what the detainees tell us, anyway.

Sounds like we've brought back the oubliette, which was more humane since it only lasted a few days.

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