Dedication

In December 2003, a woman prisoner inside Abu Ghraib smuggled out a note about the abuse inside. She described women being raped by U.S. guards and being forced to strip naked in front of men. This courageous woman is known only as Noor.
Most of the women at Abu Ghraib were arrested as means of pressuring their husbands to provide information. Since their release, many of these women have ?disappeared? and they may likely be dead. It is possible that they were killed because they were raped.
We hold the U.S. government responsible for the war crimes which all prisoners at Abu Ghraib suffered. We dedicate this issue of the The Fire Inside to Noor and her sister prisoners and the brave efforts they made to bring these atrocities to the attention of the world.

Abu Ghraib Torture Began at Home

by A.B.C., CCWF
Why go all the way to Iraq to see prisoners abused? Let?s start in our own country, the U.S.A. Brutality happens in the 32 prisons in California every second, every minute, every day non-stop!! CDC inmates are beaten, sprayed with chemicals, slammed on the ground, strip searched and on a lot of occasions, even raped?
Our own people are abusing us in our own country, so what can we expect from our own people in another country? 98% of the time we have no videos or photos or any kind of proof to show it, only our word which isn?t considered much.
Why can?t we spend our tax payers? money on trying to transform or reform all the abuse in the CDC, something that would show humanity that the U.S.A. is really a country of opportunity and freedom? Why can?t the prisoners in the CDC get the same media attention as the prisoners in Iraq?
We are not only pleading or crying out, we are begging for our voices to be heard! We say to our Governor, consider our inhuman treatment and conditions and start giving us some help!
* * *
by M.S., CCWF
It was not a surprise to me that the scandal in Iraq’s prison involved people who were guards in a U.S. prison. Most of the Abu Ghraib abuses happen in every prison in California: harassment, degradation, the inhumanity in treating prisoners. The worst is the plain arbitrariness of the guards. The staff here is not helpful in almost any situation.
We see abuses of helpless people every day. If you try to stand up for yourself, you go to jail (segregation unit, or SHU). The only thing they don’t do here is put naked prisoners in pyramids or put hoods on us. Otherwise, what I saw in Iraq is what happens here every day.
They say that this kind of treatment is against the rules. They have rules they are supposed to follow here, too. But they don’t. The Geneva Convention should apply as a human standard in all situations.
The belittling is constant and at all levels. Recently I was standing in line for sanitary pads; the white women in front of me got 10 pads each. I got three. When I asked if race had something to do with getting an inadequate number of pads, the guard made a scene and said I disrespected her.
We can get strip searched at any time for no reason at all, and many of us do. They feel this is normal, anything they do to us is “normal.”
I had not heard that there were women held at Abu Ghraib, but I can just imagine the treatment they suffered. The incidents underscore the importance of people who stand up when something is not right. It was the soldier who blew the whistle who is the real hero. I had a situation when a staff member abused me. It was only because another staff member stood up for me that I can say I no longer suffer his abuse. I need to speak out about it, because the staff member who was harassing me was also harassing others. If I don’t speak the truth about it, then I am allowing the things that got me here to continue to chain me.

Legal Corner: Torture is Always Illegal

What is torture? It is generally defined as the infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering upon another in order to coerce or punish. Examples of torture under international law include: rape; beating on the soles of the feet; near drowning by submersion in water; burning; whipping; mutilation; hanging by the feet or hands for a prolonged period. Less severe physical or mental pain is often defined as mistreatment and is also prohibited under international law. Examples of mistreatment include: being subjected to bright lights or blindfolding; being deprived of sleep, food, and drink; being subjected to forced constant standing or crouching. In fact, any act intended to intimidate, coerce, or ?break? a person during interrogation is at the very least considered mistreatment and can rise to the level of torture when it is intense enough, lasts long enough, or is combined with other methods and results in severe pain and suffering.
What are the laws prohibiting torture? We need to look at international law in order to find specific prohibitions against torture. For instance, Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948); Article 7 of the International covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was ratified by 153 countries and the United States in 1992; the Convention against Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by 136 countries, including the U.S. in 1994. In addition, the condemnation of torture is found in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the African Charter on Human and Peoples? Rights, and, the American Convention on Human Rights.
The prohibition against torture is also fundamental to humanitarian laws known as the laws of war, which govern the conduct of parties during armed conflict. These prohibitions are set forth in the four Geneva Conferences held in 1949, specifically in Article 3 which bans ?violence of life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture,? and in Article 31 which states, ?No physical or moral coercion shall be exercised against protected persons, in particular to obtain information from them or from third parties.? Even the United States in its 1999 Initial Report of the U.S. to the U.N. Committee against Torture, proclaimed that the use of torture ?is categorically denounced as a matter of policy and as a tool of state authority…Every act of torture within the meaning of the [Convention against Torture] is illegal under existing federal and state law, and any individual who commits such an act is subject to penal sanctions as specified in criminal statutes.?
However, there is no single federal law that specifically criminalizes torture. Most criminal statutes are state laws, for example laws against assault or rape, and only a very few states have a statute directly addressing torture. Also, the U.S. Constitution has no single provision against torture although protections against the use of torture in interrogations are found in the 4th Amendment (right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure), the 5th Amendment (right against self-incrimination), the 5th and 14th Amendments (guarantees of due process), and the 8th Amendment (right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment).
Torture is never permitted?no matter the circumstances. To be free of torture is a core human right that may never be suspended, not during times of war, not when our national security is threatened, nor when there is a public emergency. Persons who have been subjected to torture may sue in state or federal courts for damages. The 8th Amendment has been the basis of numerous class action suits seeking to end the worst types of prison abuses. Some of these suits were successful and resulted in improved conditions. Because of the current spotlight on U.S. torture practices in Abu Ghraib, Guant·namo, and Afghanistan, various groups are considering how they might bring these illegal practices before the World Court in The Hague.
[Information for this column was found on Human Rights Watch web site in a document entitled, ?The Legal Prohibition Against Torture.? See www.hrw.org/press]

Editorial: Torture in Prison: Prisoners’ Perspective

Many people were shocked that this country, that claims to be ?liberating people from evil,? would do such horrible things at Abu Ghraib prison. Yet, the women striving to survive and live inside of Chowchilla, California?s prison walls were not so stunned by the news: ? ? so what is new? They do this to us every day. I am strip-searched in a very humiliating way just coming to the visiting room and going back to my cell.?
?LH, VSPW
Understanding the torture they themselves receive here, CCWP members on the inside explain some of the “how”:
?It is so easy for (correctional officers) to have the mentality to dehumanize inmates. We are less than dirt to a lot of them. It is easy for them to express repressed rage, repressed bigotry against someone who?s vulnerable. It?s a power thing. It?s dehumanizing. We are less than human to them.?
?woman prisoner, CCWF
Organizations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and American Civil Liberties Union for years have exposed and denounced the torture that takes place in U.S. American prisons. Torture is not new to the women inside of the Central California Facility for Women (CCWF) and Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW). Everyday women meet with behavior that on the outside would be considered illegal. Women suffer abuses comparable to that uncovered in Abu Ghraib.
?Torture here is commonplace and daily. I came from an abusive relationship into much worse abuse here. It is so much worse partly because here there is no escape. If you try to stand up for yourself and fill out a 602 form complaining about anything, there is almost immediate retaliation. Humiliation is all pervasive. Some of the guards were re-assigned here from Corcoran in the wake of the infamous staging of human cockfights. Does anyone think that their assignment here is to our benefit? They can do even more damage here.? ?LN, VSPW
At least three of the soldiers photographed torturing Iraqi prisoners of war were U.S. prison guards, and had a documented history of abuse. It makes little sense to say that only a “few bad apples” misbehaved.
?I strongly disagree with the portrayal of the military guards as ‘bad apples’. Where were all the other guards when these pictures were being taken? Who was taking the pictures? At CCWF, the superior officers are supposed to visit every unit, every day. How can the superior officers not know what is going on? I was harassed because the guards were all related and cover up for each other. The guards were only C.O.s [correctional officers]. Captains are supposed to have more power, and where were they? The military has an even more extreme hierarchy than the prison guards in the US. Somebody in authority had to give them the go-ahead: ?I don?t care what you do with them.? The guards obviously feel that they can say, ?I was just following orders.?? ?YA, CCWF
Women prisoners in Georgia state prison and in Dublin federal prison have been able to testify in court cases that in prison one can be sexually abused by the same individuals who are supposed to protect you, and in Chowchilla prisons it is no different.
?The unmistakably sexual content of the abuse at Abu Ghraib is present here, too. For example, when we go the infirmary to see a doctor, there is no cell with a bathroom there. We have to use a toilet in full view of male guards. The male gynecologist makes derogatory comments about us to other male guards after a gyn exam.? ?LN, VSPW
?A medicated prisoner was raped, but managed to snatch a piece of the condom with some pubic hair. Only with evidence like this is anything done at all. However, now she doesn?t go to get her treatment, because she is worried that when she is vulnerable, a buddy of his might get to her.? ?YA, CCWF
How this amount of torture exists is answered by our sisters’ lives inside of prison walls. Yet, the answer as to why this torture is happening is a bit more complicated and requires all of us educated by the U.S. American public educational system to toss out what we learned. There are both political and economic reasons why torture is used with any prisoner, including those domestically serving time in state and federal prisons here at home. The reasons are about control, power, and exploitation.
?The way I see it is that (the U.S.) is going over there with the attitude that we are there to protect them from terrorists. (Thus) we are going over there with the mentality that we are better than them. We are bringing with us a history of abuse of positions of power and a complete and total disregard for human rights. Not supervised by someone who cares about what they are doing. It is like a Nazi mentality. Genocide. Not physical genocide, but psychological genocide. It?s a control thing.?
?woman prisoner, CCWF
It has been widely publicized that this nation went overseas to Iraq not to end the violence that Iraqis received from their own government (Saddam Hussein was placed into power with the help of the United States, and committed many atrocities with U.S. provided weapons and U.S. government’s agreement), but to assert its direct control of the region rich in oil.
What has not been widely publicized are the very devastatingly accurate realities of women prisoners in Iraq. All over the world these experiences are silenced. Yet it was the courageous act to tell the truth by Iraqi women prisoners that started the public’s awareness of the tortures (the UK Guardian run an article about it). They were initially met with disbelief even from the group of Iraqi women lawyers who had been trying to gain access to Abu Ghraib.
?Of course the rape of women is not what is covered. That?s the kind of thing that the public will hear and be slapped with a reality check. You?ll never hear that stuff come out because it will get people thinking. If ?our boys? are capable of that, what is the war really about? If they are lying about that, maybe they are lying about why we are over there.? ?DZ, CCWP
The United States government, not the people who live here, is behaving like a tyrant both overseas and at home?and it has done so for quite a long time. Still, there are some who do not silence the incarcerated women?s struggles but instead leak out information. These people, commonly known as ?whistleblowers?, are nurses, doctors, staff and members of the military who daringly expose the truth about U.S. prisons here and in Iraq. They are met with the suppression and violence themselves, though.
In a very real sense, the Abu Ghraib images hold up a mirror to the “evil” that our supposed democracy-upholding U.S. government spreads within U.S. prisons and worldwide. The United States refuses to be accountable to the United Nations or the Geneva Conventions on an international level, so is it any wonder that the Geneva Conventions are not applied to prisoners inside this country?
The Geneva Conventions, if applied here, would reveal the very real torture that our sisters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, fathers, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, neighbors face daily inside of U.S. prisons. Maybe then the whistleblowers, so necessary to exposing the truth, would be protected from attacks.
We living on the outside of prison walls, and with our own experiences of inequality, have the chance to look intimately at the ways that we carry on our every day lives. When we can look into ourselves, and see our humanity and our connection to all living, perhaps then we will not only demand justice but fight for it!

Editorial: El Fuego Que Llevamos Dentro

Mucha gente quedÛ impresionada al que ver que este paÌs, quien se proclama de ser ? el que libera a los pueblos del Diablo? haria tan horribles cosas en la prisiÛn de Abu Ghraib. A·n cuando las mujeres se debaten entre la vida y la sobrevivencia dentro de Chowchilla, prisiÛn de California que no fue quienes llamaron la atensiÛn de las noticias: ??entonces que hay de nuevo? Ellos hacen esto todos los dias. Yo soy desnudada y revisada en una forma muy humillante para ir a la sala de visitas y luego ir a mi celda.? ?LH, VSPW
Entendiendo la tortura que ellas reciven aquÌ, miembras de CCWP que estan adentro explican algo del ?COMO?:
Es muy f·cil para (oficiales de la correccional) tener la mentalidad de deshumanizar a las reclusas. Nostras somos menos que basura para muchos de ellos. Es muy f·cil para ellos expresar represiÛn rabiosa, represiÛn en contra de alguien que esta vulnerable. Es un asunto de poder, es deshumanizante, nosotras somos menos humanas que ellos.??mujer prisionera, CCWF
Organizanciones como la Human Rights Watch, Amnistia Internacional, y la American Civil Liberties Union por aÒos han expresado y denunciado las torturas que toman lugar en las c·rceles de los Estados Unidos de Norte America. La tortura no es algo Nuevo para las mujeres que estan presas en la Central California Facilitie for Women (CCWF) y la Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW), cada dÌa las mujeres tienen que liderar con conductas que afuera serian consideradas algo illegal. Las mujeres sufren abusos comparables a los destapes en Abu Ghraib.
?La tortura aqui es comun y cotidiana. Yo vengo de una relaciÛn abusiva dentro de lo m·s abusivo que hay aqui. En parte es mucho peor aquÌ porque aquÌ no hay escapatoria. Si tu tratas de defender tus derechos y llenar una forma 602, la cual es una forma para expresar una queja sobre algo que que haya pasado, hay una inmediata represalia. HumillaciÛn penetrante. Algunos de los guardias que son recolocados aquÌ y vienen de Corcoran de las m·s horribles peleas entre seres humanos puestas en esecena. A caso hay alguien que piensa que la asignaciÛn de esos guardias es para nuestro beneficio? Ellos tambiÈn pueden hacer los mimos daÒos aqui?
?LN, VSPW
Por lo menos tres de los soldados fotografiados torturando prisioneros de guerra iraquÌs fueron guardias de las prisiones de Estados Unidos y tuvieron una historia documentada de abuso. Tiene sentido decir que solo unas ?pocas manzanas? mal portadas.
?Yo estoy en total desacuerdo con la representacion de los guardias militares como las ?manzanas malas?. DÛnde estaban todos los otros guardias cuando esas fotos fueron tomadas? Quien tomÛ las fotos? En CCWF, los oficiales supuestamente tienen que visitar cada unidad, todos los dias. Como los oficiales no van a saber que esta pasando? Yo estaba siendo acosada porque los guardias que estaban involucrados se estaban encubriendo unos a otros. Los guardias fueron solamente C.O.s. los capitanes supuestamente tienen m·s poder, y donde estan ellos? Los militares tienen una extrema jerarquia mas que los guardias de la prisiones de los Estados Unidos. Alguien de las autoridades tuvo que darles a ellos las ordenes para hacer lo que hicieron: ?A mi no me importa que haces tu con ellos.? Los guardias obviamente sienten que ellos pueden decir, ?yo estaba solo siguiendo ordenes.??YA, CCWF
Mujeres prisioneras en la prision estatal de Georgia y el prision federal de Dublin han estado dispuestas a testificar acerca de los casos de abuso sexual cometidos por quienes supuestamente te tienen que proteger y en Chowchilla la situacion no es diferente.
?El inconfundible contenido sexual de los abusos en Abu Ghraib est· presente aquÌ tambiÈn. Por ejemplo, cuando yo voy a la enfermeria para ver al doctor, alli no hay celdas con baÒos. Tenemos que usar el baÒos frente a la vista de todos los guardias. Los ginecologos hacen comentarios degradantes sobre nosotras a los otros guardias despues del examen ginecologico.??LN, VSPW
?Una prisionera que estaba siendo medicada fue violada, pero se las agenciÛ para agarrar un pedazo de condÛn con algo del vello pubico. Solo con una evidencia como esta se puede hacer algo. Si embargo, ahora ella a no va para conseguir su tratamiento, porque ella esta preocupada que cuando ella esta m·s vulnerable, y el agresor pueda llegar a ella.??YA, CCWF
Como nuestras hermanas que viven detras de las paredes de las prisiones responden a esta cantidad de torutra. Aun, deberia haber una respuesta a por que existe la tortura, es una parte muy complicada y require que todos nosotros nos re-eduquemos de lo que aprendimos dentro del systema de educacion de los Estados Unidos y cuestionar que es lo que aprendimos. Hay razones polÌticas y econÛmicas porque la tortura es usada con cualquier prisionera, incluyendo aquellos que estan sirviendo tiempo domesticamente en las prisiones estatales y federales aquÌ en este paÌs. Las razones son de control, poder y explotaciÛn.
?Lo que yo veo es que (los Estados Unidos) estan iendo all· con la actitud de que nosotros vamos a protegerlos a ellos de los terroristas. Estamos iendo all· con la mentalidad de que nosotros somos mejores que ellos. Llevamos con nosotros una historia de abuso y posicion de poder y un completo y total desprecio de los derechos humanos. No supervisados por alguien que cuide que es lo que ellos estan hacienda. Es una mentalidad Nazi. Genocidio, no genocidio fisico, pero si genocidio psicologico, Esto es una cuestion de control.?
?mujer prisionera CCWF.
Ha sido extensamente publicitado que esta naciÛn extrajera fue a Irak para no terminar la violencia que los iraquÌs recivieron de sus propio gobierno (Saddam Hussein fue colocado en el poder con la ayuda de los Estados Unidos, al mismo tiempo que cometiÛ muchas atrocidades con la ayuda de las armas provistas por el gobierno de los Estados Unidos), para acceder al control directo a una de las zonas mas ricas en petroleo.
Pero lo que no ha sido publicado son las devastadoras realidades de las mujeres prisoneras al rededor del mundo. Que son tan semejantes como las situaciÛn que viven las mujeres en las prisiones de los Estados Unidos, estas experiencias son silenciadas. De hecho, esto fue un acto de valentÌa para decir la verdad por las mujeres prisioneras iraquies que empezaron a difundir la conciencia sobre la tortura (El Guardian de Inglaterra esribe un breve artÌculo sobre esto). Aun ellos fueron los quein icialmente no les creyeron al grupo de mujeres abogadas iraquies quienes habian tratado de tener acceso a la carcel de Abu Ghraib.
?Por supuesto que la violaciÛn hacia las mujeres no va hase cubierta. Esa es la clase de cosas que el p·blico va ha escuchar y sentir· la bofetada de la realidad. Tu nunca escuchar·s que estas cosas saldr·n a la luz porque har· pensar a la gente. Si ?nuestros muchachos? son capaces de hacer eso, de que se trata toda esta guerra? Si ellos estan mintiendo sobre eso, tambien puede ser que ellos estan mintiendo sobre todo lo que est· pasando all·.?
?DZ, CCWF
El gobierno de los Estados Unidos, no la gente que vive aqui, se estan comportando como tiranos en ambos lados, en el extrajero y aquÌ – y esto lo llevan haciendo desde hace mucho tiempo. TodavÌa, hay algunas quienes no se quedan en silencio, la lucha de las mujeres encarceladas pero de igual modo se filtra la informaciÛn.
Esta gente, comunmente conocida como ?informantes?, son enfermeras, doctores, miembros del staff y militares quienes con coraje exponen la verdad sobre las prisiones aqui en los Estados Unidos y en Iraq. Ellos se enfrentan a la repression y violencia que pueden ser sujetos despuÈs.
Con un sentido muy real, las imagenes Abu Ghraib son un espejo del ?diablo? de nuestra supuesta democracia defendida, que el gobierno de los Estados Unidos exparse en las prisiones aqui y en todo el mundo. Los Estados Unidos rehusan rendir cuentas en las Naciones Unidas o respetar la ConvenciÛn de Genova o ningun otro instrumento en el ambito internacional, Es que acaso la ConvenciÛn de Genova no aplica para los prisioneros dentro de este paÌs?
Si la ConvenciÛn de Genova se aplicara aqui, eso revelarÌa la verdadera realidad de la tortura que nuestras hermanas, madres, abuelas, tias, , primas, padres, hermanos, tios, abuelos, vecinos enfrentan diariamente dentro de las prisiones de los Estados Unidos. Tal vez los informantes que son muy necesarios para exponer la verdad, estarian protegidos de los ataques.
Nosotros vivimos afuera de las paredes de la prisiÛn, y con nuestras experiencias de inequidad, tenemos la oportunidad de de mirar intimamente en las diferentes partes que llevamos en nuesta vida diaria. Cuando miremos dentro de nosotros mismos, y veamos nuestra humanidad y nuestra conexion con todo la vida, tal vez luego no solamente demandaremos justicia, sino que lucharemos por ella.