Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Gitmo '07 for Fun and Profit

In response to Great Britain's formal request that the United States release five British residents from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, US officials have reiterated that the United States does not want to be the world's jailor.

This is an odd position to take, if one is representing the United States in an official capacity at a time when the United States is seeing dramatic growth in prison populations.

One out of every four people in prison is in the United States. That's no minor accomplishment for a Nation that represents a mere 5% of the World's population.

The USA is #1 in incarcerations, beating out Russia and China. Even if China is under-reporting, the United States is still running in good company.

Whatever cause or purported intent one invokes to account for this phenomenon, the effect disproportionately impacts Black Americans in a variety of ways. For example, 13% of adult Black men cannot vote because of their conviction history.

The Guantanamo Bay detention facility puts a friendly Hollywood face on America's attitude towards imprisonment, but the conditions described as existing there should not seem especially shocking to American sensibilities. Prisons are an awful -- and central -- part of the American Way of Life. For some people, keeping other humans imprisoned is the way to The American Dream.

Americans tolerate a lot of things: not too many inconveniences, but a great many injustices. That prisons represent a struggle against a criminal class is clear. That prisons represent a cultural problem far more significant than street crime is not nearly as often made clear in the popular media.

Prisoners are made by laws. Laws are expressions of cultural values. There have been many generations brought up with the indoctrination of human captivity: what cultural values do Americans hold so as to make so many disrupted lives seem worthwhile, and even lucrative?

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