When the US prison system created more terrorism in Iraq

Locking someone in a cage is never justice. It’s only a punishment or justified isolation of someone who’s a danger to others. Even for its stated objectives, a punitive prison system is a dangerous and ineffective tool… I wrote this in my book FREEDOM! About the prison system in America, but occasionally something will remind me of the prison scandals back in Iraq.

I remember when the news about the Abu Ghraib torture scandal broke out in 2004. I was on deployment in Fallujah at the time and I clearly remember, as a Civil Affairs marine, having to stare down crowds of angry Iraqis the day after the scandal broke on international TV. I even saw the prison for myself when we convoyed there briefly. That was only one of several US-run military prisons in the country. The military industrial complex and the prison industrial complex got married in Iraq.

Apart from my sad realization that torture and prisoner abuse was actually happening all over the country, something else terrible happened: yesterday’s detainees became tomorrow’s terrorists. One petty thief who became radicalized in prison was Abu Nuwab al-Zarawi, an al-Qaeda in Iraq commander we were hunting. Another petty criminal turned jihadist would go on to found ISIS.

Iraq is the place where the military industrial complex met the prison industrial complex, and to horrifying results. The US military prisons in Iraq were being called “jihadi universities” because people with weak or suspect ties to terrorism showed up as bewildered detainees and left as hardened Islamists, more ready than ever to wage their holy war against the occupation authority. Concentrating large numbers of terrorists and insurgents gave them the ability to network, coordinate, and educate. The cases of only loose association or mistaken identity became easy recruits for Al Qaeda.

Psychologists Jesse Shapiro and Keith Chen find that it’s possible, and statistically verifiable, for prison conditions to further harden criminals. By studying the post-incarceration behaviors of 1,000 federal prisoners, they conclude that “harsher prison conditions cause higher rates of post-release criminal behavior, behavior which is also measurably more violent.” The Economist backs this up with testimonies from ex-convicts in American prisons, noting that many of the abusive correctional officers are ex-military, and in their perceived role as strict disciplinarians, the guards utterly fail to protect inmates from other inmates.

In my book, I write that the machine of government “justice” convicts people of victimless crimes to keep the police busy, keep politicians and their sponsors happy, and provide a flow of bodies into the prisons. The more we question the assumptions of modern prison systems, the more aware we are of their disastrous effects. The effects of that prison system were particularly disastrous in Iraq. With the triple grievance of foreigners invading their country, arresting them by mistake, and being subjected to “enhanced interrogation” techniques, combined with the uncertainty that comes with indefinite detention, it’s no wonder the military prisons became universities for terrorism.

Just as politicians make nonviolent offenders into criminals with their laws, and then those offenders become hardened criminals in the prison system, we were creating hardened thugs in Iraq. Just as the war on drugs made every pot smoker a federal criminal, enforcing a policy that all military aged males must remain in a city as its being bombed by C-130 Specter gunships was creating insurgents in Iraq faster than we could kill them. The images of those detainees at Abu Ghraib were like gasoline on the fire that was already burning from Basra to Kirkuk.

The way forward for America is a complete rollback of the present system of government and empire. The American government has a mass incarceration problem in which too many people are violently torn from society in a way totally out of proportion to the “crimes” they committed. The American government also has an “empire problem.” A government with 900 military bases in over 130 countries is not fighting for your freedom. It is an empire. I was one of the occupation troops. The sick marriage between the military and prison industrial complexes made an incredibly bad situation even worse.

No More Sabres to Rattle


It’s quite the sad yet delicious recent turn of events that has revealed the hypocrisy of Trump and his supporters. It’s also revealing to see that this time it was the Republican who ran on the promise of peace only to go back on it. That’s usually the Democrats’ job. Through the lens of the old maxim about power corrupting, I would hope that Trump supporters are finally acknowledging that their “god-king” is nothing special in the world of Presidents, but rather just another slave to special interests and none more special than the military industrial complex. Sadly, many of them continue to make excuses for him and reveal that their support for him was not based on anything more righteous than their desire to preserve a nationalist tribal identity. It would be more comical if there weren’t so many lives hanging in the balance.

Because Trump was able to tap into Americans’ deepest insecurities, the loyalty he inspired was unique. Not only was he able to lie his way into office, but he had an army on the internet willing to repeat his lies without question. “We need Trump because Hillary will lead us into WWIII!” If any of the people spouting this nonsense actually cared about peace, they would have been engaged in anti-war activism long before Trump. There is even more proof that the majority of them don’t care about peace in how they have responded to Trump’s “tough talk” on Venezuela and North Korea and striking Syria: “It’s a good thing we have Trump to lead us into WWIII!” Just as Obama supporters were essentially willing to let Obama extend the war on terror longer and more viciously than Bush would have and keep killing children with drone strikes in exchange for the promise of government healthcare, Trump supporters made an even worse deal. They were willing to trade “WWIII” for nothing more than national pride.

Before I get any further, an important caveat: I don’t think WWIII is imminent, in fact I’m more inclined to believe that in the age of the internet, it’s impossible. So while I’m using the term “WWIII” here, it’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek because it’s the term that Trump supporters used to scare libertarians away from Gary Johnson. The reality of the threat from government now is not a world war, but the continued proxy wars and occupations and limited operations that currently comprise the global war on terror. Of course you could call this a world war, but if so, it pales in comparison to the destructiveness of the last two, and if you call it that, where were you when Bush was starting it? What I’m getting at here is that the reason Trump and Clinton were both terrible options for President is that they would both be slaves to the military welfare queens who manipulate politics in order to enrich themselves off of as much violence as the American people will put up with as long as they keep paying their taxes.

So back to the idea of power corrupting. I would say that being “Commander-In-Chief” of the greatest mechanism of violence the world has ever known is a lot of power. The sad thing is, the President himself doesn’t have to be corrupted to be a mechanism for corruption. Even a President, like Kennedy, taking office with the best of intentions is subject to … well … you know the story.

It’s childishly naive to think that we can ignore the advice of the American founders to rely upon our militias and avoid having a standing army. The existence of a standing army makes us all less safe. It makes the American people slaves. It leaves us vulnerable to the predatory government over which Donald Trump now presides. The answer to this issue, and the greatest single thing we could do to restore American principles in practice is quite simple: abolish the United States military. No more sabres to rattle, and none to cut down your freedom.

Being a Politician is a Mental Disorder

It’s time for us to direct some compassionate attention to those afflicted by Authoritarian Personality Disorder. There are plenty of opposite disorders of the disobedient kind for which there are over-prescribed drugs to sedate people into submission, but for the authoritarians, much less practical attention is paid and we all suffer as a result.

Authoritarian Personality Disorder is described in several texts with varying definitions, but here I’ll use this working definition: A personality disorder characterized by an unhealthy desire to control others manifest in destructive ways such as seeking political power or other positions which hold arbitrary power over others. While it is tempting to think of politicians, we must also be wary of their sponsors in the banking class, as well as their enforcers in the police and military. However, thanks to the broader authoritarian culture, many authoritarian types are able to seek positions of control in the private sector and in their personal lives.

A human being raised in a healthy, loving environment will seek healthy and loving relationships. Even someone raised in an authoritarian environment will be capable of developing healthy relationship skills unless otherwise affected. The truly disordered cases are motivated by deeper seated insecurity caused by childhood trauma or abuse. When those experiences are properly processed, they do not manifest as controlling behaviors. When one is provided with the authoritarian environment and the adverse childhood experiences, the victim is only able to manifest their insecurities with learned behaviors of control.

The first step is admitting that we have a problem, both as the power-hungry individuals and the rest of us who enable them. This will allow us to isolate the problems and separate them from their most obedient enablers. Once we “throw the bums out,” we must remember not to replace them, which sounds easier than it is. As for the Authoritarians who are serious about seeking treatment, I would guess that some form of immersive psychedelic therapy in the jungle far removed from society would be something I could get behind.

While it’s tempting to write off these people as simply “assholes,” understanding what makes them assholes makes it much easier to do something about it. These are not people who need scorn or derision, and certainly not government office, but rather people who need empathy and treatment.

One theory about Authoritarian Personality Disorder holds that one of its causes and/or stimulants is submissiveness or gullibility in others. While some experts believe that the disorder can manifest without victim stimuli, some say that victim stimuli brings it out, while others suggest that it is the root cause. Regardless, the best way to prevent Authoritarian Personality Disorder from affecting you and your loved ones is to remain assertive and skeptical of all who would try to subvert your will to their own.

(Since I was in Iraq, I realized that my background in psychology gave me a unique way of understanding human behavior in the political context. If you enjoyed this post, please let me know and if there are any other topics you’d like me to address this way in the comments. Are there any individuals that this post brings to mind? What do you think made them the way they are?)