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Former Utah Prison Leader Fails Again at Abu Ghraib

by Freedomlvr Saturday, Jul. 10, 2004 at 2:06 PM

It appears it was not the israelis who caused Abu Ghraib after all. But was it the Mormons?

The Salt Lake Tribune (Utah)

May 16, 2004

Utahns Who Rebuilt Prison Are in Hot Seat

By Greg Burton



At the ceremonial reopening of the Abu Ghraib prison, a team of correctional experts recruited by the U.S. Department of Justice to assess and rebuild Iraq's prison system ordered in plates of figs, pastries and candies from the streets of Baghdad.

The modest banquet was well earned, say O. Lane McCotter and Gary DeLand, friends from Utah and former business associates who were living what they describe today as a dream adventure, complete with body armor, M16s and suitcases stuffed with 0 bills.

McCotter reached Baghdad in May 2003. Within days, L. Paul Bremer, then the U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, instructed the former Utah Department of Corrections director to scale back the assessment and focus on putting prisoners in cells. Four months later, he reopened Abu Ghraib.

Iraq was to be an international coup for the U.S. prison industry. And Abu Ghraib, Iraq's most secure maximum-security prison, was to be DeLand and McCotter's crowning achievement.

Instead, the torture of Iraqi prisoners there at the hands of the U.S. military has shocked the world, disrupted the overall mission in Iraq and launched congressional inquiries not only into who may have ordered the mistreatment, but who picked McCotter and DeLand -- contractors with questionable records on prisoner civil rights -- to rebuild Iraq's correctional system.

"A legend": While DOJ's International Criminal Investigative Training Program (ICITAP) had revived collapsed judicial systems in Haiti, Kosovo, Bosnia and Panama, the mission in Iraq was the first to include professionals from the correctional industry in the United States. And McCotter was DOJ's chosen leader.

McCotter's career includes two tours in Vietnam, a stint as director of the Army prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and tenures as a prison administrator in Texas, New Mexico and Utah.

While at Leavenworth in the 1980s, DeLand says McCotter, 63, worked with Colin Powell, then a deputy commander at the Kansas Army base, now President Bush's Secretary of State. It's the sort of résumé Attorney General John Ashcroft must have reviewed before choosing McCotter to go to Iraq. J's chosen leader.

"McCotter's a legend," says DeLand, another former Corrections director in Utah recruited by ICITAP. "He cleaned [Leavenworth] up after Vietnam -- when it was a mess."

But critics of how McCotter and DeLand handled prisoners in Utah -- where both men advocated the use of total restraint chairs and boards to immobilize scores of dangerous or mentally ill inmates -- say the pictures of abuse and humiliation at Abu Ghraib are eerily similar to video and written records that detail the plight of bound and naked Utah prisoners in the former isolation chamber at Utah's Point of the Mountain prison.

"If our government had a serious commitment to the humane treatment of prisoners, why would they send somebody to Iraq with a history of hostility to prisoner rights?" asks Carol Gnade, a former director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Utah who battled McCotter and DeLand over inmate abuses. "What it shows is the U.S. government really doesn't take civil rights abuses in our own prison systems seriously."

Only when McCotter resigned in 1997 -- two months after inmate Michael Valent died after being strapped in a total restraint chair for 16 hours -- did the practice end in Utah.

McCotter's record, say critics, was more recently tarnished in New Mexico by civil rights abuses noted in a DOJ investigation into Centerville-based Management & Training Corporation, McCotter's current employer, which signed a contract in 2001 to run the Sante Fe County Detention Center.

Teaching rights: While there is no evidence McCotter and DeLand trained the military police force implicated in the abuse at Abu Ghraib, the two did collaborate on establishing a "corrections academy" in Iraq to teach Iraqis how to manage prison inmates. The three-week academy included coursework on fair treatment under civilian law, DeLand says, as well as detention standards for prisoners of war established under the Geneva Conventions.

DeLand also reviewed a military correctional training manual, which he says provided little or no direction on the humane treatment of prisoners. "I found about 5 percent of it useful." That manual, DeLand says, was used by the U.S. Army to train MPs to run the dozens of Interment Facilities in Iraq, including two tent camps outside Abu Ghraib.

DeLand eventually opened the Iraq Correctional Service in a former compound used by Saddam Hussein in western Baghdad, where he and McCotter say they taught Iraqis how to protect human rights and avoid corruption.

"We honest to God had some pretty lofty ideas when we went over there -- we're building a country," says DeLand. "And now, we've probably set all that back, telling the Iraqis they can't abuse prisoners, but we can."

Fueling the fire: Two weeks before the reopening of Abu Ghraib, a mortar attack killed at least five prisoners and wounded another 67 living in tents at the U.S. military-run Camp Vigilant, one of the two camps just outside the cement walls of Abu Ghraib.

That attack probably hastened the transfer of military prisoners into cells at Abu Ghraib constructed to house common criminals, says DeLand, and may have resulted in the mixing of low-risk Iraqi prisoners with suspected terrorists or Baathists whom Bush dealt into his "Deck of 52 Cards."

That volatile mix of inmates, the pressure to extract intelligence from detainees and the push to reopen Abu Ghraib under constant fear of sniper and mortar attacks, contributed to the collapse of proper oversight at the prison, DeLand says, and may have fueled the abusive treatment of Iraqi inmates by U.S. military police.

DeLand says Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, an Army reservist appointed in June 2003 to run military prisons in Iraq, failed to closely monitor conditions at Abu Ghraib. DeLand, though, had returned to Utah before prisoners at the tent-and-fence Internment Facilities surrounding Abu Ghraib were transferred into the reconstructed bricks-and-mortar prison. In recent news reports, Karpinski claims Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, then running the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, suggested military intelligence teams teach MPs at Abu Ghraib how to break down prisoners.

By late summer 2003, after reopening prisons at Al Tasferat (400 beds), Al Rusafa (416 beds) and Al Salhya (100 beds for women and juveniles), McCotter and DeLand selected an Iraqi colonel named Juma Zamel to run those prisons, as well as Abu Ghraib when it reopened.

But before they left Iraq in September, they say Karpinski vetoed Zamel. When Karpinski instead suggested a U.S. military officer run the facility, McCotter "said, 'No way, this is a civilian prison,' " DeLand says. "We didn't last much longer."

McCotter and DeLand worked closely with MPs from the 72nd Military Police out of Henderson, Nev., and Indiana's 494th MPs, but they say they had no contact that they can recall with the 372nd MPs implicated in the abuse at Abu Ghraib, which began a month after the Utah men left Iraq.

On Sept. 3, 2003, McCotter says Abu Ghraib was turned "over to the military."

"They had already established a detention center at that complex," he says. "They were already housing detainees there because there were no other prisons available to hold all the detainees and hostages captured."

Shocked and angry: McCotter and DeLand say they are horrified by the images of torture at Abu Ghraib, but they also are angry about the sweeping condemnations of the U.S. military.

"We worked with military police every day," McCotter says. "We traveled with them, they helped us, and they provided the security so we could get [Abu Ghraib] open and operational. . . . The military police are literally on the front lines every day in Iraq. They were absolutely essential to everything we were doing."

Looking for another explanation of the torture, Karpinski has said prisoners were being detained too long at Abu Ghraib. DeLand agrees.

"The military doesn't know how to get people out of prison, they only how to get them in," DeLand says. "That's a big, big problem."

Congress, meanwhile, is asking questions about how Bush, Ashcroft and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld chose the civil contractors who worked with the military intelligence teams at Abu Ghraib.

Lawmakers also want to know how Ashcroft found McCotter, whose selection -- regardless of his role at Abu Ghraib -- is reviving outrage about the spotty history of human rights in our own prisons.

McCotter insists he can't recall who from the Bush administration asked him to go to Iraq.

"I'm retired military, my name probably surfaced from that," he says. "I got a call from them and they said I'd been recommended. I have no idea who." -- © Copyright 2004, The Salt Lake Tribune.

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