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Systematic Abuse and Torture
in US Prisons
- abroad and at home

Traces lead from Abu-Ghraib back to the death row of SCI Greene, Pennsylvania, USA



Annette Schiffmann TFF associate

German Network to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal


Heidelberg, Germany, May 11, 2004

 "Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people. That's not the way we do things in America," President George W. Bush commented on May 8 concerning the soldiers who are accused of torturing inmates of the prison Abu-Ghraib in Iraq.

In the course of the last days it has become obvious that the USA doesn't constrain itself to deploying military troops to the so-called crisis regions of the world. It also sends staff of private security corporations as well as state and federal security guards.

Sargent Charles A. Graner, one of the main defendants in the Abu-Ghraib torture scandal, is one of the 16,000 employees of the Pennsylvania National Security Guards, who are serving as guards in the 26 prisons of the State of Pennsylvania. 4,000 of them have been deployed to Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan during the last years. Graner was sent to Iraq together with 400 colleagues one year ago, but his regular workplace is the death row wing of the Maximum Security Prison SCI Greene near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This is the very prison which houses, in addition to a large fraction of Pennsylvania's death row population, one of the most famous death row prisoners of the world. The African American journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted for allegedly killing a cop back in the year 1981, has by now spent almost ten years there.

Greene, newly built 10 years ago as the "shining jewel in the crown of correctional institutions" has been notorious for the extreme abuse of its prisoners nearly from the start. In 1998, there was a first major hearing concerning 42 prison guards; two of them were dismissed as a consequence, while 22 were reprimanded or were suspended - from 2 to 10 days (!) - because they had been found guilty for kicking, beating, humiliating or otherwise abusing inmates.

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Charles A. Graner, 35, was one of them - a fact the prison authorities of Greene repeatedly denied during the last days "on grounds of privacy laws." But according to court documents on record in the U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, Graner was one among a group of defendants sued by inmates for civil rights violations involving accusations of prison abuse not only once, but twice.

In one case, Graner and another guard at SCI Greene were accused of forcing an inmate to eat a razor blade. Another inmate claimed Graner roughed him up during a search for contraband.

Both lawsuits were dismissed by federal judges, one because the inmate involved had already been released from prison in June 2000, when the trial finally took place, and couldn't be located for the trial. The other case was terminated on other legal grounds.

At the hearing in April 1998, which was preceded by more than 12 months of legal complaints of prison lawyers, inmates of the prison, and the Pennsylvania Abolitionist, 36 incidents were litigated. All of them had to do with extreme and systematic abuse, so-called "special treatment" from the prison "top," and systematic racist humiliations of the non-white prisoners, who represent 76% of the total, by the nearly almost white guards. Many of the abuses had been recorded by the security cameras of the prison.

In a press release after the hearing, Randy Gauger, Chair of the Quaker Prison Society in Pennsylvania, expressed how absolutely disturbed he and his organization were about the sentences that resulted of the deliberations. "It is possible that the guards were ordered to use force, and now the captains will try to use the guards as scapegoats by saying they initiated it themselves." Gauger made it very clear that he viewed the problem as a structural one.

The prison authorities had had ongoing knowledge about the videotapes taken by the security cameras and had not undertaken any measures. Corrections Commissioner Martin Horn declined any comment on any of this.

This was, in fact, a repeat of his performance at the time when Amnesty International published its report on the situation in SCI Greene in 1998. AI's Secretary General Pierre Sané, after hearing the testimonies of long-term inmates Mumia Abu-Jamal and Scott Blystone, then stated in an unusually emotional tone: "Death row in Pennsylvania looks and feels like a morgue. From the moment that condemned prisoners arrive, the state tries to kill them slowly, mechanically and deliberately - first spiritually, and then physically."

And the report went on: "According to the prisoners' testimony, these efforts include beatings by guards, isolation, continual withdrawal of privileges, unnecessary disciplinary action and harassment."

Since the hearings in 1998 the Philadelphia Abolitionists have received continuous report of heavy abuse - the last one in this spring. And Martin Horn is still the Corrections Commissioner in Greene, well-known to many people in the movement for the freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal and against death penalty. Last year, Abu-Jamal was denied urgently necessary medical treatment for months before the prison authorities gave in after having received literally thousands of phone calls.

Charles A. Graner, who is presently accused of having directed the torture of prisoners at the Iraqi prison of Abu-Ghraib, was a member of the US Army from April 1988 until May 1996, and since 1990 he has been on the payroll of the Department of Corrections (DOC) in Pennsylvania. At the same time he is a member of the 372nd Military Police Company stationed in Maryland, which sent him to Iraq.

According to testimony from a military investigation into the abuse, Graner was put in charge of some operations at Abu-Ghraib because he had experience and knew "how things were supposed to be run." The Green County Observer quotes DOC spokeswoman Sue MacNaughton on the torturing of prisoners in Iraq: "We're waiting to see what the outcome will be with the military." McNaughton declined to comment on questions regarding Graner's employment history. As did the prison authorities in Greene when this writer called today.

Before the incidents in Iraq, Graner was due to return to SCI Greene on June 9. Whether he will or will not do this now is unclear as of yet.

The Pennsylvania Abolitionists held a press conference on May 5 and demanded his immediate dismissal from the payroll of the State of Pennsylvania.

Another person accused of torturing prisoners in Abu-Ghraib is Sargent Ivan Frederick from Virginia who in his civilian life also works as a prison guard - as corrections officer at Buckingham Correctional Center, a state prison in rural Dillwyn, Virginia.

"They are learning a lot about people and cultures - lessons that will make them even more valued employees," Corrections Secretary Jeffrey A. Beard recently said about the DOC employees "serving our country" abroad.

And the rest of the world is learning a lot about U.S. values and culture, too.



Annette Schiffmann
German Network to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal


The author warmly reccomends all of Mumia Abu-Jamals books available at

More information about Mumia Abu-Jamal


Links to sources for this story:

The Jericho Movement about Graner

The Pennsylvania Abolitionists

Department of Corrections Pennsylvania


Newspaper articles about current DOC employee Charles A. Graner

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 5 2004

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 8, 2004

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 15, 2004

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 15, 2004


Articles about prisoner abuse at SCI-Greene

News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International November 1997

"The Greene Experience' - Life on SCI-Greene's Death Row" by Roger Buehl January 22, 1998

"Pa. Department of Corrections to Investigate Abuse at Greene" April 9th, 1998

"Brutality Scandal Explodes at SCI Greene" April 11, 1998

"Guards Applaud Prison Official's Swift Demotion" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette April 21, 1998

"The Hole Truth" - Philadelphia City Paper - April 30, 1998

"Whitewash in Greene County" by Mumia Abu-Jamal May 4, 1998

"State prison officers demoted, fired; Waynesburg officers reprimanded for abuse of inmates"
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Wednesday, May 06, 1998

"13 More Guards Disciplined at Pennsylvania Prison as Scandal Grows" May 20, 1998

"Dead Serious" - Philadelphia City Paper- May 28, 1998

"Under Sentence of Death: Conditions on Pennsylvania's Death Row" - Amnesty International USA

"Beatings at Greene County" by Dr. Julian Heicklen provides extensive documentation of abuse at SCI-Greene


© TFF & the author 2004  



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