Throughout history, prison and the extent of punishment has always been an issue that is debated among nations because it is always critical to assess whether the punishment does in fact fit the crime. There are varying scholarly opinions as to whether prison is the effective punishment in many cases. Particularly in prior eras, prison could be a simple offense or extreme and a man could be imprisoned regardless of whether they were innocent or guilty without a fair trial. Particularly to avoid this, the United States designed its constitutional framework in order to avoid unjust imprisonment that was so commonplace in that time period in European countries. Another component of prison refers to the notion of torture and whether it violates the basic laws of man, otherwise known as human rights, (Nolen, Jeannette, 2016). Torture has also been seen throughout the ages and has varied as to the degree of cruelty over the ages. The question that tends to present itself is relating to why torture has survived is regarding which crimes or suspicions actually warrant torture? Or whether there any crimes that in fact warrant such treatment in existence? One of the key modern day examples pertaining to the theme of torture and imprisonment can be seen in the modern era from looking at the United States prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Additionally, another modern day example can be seen pertaining to the treatment of the Boston Bomber in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Boston.
What has made Guantanamo Bay so controversial is the fact that it was designed to be off of United States soil for the purpose of the United States government having more leeway in how they could treat prospective inmates, (Schuppe, Jon, 2016). Naturally, in the wake of September 11, 2001, there were provisions that allowed prison guards to treat the inmates much harsher than they would be treated had they been on United States soil. That being said, one of the key issues with Guantanamo Bay came from how the inmates were selected to go there, (Schuppe, Jon, 2016). This was basically conduct on a screening as to people fitting a certain “profile” from the Middle East. What ended up transpiring as a result was that these inmates were treated very badly regardless of whether they were guilty or innocent. This has become a major issue in United States debate because we racially profiled these people and some of which were not United States Citizens, (Schuppe, Jon, 2016). This is an enormous issue because it not only violates our Constitution regardless of where the acts transpired and also violated the notions of human rights that are observed around the world.
This brings up a major issue that the United States has possessed over the years of being a hegemon and doing whatever it wants. In fact, one can note that the United States is one of the few developed countries who has not signed the popular conventions and torture or human rights, (Leung, Rebecca, 2005). This means that if you are the unfortunate recipient of being targeted by the United States government, you have very little recourse, particularly if you are a citizen of one of the nations that is suspected of Islamic Fundamentalism, (Leung Rebecca, 20005). Let’s take the case of the Boston Bombers, for example. The gentleman who ended up being caught after his brother was killed had pretty much next to no rights. In his case, he was in fact guilty, but that aside, the United States could treat him however it wanted based on the horrific acts that this individual committed.
The treatment of the Boston Bomber in relation to the inmates in Guantanamo Bay is a fascinating debate because both are linked to what the United States calls “Terrorist Activities” or “Activities that are supposedly related to the spread of terrorism,” (Hansen, Jonathan, 2016). If one looked at what some of these inmates were brought in on in Guantanamo Bay, they would be shocked that a lot of them were based on suspicion and not actual guilt. Additionally, these individuals seemed to not have been given a fair trial in accordance with the United States Constitution. The Boston Bomber identically was tried in Massachusetts, which knowing the Boston culture, I would argue is not a fair trail given that the events giving rise to his confinement occurred there and that they were so offensive that the jury and even the judge could potentially be corrupted.
What is fascinating about the debate between the Boston Bomber and the inmates at Guantanamo Bay is how far the United States will go to protect their fight against terrorism. This brings up a unique aspect to prison and that is putting people there to serve “justice.” However, what is “justice?” Many ask this question because these inmates in these extreme situations do have a right to justice under the laws of man, (“Pentagon Plans to Transfer a Dozen Guantanamo Inmates to Two Countries,” 2016). That being said, many modern nations do not honor these said rights of man when they are imprisoning people for their suspected involvement in terrorism, (Hansen, Jonathan, 2016). The United States is surely no saint in this matter, particularly when we have a Republican President in office. There tends to be a passing of these ridiculous creations such as Guantanamo Bay itself because it is passed out of fear. Guantanamo Bay happened as a result of September 11, 2001 and those individuals were able to pass legislation that would have never gone through previously, (Fairfield, Hannah, 2016). This is true in relating to the Boston Bomber as well because his treatment and trial were passed in the wake of a crisis as well. The attacks in Boston were so unprecedented that they caused an outcry and demand for action by the government that started a frenzy as September 11, 2001 did.
The other unfortunate reality that has transpired to inmates at Guantanamo Bay is that their rights to be sexually assaulted have not been preserved, (Blake, Eben, 2015). This has attracted the attention of many human rights groups and the United Nations as to whether the United States has also gone too far in their quest to find potential terrorists or to detain the terrorists that were suspected of being involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks, (Blake, Eben, 2015). While the reports on the Boston Bomber’s aspect of this have been unclear, the United States prisons do have a reputation for brutality in the sexual regard, and there have been several reports of sexual abuse to inmates by overly macho prison guards who want to “punish those for what they did,” (Eben, Blake, 2015).
The debate of punishment has plagued humankind for ages because it is derived from whether punishment is appropriate in certain instances and also as to who gets to decide what punishment is appropriate. What the United States was trying to get away from when they created their constitution was the European form of punishment, which was very erratic and solely dependent on the monarch’s mood of the day. This fact is what caused the principles of crime and punishment to evolve and for humanity to desire a change in this regard. This is why we see the modern nations with a sense of refinement regarding punishment on the surface. What has been interesting about the hunt for terrorists is that our cannibalistic nature regarding punishment from the Dark Ages in Europe has surely reared its ugly head. It will be fascinating to see how in the coming years our nations deal with the notion of terrorism and punishment because to the person educated in most schools of thought, terrorism is unfathomable, which is what warrants the harsh punishments that we see today.
When discussing the idea of prison itself, the debate becomes about more than torture, but also about confinement. The reason that confinement becomes an enormous issue is because man generally wants to have the right to move freely around the world. When a government, judge or individual takes that fundamental right a way, it is not a matter to be taken lightly. Even though the United States, has taken the former European model a long way from era’s past, there is still a concern as to innocence that no one can ever actually be 100% certain of. Sure, the technology has come a long way; however, being able to prove guilt completely is impossible. The standard within the United States is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but what does that even really mean? That someone who was guilty around 75% possibly could end up in prison or face the death penalty for their crimes? I am willing to argue that this standard is not good enough because we can never 100% state that someone is in fact guilty enough to guarantee that we have the right to imprison them and take away one of their fundamental rights. In the United States, there have been many cases where innocents were imprisoned against their will and some were even put up for the death penalty, which is even more atrocious.
Another variable that effects the justice relating to prison inmates within the United States is the ineffective practice we have of a jury. First of all, the jury members do not even want to be there because they are being forced to miss work or school in order to attend if they are being assigned to a trial. What this ends up causing is lazy people that want to make a decision as soon as possible in order to “get out” as soon as possible. This is a major hindrance to the criminal justice system within the United States because it forces individuals who could be biased and in a rush to decide the fate of another by calling to a vote of their non-legal educated opinion of the court case and whether the defendant is guilty.
Another risk that pertains to juries, is that there have been instances of bribery for jury members to convict innocents. What this ends up causing is another discrepancy in the prison system that is housing innocents against their will, which does violate the basic notions of human rights. How this relates to Guantanamo Bay and the Boston Bomber is that many of the Guantanamo Bay inmates did not even receive a trial because they were not United States Citizens and they were being removed to a non-United States territory. In the case of the Boston Bomber, it is clear that no matter who they picked in Boston to serve on the jury, the court case was public and animosity was heated towards the foreign born individual who the United States gave asylum and then they went and committed those acts. This greatly angered Americans all over the country and arguably, it is highly unlikely that this person would have received a trial anywhere in the United States that was fair. That being said, by being tried in the heart of where the tragedy occurred and the prospective jury pool that was there, was completely unjust for the defendant’s rights as a United States citizen.
Another interesting facet to the debate on prison is what exactly constitutes the four walled cell that an individual experiences as being an inmate. The reason that this is relevant is pertaining to the discussion of slavery. As we have seen in history, slavery is not something that necessarily confined someone into a four walled cell; however, it did infringe on the slave’s rights to live a life as prescribed to them by their “master.” This arguably took away this individuals human rights and put them in a prison of sorts, but a different prison than the modern model that we see today. Even though slavery happens in certain parts of the world today, it is much more frowned upon than we see from eras past. In fact, the number of nations that actually still practice this type of cruelty is dwindling by the day.
Blake, Eben. “Guantanamo Bay Torture: Sexual Abuse Worse Than 2014 Senate Reported Indicated, Detainee Claims. International Business Times. 2 June 2015. Web. 13 April 2016.
Fairfield, Hannah. “The Terrorists in U.S. Prisons.” The New York Times. 2016. Web. 13 April 2016.
Hansen, Jonathan. “Yet More Republican Obfuscation on Guantanamo.” Huffington Post. 2016. Web. 13 April 2016.
Leung, Rebecca. “Torture, Cover-Up at Gitmo?” 60 Minutes. 28 April 2005. Web. 13 April 2016.
Nolen, Jeannette. “Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2016. Web. 13 April 2016.
“Pentagon Plans to Transfer a Dozen Guantanamo Inmates to Two Countries.” The Guardian. 31 March 2016. Web. 13 April 2016.
Schuppe, Jon. “Guantanamo Bay: Who Are The Detainees Left at The Prison Facility?” NBC News. 2016. Web. 13 April 2016.