Prisons as Post-9/11 Containment: Research Mixer Background

In the wake of 9/11, both the American military prison system and the supermax prison system began to increase the use of extreme methods in order to keep deviants in control. The practice of “enhanced interrogation” and similar methods in both has been increasing since, and will continue to do so unless challenged.

Previous scholarship has noted that the use of what is essentially torture is a direct result of American imperial ambitions abroad. In what one scholar notes as an “imperial paranoia,” the United States sees paradoxically as both a grand world power and one that is also under constant threat. The majority of prisoners in American military prisons, such as Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay, were discovered to not have been terrorists at all. The reason for their torture was simply a means to display American might and enforce American power. As another scholar notes, the decision to enable torture came straight from the Executive Branch of the government as a specific policy measure. The Bush Administration approved such methods and created an atmosphere where these actions were acceptable.

Furthermore, scholarly articles have pointed out the similarities in purpose and practice between American military detention centers and domestic supermax prisons. The concept of a prison is to constrict an individual person’s liberty and contain people who go against the status quo. Through this containment, the actor displays power and enforces the status quo in the general population. This is true both for Iraqi citizens against the American military and American citizens against the American judicial system. In addition, the practices of both types of prisons are very similar. In fact, many of the guards at military prisons are the same guards that used to work at regular and supermax American prisons. The use of solitary containment in the SHU, as well as physical violence and other methods, in domestic prisons reflects the attitude that permeates the domestic penal system.

In writing my research based analysis, I hope to add to this line of scholarship. I want to further the claim that the American prison system, both at home and abroad, is used as a method of populace control. In addition, the methods used in both systems are inherently undemocratic and are a threat to the founding principles of the American republic.


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