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Do You Like Adventure?

BY Silja J.A. Talvi

DynCorp International, a subsidiary of the private prison operator Correctional Services Corporation, was in heavy recruitment mode at the winter ACA Conference.

“The Dawn of Liberty,” blared one flier. “Join Us in the Fight for Freedom EVERYWHERE.”

To get current and former correctional employees to consider “exciting opportunities in the Middle East,” DynCorp made working in Iraq sound like a trip with Outward Bound. “Do you like adventure? Do you like to travel internationally? In an ever increasing world of tension and instability, the U.S. Government has expanded its role in establishing societal stability through democratic style of governance.”

With an “unblemished background,” a civilian police officer in Iraq could earn $120,632, with all lodging, meals, transportation, and logistical and administrative support provided at no cost. The small print on one flier noted that a one-year contract was based on a six-day workweek, 12 hours per day.

For a prison guard making $12 an hour, this offer seemed mighty tempting. One female corrections officer sat outside the convention center, looking over the materials. “I wonder if it’s worth it?” she mused.

An ACA workshop devoted to “Prisons for Iraq” featured ACA Board member Mark Sauder, a former warden in Ohio. In March 2004, he said, he was sent on a “corrections mission” to establish the new Iraqi Corrections Service. His co-presenter was Chuck Ryan, a 25-year Arizona Department of Corrections (AZDOC) veteran and the top deputy director under former AZDOC Director Terry Stewart. Ryan and Stewart, who ran for president of the ACA in 2004, were known for setting the tone for Arizona’s harsh prison system. (Other U.S. correctional administrators and prison guards with questionable histories were sent to Iraq, including Specialist Charles Graner, the Abu Ghraib torturer who was sentenced to 10 years in prison.)

At the workshop, both Sauder and Ryan admitted that by April 2004 the prisons they were sent to oversee “exploded.” To repair the damage from ongoing riots—and to control the inmates—the U.S. contractors locked men up, 30 to a cell, some of whom were shown in a slide show at the workshop wearing nothing but white underwear.

Once the renovations were made, Sauder and his peers had to try to instill a new prison culture. “Our mission was to teach Iraqis how to run a humane prison,” he said.

Speaking of Abu Ghraib, where he was stationed as part of the team in charge of setting up the civilian prison system, Sauder said: “Knowing they were not going to be beaten or killed helped inform trust between guards and prisoners.”

Sauder proceeded to entertain the audience with photos of women visiting their incarcerated husbands, with whom they could only have contact through a metal fence. When the women arrived, “it sounded like a turkey farm,” he laughed.

Sauder showed a picture of an Iraqi prisoner dripping with blood. The man had slashed his chest “to get attention.” “We knew better than to take this seriously,” he said, referring to the common experience of American prisoners who self-mutilate while incarcerated.

One of his most interesting tasks, said Sauder, was to assign the captured Saddam Hussein his official Iraqi Corrections Service number: 005666.

“It’s the mark of the Antichrist,” Sauder said of the 666 designation. “If you shaved [Hussein’s] head, you would probably see it anyway.”

Silja J.A. Talvi, a senior editor at In These Times, is an investigative journalist and essayist with credits in many dozens of newspapers and magazines nationwide, including The Nation, Salon, Santa Fe Reporter, Utne, and the Christian Science Monitor.

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