Moral Low Ground

US Government

Hey Rummy: THIS is One of the Finest Prisons in the World

Former Bushist war secretary Donald Rumsfeld went on Fox News’ Hannity the other day and told acerbic host Sean Hannity, with a straight face, that the US concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is “one of the finest prison systems in the world.” Really. Never mind that detainees are still being tortured there, even under the purportedly torture-free Obama regime, and that innocent men remain locked up there nine full years after the prison opened. Well, I thought I’d show Rumsfeld what “one of the finest prisons in the world” really looks like.

Inscribed on a wall at the entrance of Austria’s Justice Center Leoben is this passage from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and “All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.” These aren’t just empty words. Take a look at these stunning photos from the model Austrian prison. When Justice Center Leoben was completed in late 2004, many Austrians were angry that prisoners there were living better than many law-abiding citizens of the Alpine nation.

The glaring contrast between Justice Center Leoben and much harsher prisons in the United States boils down to a fundamental difference in how the two societies view the role of their penal systems. Whereas Americans are much more into punishment, Europeans prefer a more rehabilitative approach that respects prisoners’ human dignity. “It’s easy to construct a building where people can’t escape,” a Leoben administrator told Current TV’s Philipp Mayrhofer. “The difficulty is in building a place where people stay human.”

A guard at the remarkably un-prisonlike prison took Mayrhofer on a tour of the facility and pointed out some of the unique architectural features of the place. “The architectural idea was to create luminous areas and sunny rooms,” the guard explained. “It was designed by an artist who also chose the furniture. Her idea was to represent different styles of furniture… a furniture mix like the prisoners would find at home.” What does this guard say to people who don’t believe criminals should feel “at home” while serving time behind bars? “The prisoners who serve time here should not suffer from any additional inconveniences,” he said.

Most inmates at Justice Center Leoben are free to roam the green gardens outside their cells and breathe the crisp Alpine air. When the weather is bad, as it often is, there are ample indoor recreation areas and plenty of cultural events, like blues concerts, to enjoy.

This, Mr. Rumsfeld, is what “one of the finest prisons in the world” looks like. The great Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky once wrote that “the level of civilization of a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” This may be true, and if it is, one can only imagine what kind of awful judgment an observer of the American concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay would pass on our society. Of course, Bushists like Rumsfeld demonstrated time and again that they didn’t give a damn about what the rest of the world thought of the United States. But just in case you’re out there reading this, Rummy, I figured I’d show you how ridiculous your words sound to anyone with the ability to think critically.

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