After recently visiting Gitmo, Mark Steyn writes a column focusing only on the positive side of treatment there. But in the course of his seemingly one-sided presentation, he makes a thought-provoking observation (tip to Betsy):
If I had to summon up Gitmo in a single image, it would be the brand-new Qurans in each unoccupied cell. To reassure incoming inmates that the filthy infidels haven't touched the sacred book with their unclean hands, the Qurans are hung from the walls in pristine surgical masks. It's one thing for Muslims to regard infidels as unclean, but it's hard to see why it's in the interests of the United States government to string along with it and thereby validate their bigotry.
When I put this point to Adm. Harris, he replied, "That's an interesting question," and said the decision had been made long before he arrived. He explained that they had a good working system whereby whenever it became necessary to handle a Quran — because a weapon or illicit communication had been concealed in it — a Muslim translator would be called to the cell to perform the task. But I wasn't thinking of it in operational so much as psychological terms: What does that degree of abasement before their prejudices tell them about us?
As someone who has visited a couple dozen jails and prisons over the years (including taking my students in two small seminars to two different federal prisons), I never got the sense that I could judge what life was like from just visiting. One of my mentors, the late University of Chicago Professor Norval Morris, used to recommend that I spend a weekend locked up in Stateville, which Steve Goodman in a song once called "the charm school in Joliet." Another of Morris's proteges told me that when he did this, the inmates started hassling him — and then challenged him to tell them what he was doing there. When he said that Norval had told him to spend a weekend in prison, the inmates suddenly became friendly, assuring him that, "Any friend of Norval's is a friend of ours."
Some prisons or jails that I visited were somewhat superficially dormlike (but of course with smaller windows and more locks), like the federal prison in downtown Chicago when I visited about 1980. Some were grim on their face, such as Stateville. The only one that was just horribly oppressive on entering was the early 1970s old Cook County Jail, which was filthy and stank more than any building for human beings that I've ever been in.