May 06, 2008

Prison Justice

By Dr. Chako © 2008
"The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons" - Fyodor Dostoevsky
Hateem (not his real name) wants to die. Looking at him you can understand why. If ever an individual personified misery, it's him. He sits quietly in his wheelchair being ferried from place to place, occasionally lifting his head as if to speak. But he will not speak.

Taking care of the health needs of Iraqi prisoners is interesting business. We look the same on the inside. We get the same diseases. We both get killed when shot with a rifle or exploded with a grenade. If we don't die, we get taken to a hospital and get the same surgeries and the same antibiotics. Assessing the numbers of the blown-up-but-not-dead, I can only assume there are plenty of dead left out there on the field. I'm amazed there are any insurgents left, to be honest.

I do not know his crime. I never do. He is clearly guilty of something, at least in someone's eye. Hateem was up against two distinct enemies. If he ever thought we would be the worst, he clearly has changed his mind now. Gangland warfare in America's prisons is nothing compared to this.

The makeshift tribunal must be a large group – probably 20 or so - with one elder and his close advisors, all prisoners themselves. The affront must be grave, but the elder is not without a sense of propriety. When he passes sentence, he must also decide on the level of punishment. Most of the guilty get away with something simple. It probably takes three big men to mete out justice. With a nod from the elder, these men will wrestle the guilty man to the ground. One will sit on his back. The second man will grab his wrist, straighten his arm and hold it high. Perhaps he puts it on a box or stool. Executioner number three, with one swift downward thrust, stomps on the back of the exposed elbow. The snapping sound must be horrific; the angle severe. Broken bones always look strange, especially if a joint is involved. I wonder if there is a sense of satisfaction for a job well done on the part of the stomper.

"A good clean break," he might think. "The last one broke high in the arm. I'm glad I remembered to stomp lower this time or the elder would have been most displeased."

I wonder if it has ever taken more than one stomp. I also wonder how they control the screaming as the broken arm is lowered, only to move to the other side in order to repeat the process. It's always both elbows.

As Hateem moves his head about wordlessly in his wheelchair, I look on him with pity. We all do – the gathered health care team. Only afterwards does it occur to us that he may have been captured while attempting to bomb Americans. It's also possible he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and would have been released back to his family if he was found innocent by the Coalition. This happens all the time. The prison tribunal; however, had other ideas.

The elbows are the lowest form of punishment. For the next level, they get the elbows and ankles. I'm confused about the ankles, though. It looks for all the world like they get kicked, but I doubt the victim would be complicit in this action. Someone has to be holding him, but I really don't know how. The fibula, which is the smaller of the two leg bones, breaks evenly, just above the ankle. It's a non-weight bearing bone, and often doesn't need anything but an external splint. This is different than the elbow which requires an extensive operation.

Hateem's crime must have been grave. They broke his ankles and elbows, of course. What happened next is beyond human understanding. At least five executioners must be involved. After the arms and legs, you'd think Hateem's spirit would be broken, but you'd be wrong. They must be swift. From the time the gag comes out, the screaming must be intolerable. Why don't the guards hear? At least two men pry open his jaw and a third grabs his tongue with a rag or towel. They don't have much that would pass for a knife, and the bloody stump in his mouth confirms this. It's my belief that the elder handles this himself, although I've never seen it. No one outside of these tribunals ever has, and the jury isn't talking. Neither is the victim.

No, Hateem will not be telling anyone what happened. He cannot. Nor can he identify the members of the tribunal, because he cannot see. I find that this part is too gruesome to even describe.

For a while, we saw a new Hateem every damned week.

Dr. Chako likes to tell people he's a radiologist, which is pretty funny since he really is. When he's not dodging bombs in Iraq, he can be found crushing the poker tables in the greater Seattle area.

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