FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 13, 2004
Schumer: Prison Official With Checkered Past Put In Power Position At Abu Ghraib
Lane McCotter, Prison Official Forced Out as Head of Utah Corrections for Questionable Record Involving Mistreatment Of Inmates, Was Chosen By Ashcroft To Lead Reform of Iraq Corrections System
Schumer Asks Ashcroft for Investigation into DOJ Selection Process for Civilian Advisors on Iraqi Prison System
Senator Seeks Answers From DOJ Regarding Why McCotter Was Appointed and
.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today revealed that Attorney General John Ashcroft had appointed an individual with a checkered past involving cases of prisoner mistreatment as one of four advisors who oversaw the rebuilding of Iraq's prison system. Schumer called on Ashcroft to explain why he appointed Lane McCotter, a former director of Utah’s Corrections system who was forced out of that position after a 1997 case of prisoner mistreatment, to help oversee the rebuilding of the Iraqi corrections system. He further asked Ashcroft to answer a series of questions regarding the selection process for civilian advisors and contractors and the potential investigation of these individuals roles in Iraq's prisons.
“Why Attorney General Ashcroft would send someone with such a checkered record to rebuild Iraq’s corrections system is beyond me,” Schumer said. “You just don’t send someone about whom so many questions have been raised to handle such a sensitive task. It defies logic and reason and it demands answers.”
In 1997, McCotter was forced to resign his post with Utah’s corrections system when Michael Valent, a 29-year old schizophrenic inmate, died after being strapped naked to a chair for 16 hours. At the time prison officials attempted to blame Mr. Valent’s death on head trauma supposedly caused by the inmate repeatedly bashing his head against a wall in a suicidal episode.
Autopsies revealed that the death instead stemmed from blood clots that formed in Mr. Valent’s legs during his 16 hour confinement in “the chair.” Inquiries into the death revealed that the “chair” had been in use at the prison for at least a year prior the incident and that prisoners had been forced to endure such punishment for stretches lasting as long as four days. The treatment of Mr. Valent was described by a number of critics as “torture”. Nonetheless, Mr. McCotter defended what was done to Mr. Valent and other prisoners, saying, “You have to have a way to deal with violent inmates.”
Mr. McCotter was subsequently was hired as an executive at Management & Training Corporation, a Utah-based private prison firm that operates a total of 13 prisons throughout the Southwest. In 2003, the firm came under fire from both the New Mexico Department of Corrections and the Department of Justice for providing unsafe conditions and inadequate medical facilities and care at a Santa Fe jail they were managing.
While McCotter’s company was under state and DOJ investigation, Attorney General Ashcroft selected him to serve as one of four civilian advisors to oversee the reconstitution of Iraqi prisons and the development of a long term strategy for Iraq’s corrections facilities.
McCotter was tasked with identifying prisons for rehabilitation, eventually selecting 30 sites throughout the country, including the notorious Abu Ghraib facility. Once the facilities were identified, McCotter was in charge of the actual reconstitution of the prisons, a task that ranged from overseeing simple aspects such as repainting to larger tasks such as training guards in the newly reopened Iraqi prisons.
“There are many questions begging for answers," Schumer said. “Mr. McCotter’s selection also raises serious questions about the role that was played by civilian advisors in setting prison policies, designing training programs for prison guards, and directly influencing the environment in which the horrible abuses at Abu Ghraib took place,” continued Schumer.
"If McCotter or any other civilian was in any way responsible for what happened, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But we don't even know if DOJ has undertaken an investigation. We need answers," Schumer concluded. In his letter to Ashcroft (attached), Schumer asked several questions regarding the selection of McCotter and the roles of other American civilians in Iraqi prisons. Among the questions Schumer asked are:
What was the formal selection process for civilian advisors selected by DOJ for work in Iraq? What level, if any, of formal background checks took place?
What safeguards did McCotter and others planning for the Iraqi corrections facilities put in place to stop potential abuse? Were they involved in designing the chain of command that so obviously failed both the United States and its Iraqi charges?
What role did McCotter and other officials play in the designing and implementation of training programs for Iraqi nationals and/or U.S. personal stationed as guards at Iraqi prisons?
Did these civilian advisors recommend or play a part in the decisions that lead to the use of private contractors in prisoner interrogations in Abu Ghraib?
Is the Department of Justice investigating Lane McCotter and other civilians for possible criminal prosecution for their role in the Abu Ghraib abuses?