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November 29, 2010

THE OFFENSIVE, MIND-NUMBING DEBATE OVER 'AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM'.... Karen Tumulty reports today on one of the Republicans' favorite attack lines targeting President Obama.

"American exceptionalism" is a phrase that, until recently, was rarely heard outside the confines of think tanks, opinion journals and university history departments.

But with Republicans and tea party activists accusing President Obama and the Democrats of turning the country toward socialism, the idea that the United States is inherently superior to the world's other nations has become the battle cry from a new front in the ongoing culture wars. Lately, it seems to be on the lips of just about every Republican who is giving any thought to running for president in 2012.

That's not an exaggeration. Tumulty notes examples of GOP rhetoric on "exceptionalism" from Romney, Pence, Palin, Gingrich, Huckabee, and Santorum, and I've heard related rhetoric from like-minded Republican voices such as Liz Cheney.

The idea is pretty straightforward: those who accept American exceptionalism believe that the United States has a special and irreplaceable role in the world, quite possibly as a result of supernatural intervention, that gives us a unique character and identity.

For the right, those who resist the nationalistic impulse are failing to celebrate the greatness of the country. And with this in mind, the right appears to have a special fondness for a press conference President Obama participated in a year and a half ago in Strasbourg, France.

Obama was asked by Financial Times correspondent Ed Luce whether he subscribes, as his predecessors did, "to the school of American exceptionalism that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world." The president responded, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."

For conservatives, unconcerned with context, the response was evidence that Obama fails to see America as truly unique.

What they invariably ignore is the rest of Obama's response to the question.

Here's the portion of the president's answer conservatives pretend doesn't exist:

"I'm enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don't think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.

"And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.

"Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we've got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we're not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.

"And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can't solve these problems alone."

This context matters, which is why the president's right-wing detractors tend to ignore it. To see the actual, larger response, it becomes clear that Obama appreciates a special role for the U.S. in history and in world affairs, but doesn't see that as a barrier towards international cooperation.

But if we skip right past the rhetoric and petty swipes, we get to the point of these kinds of attacks. As Greg Sargent explained, "[T]he right intends this attack line as a proxy for their real argument: That Obama is not one of us.... [R]eally, the right doesn't intend this as a debate over what Obama really believes. Rather, it's part and parcel of a larger effort to advance an argument about Obama's cultural roots and identity."

There's an unhealthy ugliness to the right's presidential attacks, and this only helps underscore the malice. For the unhinged right, we have those who question the president's birthplace and faith. For the "respectable" right, we have those who obsess over the president's commitment to "exceptionalism."

They are, however, related angles to the same odious strain.

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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The right wing addiction to outrage is pathetic. They'd be outraged if Obama commented on a beautiful day, because Hitler probably did too.

Posted by: JoeW on November 29, 2010 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

ignoring "the rest of obama's response" is just what they do.
in little kids it's called "selective hearing."

Posted by: mellowjohn on November 29, 2010 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, you might be shortchanging the depth of belief in "American exceptionalism" among the American masses. Since I was born in '86, I've been told I'm living in the greatest country in the world...period. No justification needed - it's an article of faith.

And for most Americans, they hold this belief as deeply as any religious one they might have precisely because it was passed down without proof. America is simply the best - that's it. Best in what way? That question doesn't even arise. It's just the best.

What started as a different way of saying, "I love my country," has been taken literally by newer generations to mean that we clearly live in the best country. And growing up, this was objectively true in almost every measure - economy, military, living standards, education, science, sports - you name it.

Now, America is clearly NOT the best in many of those same categories, and we're having a hard time trying to figure out how we still live in the #1 country when it's now obviously not #1 in so many ways.

The current Republican fixation on the meme is that of a child clinging to the warm, fuzzy womb-feeling of living back in the days when one could reasonably say that America was the best country on earth. They are literally scared of the reality that America is not the best in many, many ways, and so choose to deny it.

That's problematic for us "unpatriotic" progressives, who are able to register and accept the ongoing decline of our nation and wish to take political action to stop it, because we can't get the other people in our nation to agree that action is needed.

This is why Obama's attitude of community organizing, with its emphasis on including everyone in the solution, has backfired upon his ascension to commander-in-chief.

Rather than ramming progress down the throats of reactionary Americans, he's tried to bring them into the discussion of how to stop our national decline. But they're still adamant that no such decline exists! Therefore, why should they cooperate with this strange, dark, "liberal" Obama person in turning our nation around when it's already on the right path?

Goddammit! I hate exceptionalists...

Posted by: Taylor Wray on November 29, 2010 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

American Exceptionalism = "Our Shit Doesn't Stink."

Posted by: bdop4 on November 29, 2010 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

I'd vote for a President who'd tell the truth, that the IDEA of America is exceptional, and the way the American people execute that idea is a disgrace to their heritage.

Posted by: JMG on November 29, 2010 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

For me, there's a real creep factor in the belief that America was "divinely" chosen to lead the world. I mean, how far is that, really, from "the master race?"

Posted by: dalloway on November 29, 2010 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

The bat shit crazy wing of the Republican Party (aka the Republican wing of the Republican Party) is fond of comparing Obama to Hitler and Mussolini. Yet the two dictators were both strong believers in national exceptionalism. Hitler felt so strongly in Germany’s special destiny that he launched a ruinous war the bankrupted his nation physically and morally. What ever happened to the pledge George Bush made when he was running for president that the U.S. would have a humble foreign policy?

Posted by: J. Frank Parnell on November 29, 2010 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

And no quoting of Samuel Johnson yet? OK, here we go:

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel:"

Posted by: eserwe on November 29, 2010 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

We're #1 in health care costs--50% more than our nearest competitor.

Posted by: Cycledoc on November 29, 2010 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

Today Republicans profess "American Exceptionalism ".

Back in college they wore big foam fingers and screamed, "We Number One! We Number one!"

Posted by: DAY on November 29, 2010 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

No, Steve, the context doesn't even matter, because the "offending statement" is not offensive to anyone but those looking to take offense.

Posted by: karen marie on November 29, 2010 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

An irony here is that, in the foreign affairs sphere, the conservative agenda is being driven by people whose deepest belief is in the exceptionalism of a country that is not the USA.

Posted by: davidp on November 29, 2010 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

After the midterm, NPR had an interview segment that with E.J.Dionne and William Gadston (both senior analyst at the Brookings Instituition), discussing their analysis of their own survey as well as several exit poll surveys. It wrapped up on this note:

Mr. GALSTON: Well, the idea that America is a chosen nation that has been singled out by God for a distinctive mission in the world, we put a very strong version of that proposition on the table in this survey and 6 in 10 Americans affirmed it. Indeed, 30 percent of people who probably don't believe in God at all affirmed it. So, this is a remarkably persistent part of America's cultural and political DNA that I think our political leaders ignore at their peril.

Said another way: a politician who can position themselves as conceptually aligned with American exceptionalism will appeal to 60% of the American audience.

Politically, you can't compete against this with reason nor relativism. A successful politician -- Obama included -- simply must argue that their policies represent this principle better than their competitor's.

Whole NPR interview linked below. Good stuff.

Posted by: Scott Best on November 29, 2010 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

I agree that this is all part of the "Obama as 'Other'" thing they've been spewing since he clinched the nomination. But there's more to it. This isn't just about delegitimizing Obama's right to rule. This is about delegitimzing the right of those who don't subscribe to the "blood and soil" devine mystical gobbledegook militaristic nationalism to have a say in how the country is governed. It's an attack on democracy itself in the sense that it simply doesn't matter to them that Obama got a clear majority of the popular vote (just it doesn't matter that George W. Bush did not in 2000). They are Real Americans and the rest of us are just loathed and dispised people who will be allowed to live here only as long as we let them run things they way they want, regardless of which of us commands a majority of the electorate.

This is part and parcel with their ever ready willingness to muse about the desiribility of military coups and call for armed rebellion.

Posted by: Another Steve on November 29, 2010 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

For the GOP, American Exceptionalism has become American Except-them-ism. It excludes anyone who is Latino, Muslim, GLBT, Black, Poor, non-evangelical, and/or educated.

Posted by: sue on November 29, 2010 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

What a bunch of narcisstic delusional crap this is. What is exceptional when you have a country that only constitutes 5 percent of the world population yet uses 25 percent of the Earth resources ? What is exceptional in a country who houses 10 percent of it's population in prisons ? The highest rate of imprisonment in any country in the world. What is exceptional about a country where 30 percent of the population is morbidly obese ? And another 40 percent overweight and fat ? A country in which your doctors kill over 95,000 of your citizens every year through mis-diagnosis and error ? A country in which over 300,000 of your citizens who go into a hospital end up with some disease or infection that they did not have prior to entering the hospital ? A country in which over 30 percent of your citizens, and have a family of four, earn less that $21,000 a year ? And thus under the poverty level of existence while at the same time less that 1 percent of your citizens control 95 percent of all the money ? Does that sound 'exceptional' ? How about a country in which 30 percent of your citizens can't even find your own country on a world map ? A country in the 1820's created the doctrine called MANIFEST DESTINY that justified the genocide of the Native American population who lived there before the Europeans invaded it and took it over as there own ? Does that sound 'exceptional'. Is it exceptional to have to have such an evil form of captialism that it not only caused your own casino economy that lead to an almost total collapsed, but almost the collaspe of the entire world banking system ? The only exceptionalism about your country is that it is exceptionally stupid, delusional, evil, and a fucking menace to the entire world. Go fuck yourselves.

Posted by: blue on November 29, 2010 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

The other part of American Exceptionalism is what the Right tends to miss - The part where the USA tries to do the right thing, regardless of what is done to it. The US that would never torture, because its wrong, and regardless what is done to us, we won't stoop to the level of our enemies, because it would dishonor our country, our exceptional country. Until Bush chucked it over.

Posted by: Foreigner on November 29, 2010 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

These Republicans flaunt American Narcissism.. the worst in a long procession of American character defects! I’m not a fan of Obama any longer however these Republicans are megalomaniacs all, much more dangerous than "exceptionalism". I have a message for Republicans, watch your rhetorical monster(s), they are coming to get you next. These people are hard lining themselves right off a cliff.

Posted by: Trollop on November 29, 2010 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

So Obama really is a believer in "American Exceptionalism"? And this is a good thing? Certainly he ain't Madeline "indispensable" Albright but it's pretty desperate to see liberals defend Obama on the basis that, yes, he really is pretty right-wing and chauvinistic on a lot of matters. He is either lying or willfully ignorant to say the "core set of values" America has are "exceptional". They are neither exceptional, nor original.

Coming from Britain I shouldn't be surprised to see this. Exceptionalism knows no apparent political stripe, it's just a matter of how it's expressed. From Rome to the British Empire the most powerful country always sees itself as a unique force for good in a brutal world, and in history. You see this in some Roman literature and the likes of JS Mill and Kipling at the height of the British Empire.

The US was one of many decisive countries in WW2, it's post-war efforts to "unify" Europe are ludicrously ginned up and oversimplified. For example, the US made sure that more money came OUT of Europe to the US during the Marshall Plan implementation.

The "special role" America plays today is that of unprecedented FORCE and having a singular ability to prop up entire corrupt and brutal regimes, in some cases committing genocide, in the name of "stability". One can take pride in that or not.

DESPITE the actions of the US government abroad America is, by and large, one of many nations that provides a decent standard of living for most, good educational opportunities, relatively, and a mostly free and open society. What's wrong with that?

Posted by: dSquib on November 29, 2010 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

To the best of my knowledge, the term was coined by Thomas Jefferson. In any event, when Jefferson used the term, he meant that the U.S. was unique as a country in that U.S.A. literally could not exist apart from its Constitutional commitment to to freedom and democracy. Other countries can change their forms of government but still retain a national cultural identity. The U.S. without the Consitution is no longer the U.S.

What this means is that the very existence of the U.S. acts as a beacon of light to other countries and other peoples. What it doesn't mean is that the U.S. has carte blanche to ignore its founding principles, trample civil liberties, and invade other countries based on a -- otherwise entirely ordinary -- sense of nationalistic hubris.

Posted by: square1 on November 29, 2010 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

blue's post for the win!

Posted by: Trollop (unhinged) on November 29, 2010 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

"A dying people tolerates the present, rejects the future, & finds its satisfactions in past greatness & half remembered glory." ~ John Steinbeck

Posted by: Tim on November 29, 2010 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

It's absolutely the best talking point the GOP has ever come up with.

Of course they're going to score points with it. Who DOESN'T want to think that they're exceptional?

Posted by: JEA on November 29, 2010 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

From the Unabridged Dictionary of Republican-Speak:

American Exceptionalism...
Derived from the Project For a New American Century (neocon) belief that the (republican) leaders of The United States must be the dominating force on the planet, both economically and militarily.
1) The belief that the United States has been endowed by God (along with Israel) as 'The Chosen People'.
2) The belief that American leaders (and by extension the American people) are superior to all others.
3) The belief that American leaders are not bound to the same rules and standards as the leaders of other countries on the planet (see 'Enhanced Interrogation').
4) The belief that all other countries and cultures should be judged based upon our perception of what our country and culture are.

Editors note: Please keep in mind that reality should never be allowed to contravene belief!

Posted by: SadOldVet on November 29, 2010 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

To eserwe @ 243pm:

From the Devil's Dictionary (Ambrose Bierce)
"In Dr. Johnsons famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first."

Posted by: catclub on November 29, 2010 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

So---what you're saying is that my kids' annual letters to Santa should instead be adressed to "Dear Supernatural Interventionist?"

Right. You'll have to excuse me if I don't hold my breath when the kiddie-korps over at Foxnoise suddenly discover that SuperNaturalInterventionistMan won't be coming down the chimney any time soon with all those made-exclusively-outside-'Murricah electronic components that they just happen to need as a prerequisite to keeping their lazy, truth-loathing, scabies-riddled hides on the air....

Posted by: S. Waybright on November 29, 2010 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

We're the world's #1 debtor nation! Yay!

Posted by: Speed on November 29, 2010 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't it just re-branded Manifest Destiny? "God is on our side so we can do whatever we want to whomever and whatever."

Posted by: Jack Hammer on November 29, 2010 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

With exceptional comes the right to live big and profligately. To continue to grab as much as we can to maintain our unsustainable way of life. This is behind much of climate change denial. It is behind the drill, baby drill mantra.

There is much similarity between this attitude now and when Reagan ran against Carter. Carter attempted to put us on the road to sane consumption of a limited resource base. Reagan wiped all that out declaring "morning in America". And he set us on the course of not negotiating the American way of living which is basically the way of war. (I am paraphrasing the writings of Andrew Bacevich here.)

I see nothing but bad coming from the right with this exceptionalism bullshit.

Posted by: lou on November 29, 2010 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Again the ones who do the loudest protesting are the ones most responsible for the degradation of of this nation. Pitting capitolism against democracy, torture against reputation, war against diplomacy, skin color against skin color, God against science, picking money and power over building a strong nation (yes, looking staight at you, turd blossom).

Posted by: Skip on November 29, 2010 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

From an objective point of view, American exceptionalism is more the product of educated American liberalism, both Republican and Democratic. Who are these Grade 5 dropouts?

Posted by: Bob M on November 29, 2010 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

Is American exceptionalism when we Americans can take exception to George Bush and his fellow Republicans' efforts to ruin our great nation? -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on November 29, 2010 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

In the late 1880s a Congregational minister by the name of Josiah Strong published an article which in affect stated that the U.S. was SUPERIOR and its "official" religion, Christianity, would soon move down over Central and South America and then across the seas to Christianize the rest of the world. It was beliefs such as this that helped lead the United States to embark upon a true war of imperialism culminating in the Spanish-American War in which we gained sovereignty over what was left of the Spanish empire. We beat the Philippinos into submission with "waterboarding" one of our favorite methods. We imposed a new constitution upon both Cuba and Puerto Rico with Senator O.H. Platt from Connecticut inserting the so-called Platt Amendment into their documents which in affect allowed the U.S. to invade and take over their countries if it was in OUR best interest.

American Exceptionalism is nothing more than unmitigated arrogance and might explain why many people in the world really do hate us. When anyone walks around, pounding their chest, and stating we are number one, the best, the superpower, then one can expect to get a violent kick-back.

We need to back off and let the rest of world assume their rightful place in the discussion. I would not want to live anywhere else, but I wouldn't presume to think that there is no other nation in the world that might believe they are exceptional as well.

Posted by: Sharon Crane on November 29, 2010 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

Here's the main point: Let's assume that America is exceptional - So What?

Does this mean that we are always right? That we don't have to explain ourselves? That we have no need to negotiate with other nations?

If I were doing the TV interviews, that's what I would like to hit these people on. Okay, you say America is exceptional. Exactly what policy implications does that have?

Posted by: Virginia on November 29, 2010 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

Forget it, Steve. Obama said " . . . or recognizing that we're not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us." In the right wing mind, such as it is, conceding that we might not always be right is tantamount to Apologizing For America.

Posted by: T-Rex on November 29, 2010 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

I disagree that the context changes things. It doesn't. What Obama is saying is that we're in a strong position, which makes us exceptional. Republicans say that we are exceptional and this is why we're in a strong position. A then B as opposed to B > A.

Obama's formulation implies that we may not always be in an exceptional position. The GOP sees that as impossible unless we change who we are (by Obamian socialism I guess).

Now I think the GOP idea is stupid and don't subscribe to it, but it's not an issue of context they have a legitimate disagreement over American exceptionalism. Further this is an argument long deployed against all liberals, this "not one of us" thing but the intensity and venality of it has been turned up with Obama because of race etc.

Posted by: Raptor on November 29, 2010 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

And they think Obama is uppity, too.
But the sad thing is, the rest of the world in getting tired of American foreign policy and economic leadership being sabotaged or held hostage by America's ridiculous internal party politics. You folks may have to put up with Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, but the rest of the world knows how stupid they are.

Posted by: Cathie from Canada on November 30, 2010 at 1:27 AM | PERMALINK

My daughter's seventh grade history teacher began the school year stating that America is the greatest nation on earth and that it was America that liberated all those Jews in the concentration camps in Europe. During a parent/teacher conference I brought up the fact that the Soviets actually frees more Jews than we did.

I thought her head was going to explode.

Posted by: chrenson on November 30, 2010 at 6:45 AM | PERMALINK

Patriotism is loving your country. Nationalism, the older name of exceptionalism, is wrapping your flag around the neck of foreigners till they choke to death.

Posted by: Seould on November 30, 2010 at 8:09 AM | PERMALINK

American exceptionalism is based on the idea that America is MORALLY superior than the rest of the world. This is because America respects individual rights (moreso than any other country), not because of some line on the map. While I agree that this term is not always used in this context, and is often thrown around as a political tool by the religious right, I would argue that it is still a valid concept. We are superior to the rest of the world because the concepts our country were founded on are the fairest and most moral ever put into practice. Although, sadly, we have lost a lot of what has made us exceptional. The federal reserve, new deal, deficit spending, discrimination against gays (and before that blacks and so forth), are all examples of America acting immorally, and concordantly, like the rest of the world.

Posted by: ken on November 30, 2010 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

Morally superior ? you got to be fucking kidding .......... read this and then ask yourself if American is morally 'superior'......

AP Enterprise: Guards shown watching inmate attack

The surveillance video from the overhead cameras shows Hanni Elabed being beaten by a fellow inmate in an Idaho prison, managing to bang on a prison guard station window, pleading for help. Behind the glass, correctional officers look on, but no one intervenes when Elabed is knocked unconscious.


Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho —

The surveillance video from the overhead cameras shows Hanni Elabed being beaten by a fellow inmate in an Idaho prison, managing to bang on a prison guard station window, pleading for help. Behind the glass, correctional officers look on, but no one intervenes when Elabed is knocked unconscious.

No one steps into the cellblock when the attacker sits down to rest, and no one stops him when he resumes the beating.

Videos of the attack obtained by The Associated Press show officers watching the beating for several minutes. The footage is a key piece of evidence for critics who claim the privately run Idaho Correctional Center uses inmate-on-inmate violence to force prisoners to snitch on their cellmates or risk being moved to extremely violent units.

Lawsuits from inmates contend the company that runs the prison, the Corrections Corporation of America, denies prisoners medical treatment as a way of covering up the assaults. They have dubbed the Idaho lockup "gladiator school" because it is so violent.

The AP initially sought a copy of the videos from state court, but Idaho 4th District Judge Patrick Owen denied that request. The AP decided to publish the videos after a person familiar with the case verified their authenticity.

The videos show at least three guards watching as Elabed was stomped on a dozen times. At no time during the recorded sequence did anyone try to pull away James Haver, a short, slight man.

About two minutes after Haver stopped the beating of his own accord, the metal cellblock door was unlocked. Haver was handcuffed and Elabed was examined for signs of life. He bled inside his skull and would spend three days in a coma.

CCA, the nation's largest private prison company, said it was "highly disappointed and deeply concerned" over AP's decision to release the videos.

"Public release of the video poses an unnecessary security risk to our staff, the inmates entrusted to our care, and ultimately to the public," the prison company said in a statement.

Violence behind bars and misconduct by guards is common, regardless of whether prisons are run by the government or private companies. CCA, which oversees some 75,000 inmates in more than 60 facilities under contracts with the federal government, 19 states and the District of Columbia, is no exception.

A year ago, CCA and another company, Dominion Correctional Services LLC, agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle a lawsuit in which the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission claimed male officers at a prison in Colorado forced female workers to perform sex acts to keep their jobs.

In January, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear ordered some 400 female inmates transferred to a state-run prison after more than a dozen reports of sexual misconduct by male guards employed by CCA. Similar accusations were made in March at a CCA-run prison in Hawaii, and in May, agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement placed CCA on probation and launched an investigation of whether a guard at a central Texas detention facility sexually assaulted women on their way to being deported.


Before the Idaho attack, Elabed tried to get help from prison staffers, telling them that he had been threatened and giving them details about drug trafficking between inmates and staffers that he had witnessed, according to his lawsuit. He was put in solitary confinement for his protection but was later returned to the same unit with the inmates he snitched on, his lawsuit said. He was on the cellblock only six minutes before he was attacked.

Steven Pevar, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in 34 years of suing more than 100 prisons and jails, the Idaho lockup is the most violent he has seen.

"This isn't even what we know of as a prison - this is a gulag," Pevar said.

Pevar blames the violence on CCA and the former warden, Phillip Valdez, who was head of the prison when Elabed was attacked. Valdez was later transferred to another CCA prison in Kansas. The company refused to disclose its reason for moving him.

CCA officials maintain the prison is safe and run according to state and federal standards. But at least some of those standards appear to be violated in the video - including a requirement that emergency care arrive within four minutes of a disturbance. It took medical workers nearly six minutes to get to Elabed - a delay that can be life-threatening in serious injuries, according to state prisons officials.

"Nurses and medical professionals believe you need to get a heart beating and breathing started within four minutes or the person's going to die," Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray said.

CCA spokesman Steven Owen said employees receive training and supervision designed to protect both themselves and the inmates.

"As Mr. Haver's wanton attack illustrates, correctional and medical personnel must often respond to render aid in dangerous situations, not knowing the extent of the risk they may face when they do," Owen said.

Owen also condemned the attack and said the surveillance videos were key to Haver's guilty plea in the beating. CCA was unable to answer additional questions surrounding the circumstances of the attack due to pending litigation, he said.

Elabed's family learned through medical records that CCA officials pulled him out of the hospital before he could get significant treatment and against his doctor's advice, in order to treat him at the cheaper in-prison facility, the family said.

Elabed, who was originally sentenced to two to 12 years for robbery, was ultimately released on a medical parole because he was too badly injured to be cared for in prison.

A slew of federal lawsuits detail beatings behind prison walls and long waits for medical care at CCA-run prisons in Idaho. Inmate Todd Butters said in his lawsuit he was denied X-rays after he was severely beaten by gang members on his cellblock for refusing to pay $5 a week in "rent." The Idaho Supreme Court threw out the case after finding Butters didn't take the necessary steps to try to solve the problem with prison officials before suing.

In another attack, inmate Daniel Dixon said he was denied X-rays and a doctor's visit after he claimed other inmates beat him until he had broken ribs and facial bones and other injuries.

State officials have long been aware of allegations of mistreatment and poor management at the Idaho Correctional Center, the state's largest prison. A review of hundreds of public records by AP found in 2008 that ICC had a violence rate three times as high as other Idaho prisons.

The AP found in a follow-up investigation that ICC had only marginally improved its violence rate and that inspectors were still finding rampant gang violence and extortion. State auditors have also found widespread problems keeping medical charts updated, excessive wait times for medical care and other problems with treatment.

Even though Idaho Department of Correction officials have increased oversight and top department leaders have spoken out about their concern over the medical issues, state lawmakers have renewed the company's multimillion-dollar contract with Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA and added 600 beds to the prison.

Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke said in a statement that he couldn't talk about the video because of pending litigation, but said the eight state-run prisons his agency operates are among the safest and most efficient in the country.

Reinke also said his department began beefing up oversight at the private prison three years ago.

"The Board of Correction acknowledges that when you put a group of people who have a history of criminal behavior together in one place, it is likely you will have problems. But that doesn't mean we should tolerate them," Reinke wrote.

Today, the 24-year-old Elabed isn't able to talk much about the assault. He has brain damage and persistent short-term memory loss.

"It's almost like Hanni's autistic after this. I feel like I'm talking to someone who's 12 or 13 years old," said his brother, Zahe Elabed.

Elabed's attorney, Ben Schwartzman, said the footage is tough to forget.

"Guard intervention was appropriate and could have happened in a way that would not have put the guards in danger of their personal safety," Schwartzman said. "They were spectators ... and that seems to indicate a level of callousness that I find shocking. It's an embarrassment to the institution and to the individuals."

Posted by: stormskies on November 30, 2010 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

What exactly does that story have to do with my argument? There are people in every country who do evil things like those prison guards, I was referring to the philosophy of our country's founding. The constitution does not sanction such behavior, I believe that falls cruel and unusual punishment.

Posted by: Ken on November 30, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, Ken-doll.
I agree.
Your slave-owning founding fathers are to be congratulated, because they wrote of freedom while kkeping people in chains. That's a level of hypocracy you can't help but admire for it's sheer balls-out fuck-you to the "lesser races".
And how the hell is the New Deal immoral?

And even BEYOND that, if I were to grant you all that you claim, how the hell does that justify the actions of the U.S. since forever. Destabilizing democratically elected leaders? ALL IN GOOD FAITH, TRUST US!

You silly, flag-sucking shit.

Posted by: HMDK on November 30, 2010 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK


I believe that the constitution was the closest thing this world has ever seen to a moral government. Yes, slavery is immoral, but we have since corrected it, and I will not defend the morality of any action that contradicts with the idea of individual freedom. America is exceptional because, for the most part, that is what the constitution does. I wish that gays would be allowed to marry, or do anything a straight couple is allowed to do. But considering the context of the general population and the overall respect for individual rights, America wins hands down. Well, recently we have became more like the rest of the world, and I am open to the idea of America not being exceptional if we continue on our current path of collectivist policies.

The New Deal was immoral because it was based on the premise that government can confiscate money from the population and spend it how they see fit. The government can only successfully pull this off by using the power of the police and the military. The New Deal was also ridiculous in many ways. Consider the law that was passed that required people when purchasing poultry to reach their hand into a barrell and the first one they touched was the one they had to purchase.

Also, we should have not gotten off of the gold standard.

Posted by: Ken on December 1, 2010 at 8:45 PM | PERMALINK



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