Orange is the New Black Takes on the Abu Ghraib Torture

If you happened to catch our recap on Orange is the New Black taking on the Israeli Palestinian conflict, you may sense a pattern developing in our dissection of season four of our favorite Netflix binge show.  This season took a turn, veering from Piper’s microcosmic story line  to Litchfield Penitentiary’s macrocosm. With overcrowding and continuing issues with the correctional officers, the prisoners are ultimately the ones who suffer.  The new C.O.’s begin to abuse their power and their actions are used to represent one of America’s biggest disgraces, the Abu Ghraib prisoner tortures.

Litchfield Penitentiary began to be managed by Management & Correction Corporation, or M.C.C., a private prison management company, last season.  With privately owned prisons operating with only their profit margins in mind, things had to give.  One way M.C.C. made the hiring process more affordable was to hire veteran’s, which the U.S. will provide a tax credit.  Everybody loves veteran’s, and veteran’s are much more qualified than the scrubs they were hiring before anyways. However, it quickly becomes extremely evident that these particular veterans are not mentally capable to handle the job and are treating these federal inmates as one would imagine a captured enemy of war may be treated.


Abu Ghraib, Iraq

Abu Ghraib is a city located outside of Baghdad, Iraq.  However, the cities name became synonymous with the Abu Ghraib prison, which was one of the many sites that was controlled by Saddam Hussein’s government before the U.S. invasion.  Under Hussein’s reign, Abu Ghraib was one of the world’s most heinous prisons with a population of over 15,000 persons.  Hundreds of individuals who disappeared in the Iran-Iraq War were reportedly detained here without charge for almost 20 years. Others were political dissidents, murders, or a host of others deemed criminal.

Extreme torture occurred under Saddam Hussein’s regime. Many detainees were used as subject in the country’s outlawed experimental chemical and biological weapons program. More were tortured and executed, with mass graves found outside the prison. There were dungeons and electric shocks. As punishment, prisoners were subjected to sleep deprivation, castration, and even amputation.

In 2002, Saddam Hussein freed the prisoners of Abu Ghraib, granted full amnesty to all the prisoners, except for the murderer who would have on death row who were only allowed to be released with consent of the victims families (ironic).  Hussein claimed the gesture to be a thank you to the people of Iraq, who gave Huseein 100% of the vote to continue his rule the week before.  More likely, Saddam wanted to increase moral for Iraqi citizen’s who were soon going to be in full fledged war with the U.S.


The U.S. Invasion of Abu Ghraib

By 2003, Abu Ghraib prison was being used by the U.S. and the Iraqi Government.  The Iraqi government was in a separate part of the prison and controlled the area that housed convicted criminals.

However, most people know of Abu Ghraib prison due to the torture and prisoner abuse scandal. The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh and CBS’s “60 Minutes” broke the story within the same week in 2004.

In June of 2003, General Janis Karpinski was named the commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade and was put in charge of prisons in Iraq, by January of 2004 she was formally admonished and suspended and an investigation of the Army’s prisons were underway.  The New Yorker obtained the fifty three page report that was not meant for public release that described the systemic failures and the, ‘ “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib.’ For example:

“Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.”

What brought this to main stream media was the 60 Minutes broadcast that showed the naked Iraqi prisoners forced into compromising positions, bloodied and hooded.


Orange is the New Black

To say that the prison guards at Litchfeild Penitentiary are anything like the U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib is an obvious hyperbole. However, like the Israeli Palestinian  conflict reference, the connections are slipped subtlety enough in that it almost goes unnoticed.  This season was completely different from the start, and consistently made references to political, social, and economical issues within the United States.

In season three, the experienced O.C.’s walk out after M.C.C took away their benefits and hours after being loyal employees for years.  The O.C.’s they hired after never measured up, having almost no experience needed for the job.  But, when the ex-military members join Litchfeild, a switch turns and their actions can’t be excused for ignorance.  These guards were deliberately taking the position of power to harm and humiliate the inmates for their own enjoyment.

Standing for hours

Abu Ghraib

War is war.  It’s ignorant to think any country would not use measures to make prisoners relay valuable information to their enemies. During the Iraq War, the term “enhanced interrogation techniques” was echoed by every politician and news outlet.   “Enhanced interrogation techniques” said, we aren’t going to torture them, but we aren’t going to be easy on them. These  “enhanced interrogation techniques” were approved by the U.S, military. One technique was, “The use of stress positions (like standing) for no more than four hours.” To which Donald Rumsfeld, The Secretary of Defense from 2001-2006, wrote back, “I stand for 8-10 hours a day, why is standing limited to 4 hours?” What may be more concerning is that Rumsfeld comment is the only one made  in a fourteen page counter-resistance technique document describing the regulations around enhanced interrogation techniques.


Orange is the New Black


Orange is the New Black Abu Ghraib


Blanca has always looked unkempt. Unlike most of the women she is with in prison, Blanca has wild hair, a unibrow and appears to do the minimum of effort to get by.  It isn’t until Season 4 when we learn Blanca’s story and see how stunning she really is.  She is also smart.  The new gaurds are gropping the women and to avoid that, Blanca is putting the juice from left over sardines on her so she smells so offensively that the guards wont touch her.  After being ordered repeatedly to shower, Stratman has it when she walks by smelling awful.  He orders her to stand on the table and to stay there until she physically could no longer stand, she is deprived of food, water and access to the bathroom

Twisted Punishments

Abu Ghraib

Abu Ghraib Abuse


The approved techniques of interrogation were stretched to limits during the war in Iraq.  However, the abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib was a type of sadism the U.S. had never seen done by their own people. The actions of the offenders within the 372nd Military Police Company were a type of evil that scarred America’s legacy.  When the photos surfaced, no one could make sense of how qualified soldiers were capable of this kind of torture, neglect, and idiotocracy wrapped into one.  When the photo’s of smiling soldiers standing next to a pyramid of stacked, naked, hooded men surfaced, along with photos of soldiers pulling naked prisoners by ropes around their necks,  and one of the most iconic ones, a hooded man standing on a box with electrodes attached to his hands should his body finally collapse, the world was in horror.  Photos of rape, beatings, assaults, and other torture strategies were in the mixed.  It was clear to even a civilian that these were not in attempt to gain information, but to punish the prisoners.  These actions go against all American ideals and what Americans are taught about war.  The men and women who were apart of these action were committing sadistic and damaging punishments.


Orange is the New Black


Orange is the New Black Abu Ghraib

Orange is the New Black Abu Ghraib

Orange is the New Black Abu Ghraib


At this point in OITNB we have witnessed rapes, murders,drug use, even dismemberment – yet the scene between Ramos and C.O. Humps, may be the most chilling.  Ramos and Flaca play a harmless game of “Would you rather?” during mealtime that C.O. Humps overhears. Since Ramo’s job is to drive the van for the penitentiary, Humps pressures her into coming into the C.O housing they have on sight. Here, C.O. Humps already has Ramo’s “Would you rather?” situation set up waiting for her.  She tries to talk her way out of it until Humps pulls out a gun and points it at her head while smiling.  Maritza is forced to swollen the alive baby mouse as Humps looks on in delight.

Reasoning for others

Abu Ghraib

In an NPR’s Fresh Air segment entitled, It Was Torture’: An Abu Ghraib Interrogator Acknowledges ‘Horrible Mistakes‘, Eric Fair (irony) tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross about his time as a contracted interrogator for the U.S. Military in the Abu Ghraib prison.  As a contractor, Fair could have left at anytime with no repercussions.  When asked on why he didn’t speak out at the time of the torture, Fair responded with,

“I think the natural and very fair question is: Why I didn’t say something or why I didn’t quit? As a contractor I could’ve quit at any point. But again, the desire that had been sort of drilled into me to stay committed to things in the United States Army, these were my comrades, whether they were contractors or whether they were soldiers, I knew the uniforms, I knew the ranks. … At least at that point I still supported the invasion and the war effort, so I felt that I had an obligation to be a part of it. There was a recognition that certainly war was going to be ugly and I think I did my best to justify what was going on.”

This may seem like a coy cop out now, but stories like this have been consistently repeated.  Soldiers involved with Abu Ghraib and with the tourtures continued to show confusion as to why America and the world was shocked because they were under the assumption that what they were doing was acceptable at the time.  Fair went on in the interview and stated,

“We were not implementing enhanced interrogation techniques and torture behind closed doors. We weren’t doing this and then going back to our bunks at night and suggesting “I hope no one ever finds out about this” or “Don’t tell anyone.” This was part of what we viewed as an authorized program.”

The soldiers involved in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal were the boots on the ground.  They were taking orders, sometimes countries away, and to this day, they are truly the only ones who knew what was occurring both within the prison, but also outside the walls.

Orange is the New Black

AbuGhraib _OITNB




As O.C. McCullough and O.C. Stratman stand guard outside the women’s bathroom, they overhear Ramos puking.  The viewer knows this is because O.C. Humps just forced Ramos to swallow a live, baby mouse. However O.C. Stratman jumps to Ramos possibly being pregnant, saying he witnessed O.C. Humps taking inmate Ramos into guard housing the other day.  O.C. McCullough quickly downplays O.C. Humps possibly having sexual relations with an inmate, or evening committing rape, saying they’re like high school boys and that they’re all responsible for his actions if O.C. Stratman’s assumptions were right.  O.C. Stratman fires back that maybe Ramos was acting up, or O.C. Humps was having a bad day, regardless of what he did, he had to make what he felt was a proper decision because all they have is each other in an atmosphere like Litchfield. If O.C. Humps raped Ramos, everyone is at fault, because they were all in this battle together. They don’t feel like they can report each other because they can justify actions.  With no guidelines actually laid out, and confusion within the hierarchy of power, the O.C.’s are doing what they feel is right for the greater good.


Understanding the perpetrators

Abu Ghraib

Once the immediate wave of terror began to wind down after the shocking news of torture and abuse committed by U.S. soldiers, the world was trying to make sense of it all, especially American’s.  Some sighted the Standford Prison Experiment,  others blamed the U.S. Military for a lack of training and oversight on the soldiers,  most just shifted blame to the atrocities of war.  It’s hard to create reason, especially when one of the perpetrators, Lynndie England, stated how she doesn’t feel bad for her actions. England has stated that Iraqi “…lives are better. They got the better end of the deal….They weren’t innocent. They’re trying to kill us, and you want me to apologize to them? It’s like saying sorry to the enemy.”  Ultimately, the world accepted the fact that even though soldiers and military commanders may be responsible, there was no rationalizing that made sense of the events that occurred. But in a time of war, where does ration have place?


Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black Abu Ghraib

Orange is the New Black Abu Ghraib


C.O. Bayley is an incredibly likeable character on OITNB.  He was an awful C.O., he helped Piper’s jailhouse panty ring, and allowed every prisoner to walk all over him.  He was young, extremely unqualified, naive, and lost among the strong, bold soldiers around him.  When the prisoners attempt to hold a civil disobedience protest by all standing on the table alongside Blanca and Piper, Poussey gets apprehended and Bayley kneels on her back to hold her down.  Poussey begins to struggle, as Bayley is unknowingly suffocating her.  Poussey ends up dying and you can tell the immediate regret and suffering Bayley feels for being responsible for her death.  However, it is M.C.C.’s fault an unqualified C.O. was hired and untrained in the first place.  C.O. Dixon is told to drive Bayley home, and on the way he tries to calm Bayley down by sharing with him stories from his time in Afghanistan.  He says it so calmly, non-remorseful, and matter-of-fact.  He represents a commonly place within the U.S. Military of torturing civilians, and making reason for their unreasonable killings. To C.O. Dixon, it is what it is.


Orange is the New Black has continued to take viewers down individual story lines, making the viewer decide what is truly wrong and right.  Within Litchfield Penitentiary, the charges the inmates are facing reach a common ground.  Some are heinous killers, some are thieves and drug dealers.  The more the viewer learns, the more one can understand these inmates aren’t much different than oneself. With that foundation being built upon to now show the correctional officers lives, viewers slowly realize the world is not so black and white.  The Abu Ghraib tortures were just another connection that OITNB gave the viewers to try to dissect morality.  We can only assume that greater themes and illusions to the real world will continue to be made and focused upon in Season 5.



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