Today the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that it’s OK for prison officials to decide to strip search someone once arrested. In the case in question a man was wrongfully arrested and in two different prisons within the span of a week was required to strip and display himself to a guard. Kennedy argued that if guards had the ability to strip search anyone pulled over or arrested it is likely that Timmy McVey or one of the 9/11 terrorists would have been stopped ahead of time, as they were arrested days before they committed a crime.
This line of thinking is a very dangerous slippery slope. If we start allowing these unreasonable searches after a traffic violation arrest where is the stopping? At what point will it be allowable to strip search someone after a traffic violation with no arrest? While that’s one direction this could go the other direction has research and very recent photographic evidence.
What I’m talking about is the Stanford Prison Experiment and Abu Gharib. The Stanford Prison experiment is famous for the fact that it finished early due to the brutality of the “prison guards.” In the experiment a random selection of students were split between prisoner and prison guard. Over the course of a few days, the guards and prisoners started to really get into their role to the point that there were serious behavior changes. In fact many of the guards became extremely sadistic to the “prisoners” including beating them and abusing them emotionally. Due to the change in the behavior the experiment ended.
During the Iraq war photo evidence was released that showed systemic abuse that was at least on some level condoned by military and civil authority in the Pentagon. The abuse was used as a way to debase and demoralize the “terrorists,” which is not to say that some of them weren’t actual terrorists but there were innocents. These actions likely started harmlessly enough as strip searches and other activities. However, they escalated into pictures of naked pyramids.
Using these two historic cases as a back drop I think that we can see that there is great potential for abuse and escalation of these sorts of activities. It is well known that torture doesn’t really give us the information we need and it is unlikely that the next McVey or 9/11 terrorist will have something on them at the time of a random street arrest unless they are actively en route to their destination. In the case of the 9/11 terrorist the strip search would have likely found a box cutter and luggage for a trip. It’s unclear how if he would have been arrested it would have turned up enough evidence to put him away for life.
I am extremely disappointed with the SCOTUS with this ruling. While I understand some of the rational for the ruling, it seems heavy handed and likely to lead to abuses rather than the results the Court wishes to find.