Welcome Back McCotter | News | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Welcome Back McCotter



Much like the British, who used to live in “glorious isolation,” Americans cling to the naive notion that our impact and effects upon the larger world are so minimal as to be nothing worth complaining about. “Why do they hate us?” Forget the United States’ various foreign policy maneuvers. It’s about our nation’s sheer mass and size, which the McDonald’s franchise translated into what’s easily the world’s most recognizable marketing slogan: “Billions served.”

And once in a great while, our reach into the most far-flung corners of the world comes crashing back on the local gates. Don’t be surprised. If the small world theory, aka Six Degrees of Separation, holds true (as we know it does) then the 100 or so people known to you also know five groups of 50 other people until damned near everyone in the entire world of 6 billion people knows everyone else.

So it is that the 100 people who know former Utah Corrections Director O.L. “Lane” McCotter also have an indirect link to the tortured souls of Abu Ghraib. Come to think of it, even without any relatives in West Virginia, each of us no doubt has some indirect social connection to Lynndie England. But we won’t bother you with such unsettling thoughts.

Instead, cast back to McCotter’s record as director over Utah’s prisons from 1992 to 1997. It was in 1997 that 29-year-old schizophrenic inmate Michael Valent died of a blood clot after being held in a restraining chair for some 16 hours—naked. Valent’s family sued the department. McCotter later resigned. McCotter also left a troubled trail during his years as director of corrections for New Mexico. In 1988 a prison monitor had the audacity to question whether or not prison officials there erased videotaped evidence of brutality. Yeah, McCotter has protested loud and strong that he had no hand in teaching techniques to humiliate Iraqi prisoners—who, like Valent, were also naked. He just trained the guards, rebuilt the place, cut the ribbon and flew back home to his job in Centerville as director of business development for a private prison company.

Make of it what you will. The uncanny element about connections is that they’re equally difficult to disprove as to prove. The far more interesting question is why the nation’s highest law-enforcement officials, John Ashcroft, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz were enamored enough of McCotter’s résumé to give him the Abu Ghraib job. Applicants for employment at Subway sandwich shops probably get a more thorough vetting.

This much is certain. McCotter can always count on getting a warmer reception at home than on the national stage. As Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., asked the hard questions and The Nation and The New York Times turned out denser stories, the Deseret Morning News profiled McCotter’s “sickened” reaction to the photographic evidence. That McCotter’s past record should be brought up at all can be blamed on “the liberal media.”

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