Roger’s note: Going back to my days protesting racism and the Vietnam War I have unapologetically used the word “fascist” or “neo-fascist” to describe aspects of the actions of the United States government. I am well aware of what the author of this article refers to as Godwin’s Law, that we dare not compare Americans to Nazis in polite company. I often try to think what it would have been like to have been an “ordinary” German citizen in the 1930s and 1940s. I imagine that one woke up in the morning, ate breakfast, sent the kids off to school, and then headed to whatever job she/he worked at. The sun came up in the morning and the moon at night. People ate, drank, partied, and, yes, they would also have discussed politics. Their discussions would have had a lot in common with how many Americans see themselves, that is, as victims. The reparations imposed by the Allies after WWI had created economic hardships that all Germans felt. That was their primary reality. Germans who were educated and who should have known better, would obviously been aware of the officially sanctioned antisemitism and other excesses of the Hitler regime. Some few would have protested and paid a price, other would have rationalized. How is this different, I ask, from American reaction the atrocities in my lifetime that have occurred as a direct or indirect result of U.S. government activity, including but not limited to Vietnam, Agent Orange, Latin American death squads, endemic racist, sexist and homophobic urban policing, the Bush/Cheney torture and rendition regime, the hundreds of thousands if not millions killed in the declared wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the men, women and children destroyed by American drone missiles?
This article focuses on the prison industrial complex, but I note that it fails to include a discussion of the privatization of a large segment of the prison industry, using prisoners as slave labor, and the various forms of torture including years to decades of solitary confinement.
Since this article if focused on criminal justice, it identifies only one of thousands of Eichmanns who spend your American tax dollars on destroying human life.
Godwin’s Law is an assertion, widely credited to Mike Godwin of the Electronic Freedom Foundation, basically holding that a discussion essentially ends when a Nazi or Hitler analogy is raised and signals that the party making such a comparison has lost the argument. It is widely cited, particularly in the blogosphere, whenever the inevitable comparisons are made between current U.S. repressive/invasive procedures and those employed by an earlier repressive regime that according to Godwin, must remain nameless when discussing despicable state tactics.
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Godwin’s Law, credited to Mike Godwin, has diminished the discussion of parallels between current U.S. policy and Nazi Germany
Various players have different motives for promulgating Godwin’s Law. There are the victims of Nazi oppression who seek to ensure a unique place in history for themselves, and in order to do so must see that any other villainous regime is perceived to be relegated to a level no greater than penultimate evil. Then there are the regimes themselves which have a vested interest in quelling any embarrassing or unwanted comparisons. Regardless of the motivation, there seems to be little doubt that absurdities like Godwin’s Law do little to advance meaningful analysis and more likely stifle necessary and legitimate discourse.
An honest examination of the prison-industrial complex in the U.S. demands a total defenestration of Godwin’s Law and anything else interfering with the ability to compare the U.S. “justice” system with those of other similarly malevolent regimes. Those who seek to defend the status quo in the U.S. will reflexively cite the fact that Hitler, Stalin, Mao and others have killed more of their people, etc., but while true, this misses the real point and inherent maliciousness of the current situation in the U.S.
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Adolph Hitler is uniquely evil and exempt from comparison according to Godwin’s Law
Much of the damage done by the U.S. justice system is allowed to occur with little or no oversight as a result of the U.S.’s self-proclaimed role as the world’s moral arbiter. Indeed, much in the way in which Richard Nixon claimed that “when the president does it, that means it is not illegal,” it is now similarly asserted that if the U.S. does it, it must be permissible. Even the most egregious violations can be explained away by attributing their necessity to something as vague as “terrorism.” Godwin’s Law prevents the interjection of the historical fact that similar claims were made by another regime that relied upon comparable and similarly vague justifications.
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Adolph Eichmann was executed for crimes arising out of overseeing a network of prisons for the Third Reich
And so in the spirit of breaking free from the artificial constraints of Godwin, it can be straightforwardly reported that America has its own equivalent of Adolph Eichmann in the person of Charles E. Samuels, Jr., director of the federal Bureau of Prisons. There are obvious parallels between the governmental tasks performed by Eichmann and Samuels. Like Eichmann, he is responsible for the management of prisoner logistics, heading a nationwide network of gulags where enemies of the regime are dispatched for an ever-expanding variety of infractions, both real and imagined.
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Charles Samuels currently serves as the head of America’s vast network of federal gulags
Samuels, installed by President Barack Obama, is the first person of color to hold the post. This fact was widely celebrated by a fawning press following his installation but given that minorities are the largest victims of the prison-industrial complex in the U.S., placing a black man in the position was recognized by more seasoned observers as a cynical ploy to sugar-coat the face of systematically repressive mass incarceration.
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Despite promises of “hope and change,” the Department of Justice and Bureau of Prisons have only grown more repressive under the Obama regime
Samuels’ relatively unimpressive biography suggests he is merely another government functionary seeking sustenance at the public trough. There is nothing in his background which would indicate an extraordinary or unusual level of malice. In his mind he is most likely serving at his post in an unthinking and uncaring manner that is little different from the way in which millions of other government workers perform their assigned tasks. It is entirely possible that he fails to recognize the holocaust he has been entrusted to oversee and perpetuate, instead perceiving it to be nothing more than an element of a necessary state function.
Fifty years ago renowned sociologist Hanna Arendt penned her classic work, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Arendt’s work was revolutionary in its contention that evil in individuals mainly occurs as a result of thoughtlessness. Arendt wrote it was the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without a critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions, even if it results in unspeakable crimes.
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Famed sociologist Hanna Arendt identified the banal nature of evil found in the likes of Eichmann and Samuels
It was the capture of Eichmann, widely considered at the time to be evil personified, and the reactions observed at his ensuing trial that caused Arendt to formulate her theory. She recognized that the evil being attributed to Eichmann was misplaced. Arendt viewed him as a mere cog in the wheel of an inherently evil system, performing his duties as would ordinarily be expected of any dutiful bureaucrat.
Performing horrific tasks in an organized and systematic way relies upon “normalization.” This is the process whereby such abominable and heinous acts become routine and are ultimately accepted as part of the process through which things are done. The process requires a division of labor in doing and rationalizing the unthinkable. The direct brutalization of people is performed by one set of individuals while others keep unrelated mechanisms of government functioning. Giving cover to the enterprise are supposed intellectuals and other pseudo experts who work through various media outlets to rationalize for the general public what would otherwise be unimaginable.
The media has certainly aided Samuels in efforts to make his endeavors palatable. Press accounts disseminated soon after his appointment credited “an interest in public service” as being what led him to take his first job as a federal prison guard. Samuels reportedly hails from a family of public servants, with a father who worked for the U.S. Postal Service and a mother who was employed by the Social Security Administration. Various media outlets reporting on Samuels’ appointment treated his position with the federal Bureau of Prisons as simply another civic minded endeavor. One article even went so far as to try and humanize his efforts by citing Samuels’ enjoyment of “chess, video games and reading books on a variety of topics.”
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Samuels rules over the largest network of prisons ever assembled
When he’s not reading or playing chess, Samuels oversees the largest network of prisons and prisoners that the world has ever seen. It is largely a retributive network in which nearly three quarters of those imprisoned are non-violent offenders with no history of violence. Mandatory sentencing, rampant federal prosecutorial misconduct and an absurd and patently illegitimate 99% conviction rate in U.S. federal courts guaranty a steady stream of prisoners for the facilities overseen by Samuels.
Many of the victims dispatched to Samuels’ custody find themselves imprisoned as a result of gross abuse of governmental power. People are targeted for prosecution for a variety of reasons, many of which bear no rational relationship to the commission of an offense. The system in which Samuels plays a key role tends to select targets for prosecution and then, after expending limitless resources, finds a suitable “crime” with which they can be charged. It operates much in the spirit of Lavrentiy Beria, head of Joseph Stalin’s secret police in the Soviet Union, who is alleged to have said, “Show me the man, and I’ll show you the crime.”
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The tactics of Lavrentiy Beria, head of Stalin’s secret police, have been embraced by the U.S. Department of Justice
The federal Bureau of Prisons, as overseen by Samuels, is viewed by many detractors as nothing more than another example of state sponsored terrorism. The bureau exists to inflict harm upon its victims and exact retribution from perceived enemies of the regime. Even the pretense of rehabilitation has long been abandoned. Recent press reports claim that there are thousands of people, convicted of non-violent offenses, who have been sentenced to die in prison. The mission of the bureau is to rigidly exact as much time as possible from each and every prisoner. Samuels has taken the task to heart, routinely denying various motions for the compassionate release of terminally ill prisoners and instructing that good time calculations be made in a fashion that cheats every federal prisoner out of seven days of freedom for each year served. Ever the loyal soldier, he holds that every discretionary situation must be resolved in accordance with the goal of ensuring that federal prisons are kept full, well above capacity.
While Arendt’s ideas on the nature of evil were generally rejected when first proposed, the success of subsequent U.S. efforts at wholesale systematic implementation of sanitized decimation through mass incarceration suggests she was years ahead of her time. A man like Samuels, despite the realities of his job description, is widely accepted as being no more villainous than any other high ranking bureaucrat. Much like his predecessor Eichmann asserted, Samuels is widely viewed as one who is doing nothing more than following orders and unquestioningly administering the will of the regime.
Eichmann’s reliance on the Nuremberg Defense in which he sought to deflect guilt by claiming he was “only following orders” was predictably unsuccessful. Despite its past failed applications, it seems inevitable that if Samuels’ day of reckoning comes where he is called to account for the crimes that occurred on his watch, he would invoke a similar defense.
Even Eichmann’s trial speech appears to have applicability to the potential jeopardy faced by Samuels.
“I cannot recognize the verdict of guilty. . . . It was my misfortune to become entangled in these atrocities. But these misdeeds did not happen according to my wishes. It was not my wish to slay people. . . . Once again I would stress that I am guilty of having been obedient, having subordinated myself to my official duties and the obligations of service and my oath of allegiance and my oath of office . . . At that time obedience was demanded, just as in the future it will also be demanded of the subordinate.”
History has demonstrated that this is a losing argument. Samuels, and others whose warped sense of duty impairs their ability to discern right from wrong, run the risk of being called to account. The tipping point is growing near as there are almost daily calls to reform the federal sentencing scheme. The bureau headed by Samuels will predictably defy such calls as bureaucracies tend to resist efforts to diminish their size and scope. Samuels’ unfettered fealty to the regime prevents him from seeing that the administration he heads is one which feeds on bodies. It can only grow by creating correspondingly greater death and misery. America, which leads all nations in number and percentage of people under lock and key, has its Eichmann.
Barry Scott Sussman- Born and raised in New Jersey. Graduated from Rutgers University with a BA in Sociology. Graduated with a JD from the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law specializing in Federal Criminal Procedure and Federal Prosecutorial (more…)
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
The US Army School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia is a notorious training operation for Latin American officers and soldiers. It’s associated with some of the worst dictatorships and human rights violators in the hemisphere. For over 20 years, the grassroots School of Americas Watch (SOA Watch) has grown into one of the most dynamic, multi-generational, cross-continental movements against militarism in the Americas.
This weekend, November 22-24, will see thousands gather for a massive rally at Ft. Benning in the ongoing campaign to shut down the school. Vans from colleges and universities will make the trek with students who’ve studied the grim history of U.S.-sponsored military coups and U.S.-friendly dictators, many of whom got their inspiration and training at the SOA (now renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC).
Among the more infamous SOA graduates are Gen. Jose Rios Montt, who was convicted May 10th of committing genocide between March 1982 and August 1983 during his Guatemalan military dictatorship; death squad leader Otto Perez Molina who under Rios Montt directed massacres of Maya people, and who recently maneuvered Guatemala’s high court to reverse Rios Montt’s conviction; Gen. Manual Noreiga of Panama, who moved from dictatorship via SOA to the BOP (Federal Bureau of Prisons that is) on drug charges; Roberto D’Abuisson, leader of El Salvador’s death squads in the 1980s; and Gen. Hugo Banzar Suarez of Bolivia who seized power in 1971 and who jailed, disappeared and assassinated suspected political opponents for eight years. SOA graduates led military coups in Venezuela in 2002 and the 2009 coup in Honduras.
For more background, “Somos Una America” — a new documentary that focuses on the campaign against the Pentagon mindset that promotes U.S. domination and ‘military solutions’ in the Western Hemisphere — is available online for free (visit: soaw.org/somos).
This past April, the SOA Watch campaign won a long-sought court victory over the U.S. government’s refusal to release the names of the trainers at the SOA/WHINSEC. Federal Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton in Calif. ruled that the Pentagon has no grounds for refusing to release these names. President Obama has OKed the Justice Department’s appeal of this ruling, protecting the Pentagon’s effort to keep the information secret. As SOA Watch points out, this is because instructors there have coached “torturers, death squads and military dictators throughout the Americas.” The president’s decision to appeal puts the lie to his claim that his administration would be the most transparent in history. And you thought after his persecution of whistle blowers Julian Assange, Pfc. Manning and Edward Snowden that Obama could not get more cynical.
Teaching Torture the World Over
The SOA burst into the news in 1996, when the Pentagon released copies of its torture training manuals. The Sept. 21, 1996 Washington Post, in “U.S. Instructed Latins on Executions, Torture; Manuals Used 1982-91, Pentagon Reveals” by Dana Priest, notes that the manuals promote the use of “fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, beatings, false imprisonment, executions and the use of truth serum.” By 1996, 60,000 military and police officers had been through SOA training.
The torture manuals were distributed to thousands of military officers from eleven South and Central American countries, although the actions advocated in them violated U.S. Army law at the time. The Pentagon ordered the manuals destroyed, but only a few thousand were ever recovered. They have doubtlessly been reproduced and employed by militaries and counterinsurgency forces the world over. U.S. military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan appear to be direct beneficiaries, considering the torture regimes conducted at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq (2004) and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Afghanistan has become a torture regime too — first under U.S. forces and now by their Afghan trainees (See “U.S. Practiced Torture After 9/11, Nonpartisan Review Concludes,” NY Times, Apr. 16, 2013, and “Government Panel in Afghanistan Confirms Widespread Torture of Detainees,” Jan. 21, 2013).
Demands to abolish the SOA/WHINSEC now come from across the political spectrum. From the point of view of the victims, more than 300 human rights defenders have employed nonviolent direct action at the base, and as a result have collectively spent over 100 years in prison and served additional years probation. (Disclaimer: I did 6 months in the Duluth prison camp for trespassing at SOA back in 2006. My cellie R.J., who was doing eight years, put me straight when he announced, “I see him doing his exercises, his yoga. He’s just here for an oil change.”) From officialdom, the Latin American Military Training Review Act of 2013, H.R. 2989, would suspend operations at the school. It also mandates an investigation into SOA’s connection with abuses of human rights. It’s got 40 co-sponsors but needs more.
If you’re not heading down to the Georgia for the rally, at least push your Congressional Rep’s to join the shutdown effort.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
John LaForge is on the Nukewatch staff and edits its Quarterly.
NSA Director General Keith Alexander, earlier this month. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP
The most under-discussed aspect of the NSA story has long been its international scope. That all changed this week as both Germany and France exploded with anger over new revelations about pervasive NSA surveillance on their population and democratically elected leaders.
As was true for Brazil previously, reports about surveillance aimed at leaders are receiving most of the media attention, but what really originally drove the story there were revelations that the NSA is bulk-spying on millions and millions of innocent citizens in all of those nations. The favorite cry of US government apologists -–everyone spies! – falls impotent in the face of this sort of ubiquitous, suspicionless spying that is the sole province of the US and its four English-speaking surveillance allies (the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).
There are three points worth making about these latest developments.
• First, note how leaders such as Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted with basic indifference when it was revealed months ago that the NSA was bulk-spying on all German citizens, but suddenly found her indignation only when it turned out that she personally was also targeted. That reaction gives potent insight into the true mindset of many western leaders.
• Second, all of these governments keep saying how newsworthy these revelations are, how profound are the violations they expose, how happy they are to learn of all this, how devoted they are to reform. If that’s true, why are they allowing the person who enabled all these disclosures – Edward Snowden – to be targeted for persecution by the US government for the “crime” of blowing the whistle on all of this?
If the German and French governments – and the German and French people – are so pleased to learn of how their privacy is being systematically assaulted by a foreign power over which they exert no influence, shouldn’t they be offering asylum to the person who exposed it all, rather than ignoring or rejecting his pleas to have his basic political rights protected, and thus leaving him vulnerable to being imprisoned for decades by the US government?
Aside from the treaty obligations these nations have to protect the basic political rights of human beings from persecution, how can they simultaneously express outrage over these exposed invasions while turning their back on the person who risked his liberty and even life to bring them to light?
• Third, is there any doubt at all that the US government repeatedly tried to mislead the world when insisting that this system of suspicionless surveillance was motivated by an attempt to protect Americans from The Terrorists™? Our reporting has revealed spying on conferences designed to negotiate economic agreements, the Organization of American States, oil companies, ministries that oversee mines and energy resources, the democratically elected leaders of allied states, and entire populations in those states.
Speaking of an inability to maintain claims with a straight face, how are American and British officials, in light of their conduct in all of this, going to maintain the pretense that they are defenders of press freedoms and are in a position to lecture and condemn others for violations? In what might be the most explicit hostility to such freedoms yet – as well as the most unmistakable evidence of rampant panic – the NSA’s director, General Keith Alexander, actually demanded Thursday that the reporting being done by newspapers around the world on this secret surveillance system be halted (Techdirt has the full video here):
The head of the embattled National Security Agency, Gen Keith Alexander, is accusing journalists of “selling” his agency’s documents and is calling for an end to the steady stream of public disclosures of secrets snatched by former contractor Edward Snowden.
“I think it’s wrong that that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000 – whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these – you know it just doesn’t make sense,” Alexander said in an interview with the Defense Department’s “Armed With Science” blog.
“We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don’t know how to do that. That’s more of the courts and the policy-makers but, from my perspective, it’s wrong to allow this to go on,” the NSA director declared. [My italics]
There are 25,000 employees of the NSA (and many tens of thousands more who work for private contracts assigned to the agency). Maybe one of them can tell The General about this thing called “the first amendment”.
I’d love to know what ways, specifically, General Alexander has in mind for empowering the US government to “come up with a way of stopping” the journalism on this story. Whatever ways those might be, they are deeply hostile to the US constitution – obviously. What kind of person wants the government to forcibly shut down reporting by the press?
Whatever kind of person that is, he is not someone to be trusted in instituting and developing a massive bulk-spying system that operates in the dark. For that matter, nobody is.
Roger’s note: Back in the last decades of the 2000s, when we participated in protest activities — from the Vietnam War to the Iraq invasions — we knew there were likely to be police abuses and arrests, especially if civil disobedience was part of the strategy. So we prepared by “arming” ourselves with information about our constitutional rights and usually had ACLU lawyer types ready to back us up, their phone numbers in our back pockets. Times have changed. The constitution and habeas corpus doesn’t mean much any more. The police have always acted with a degree of impunity, but today that has increased exponentially, along with a frightening degree of police militarization (they already have armored cars and tanks and will soon have little drone missiles). The crackdowns on the Occupy Movement two years ago made that crystal clear. Do we live in a police state? I think the evidence speaks for itself. Here is just one example of what peaceful protest faces today.
Promotional materials for private spy companies show that mass surveillance technology is being sold to police departments as a way to monitor dissent
by John Knefel
A number of private spying companies offer services to help police keep tabs on individual protesters’ tweets and Facebook posts. (Credit: Fuse)
The documents leaked to media outlets by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden this year have brought national intelligence gathering and surveillance operations under a level of scrutiny not seen in decades. Often left out of this conversation, though, is the massive private surveillance industry that provides services to law enforcement, defense agencies and corporations in the U.S. and abroad – a sprawling constellation of companies and municipalities. “It’s a circle where everyone [in these industries] is benefitting,” says Eric King, lead researcher of watchdog group Privacy International. “Everyone gets more powerful, and richer.”
Promotional materials for numerous private spy companies boast of how law enforcement organizations can use their products to monitor people at protests or other large crowds – including by keeping tabs on individual people’s social media presence. Kenneth Lipp, a journalist who attended the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia from October 19th to 23rd, tells Rolling Stone that monitoring Twitter and Facebook was a main theme of the week. “Social media was the buzzword,” says Lipp. He says much of the discussion seemed to be aimed at designing policies that wouldn’t trigger potentially limiting court cases: “They want to avoid a warrant standard.”
While the specifics of which police departments utilize what surveillance technologies is often unclear, there is evidence to suggest that use of mass surveillance against individuals not under direct investigation is common. “The default is mass surveillance, the same as NSA’s ‘collect it all’ mindset,” says King. “There’s not a single company that if you installed their product, [it] would comply with what anyone without a security clearance would think is appropriate, lawful use.”
The YouTube page for a company called NICE, for instance, features a highly produced video showing how its products can be used in the event of a protest. “The NICE video analytic suite alerts on an unusually high occupancy level in a city center,” a narrator says as the camera zooms in on people chanting and holding signs that read “clean air” and “stop it now.” The video then shows authorities redirecting traffic to avoid a bottleneck, and promises that all audio and video from the event will be captured and processed almost immediately. “The entire event is then reconstructed on a chronological timeline, based on all multimedia sources,” says the narrator. According to an interview with the head of NICE’s security division published in Israel Gateway, NICE systems are used by New Jersey Transit and at the Statue of Liberty, though it isn’t clear if they are the same products shown in the video.
“Thousands of customers worldwide use NICE Security solutions to keep people safe and protect property,” says Sara Preto, a spokesperson for NICE. She declined to confirm any specific clients, but added: “We work with law enforcement and other government agencies within the framework of all relevant and national laws.”
Another program, made by Bright Planet and called BlueJay, is billed in a brochure to law enforcement as a “Twitter crime scanner.” BlueJay allows cops to covertly monitor accounts and hashtags; three that Bright Planet touts in promotional material are #gunfire, #meth, and #protest. In another promotional document, the company says BlueJay can “monitor large public events, social unrest, gang communications, and criminally predicated individuals,” as well as “track department mentions.” Bright Planet did not respond to a request for comment.
A third company, 3i:Mind, lays out a scenario for a potential law enforcement client that begins: “Perhaps you are tracking an upcoming political rally.” It continues:
Once you set up the OpenMIND™ system to profile and monitor the rally, it will search the web for the event on web pages, social networking sites, blogs, forums and so forth, looking for information about the nature of the rally (e.g. peaceful, violent, participant demographics), try to identify both online and physical world activist leaders and collect information about them, monitor the event in real-time and alert you on user-defined critical developments.
The scenario concludes: “Your insight is distributed to the local police force warning them that the political rally may turn violent and potentially thwarting the violence before it occurs.” The 3i:Mind website gives no clues at to which governments or corporations use their products, and public information on the company is limited, though they have reportedly shown their product at various trade shows and police conferences. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Other companies are less upfront about how their products can be used to monitor social unrest. A product that will be familiar to anyone who attended an Occupy Wall Street protest in or around New York’s Zuccotti Park is SkyWatch, by FLIR, pointed out to Rolling Stone by Lipp, the journalist who attended the police conference. SkyWatch is a mobile tower in the form of a two-person cab that can be raised two stories high to provide “an array of surveillance options,” according to a promotional brochure. Those options include cameras and radar, as well as “customizable” options. The brochure says SkyWatch is perfect for “fluid operations whether on the front lines or at a hometown event.” As of this writing, the NYPD still has a SkyWatch deployed in a corner of Zuccotti Park, where Occupy activists were evicted by the police nearly two years ago.
These promotional materials, taken together, paint a picture not only of local police forces becoming increasingly militarized, but also suggest departments are venturing into intelligence-gathering operations that may go well beyond traditional law enforcement mandates. “Two things make today’s surveillance particularly dangerous: the flood of ‘homeland security’ dollars (in the hundreds of millions) to state and local police for the purchase of spying technologies, and the fact that spook technology is outpacing privacy law,” says Kade Crockford, director of the Massachusetts ACLU’s technology for liberty program and the writer of the PrivacySOS blog, which covers these issues closely. “Flush with fancy new equipment, police turn to communities they have long spied on and infiltrated: low-income and communities of color, and dissident communities.”
Many of the legal questions surrounding these kinds of police tactics remain unsettled, according to Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security program at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice. Information that is publicly available, like tweets and Facebook posts, is generally not protected by the Fourth Amendment, though legal questions may arise if that information is aggregated on a large scale – especially if that collection is based on political, religious or ethnic grounds. “This information can be useful, but it can also be used in ways that violate the Constitution,” says Patel. “The question is: what are [police departments] using it for?”
Rolling Stone contacted police departments for the cities of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. for comment on this story.
“The Philadelphia Police Department has their own cameras,” says that force’s spokesperson Jillian Russell. “The department does not have private surveillance companies monitor crime.” She directed follow-up questions about software used to process big data to a deputy mayor’s office, who didn’t return a phone call asking for comment.
When asked if the LAPD uses programs to monitor protesters, a media relations email account sent an unsigned message that simply read: “We are not aware of this.”
The other police departments did not respond to requests for comment.
ROGER’S NOTE: WHEN I READ ABOUT AMERICA’S TORTURE CHAMBERS (AND I DO NOT PUT THAT PHRASE IN QUOTATION MARKS) AND THE NEARLY 100,000 MOSTLY BLACK, LATINO AND FIRST NATIONS PEOPLES BEING TORTURED DAILY, I THINK OF THE AMERICAN MEDIA AND POLITICAL CULTURE AND ITS SELF-RIGHTEOUS, ARROGANT AND HYPOCRITICAL SERMONIZING ABOUT THE SOVIET GULAG OR THE NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMPS. I WANT YOU TO IMAGINE THAT THE AVERAGE TIME FOR AN AMERICA PRISONER IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IS SEVEN AND A HALF YEARS WHEN THE UNITED NATIONS ETHICAL STANDARD IS FIFTEEN DAYS MAXIMUM.
He has not had human contact or a good night’s sleep in nearly three decades. Every single day, he wakes to the sound of metal doors clanging open and a pair of disembodied hands pushing a tray of food through a slot into his 64-square-foot cell.
L to R: Kimberly Richardson (of the Peoples Institute for Survival), Robert King (who spent 31 years in isolation), and Theresa Shoatz, whose father Russell Maroon Shoatz is also in long-term solitary confinement. (Credit: Ann Harkness/cc by 2.0)
For the next 23 hours, he will stare at the same four walls. If he is lucky, he’ll be escorted, shackled at his ankles and wrists, into a “yard” – an enclosure only slightly larger than his cell – for an hour of solitary exercise.
This is how Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, a prisoner in the restricted housing unit at the State Correctional Institute (SCI) Frackville in northern Pennsylvania, has spent the past 22 consecutive years.
On Thursday, Shoatz’s lawyers submitted a communication to Juan E. Mendez, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, urging him to inquire into why a “father, grandfather and great grandfather” is being held in extreme isolation despite having a near-perfect disciplinary record for over 20 years.
The appeal comes on the heels of a surge in public debate on the practice of solitary confinement in the United States, where on any given day an estimated 81,000 men, women and children are held in some form of “restricted housing” unit, according to Federal Bureau of Justice statistics.
Authorities in each state have a myriad of euphemisms for the practice: administrative segregation, secure housing units (SHUs), “supermax” facilities, protective custody. Whatever the language, critics say the basic conditions remain the same: extreme isolation and sensory deprivation for years at a time.
According to a 2012 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the restrictions imposed in “maximum security” facilities often “exceed the fathomable. In Pennsylvania’s most restrictive units, for example, prisoners have all the usual supermax deprivations plus some that seem gratuitously cruel: they are not permitted to have photographs of family members or newspapers and magazines.”
Mendez has already affirmed that holding a human being in isolation for a period exceeding 15 days constitutes a violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture (CAT).
Back in 2011, his office called for a complete global ban on the use of solitary confinement “except in the most extreme circumstances and for as short a time as possible”, citing numerous studies – some dating back decades, others as recent as Amnesty International’s 2012 report ‘The Edge of Endurance’ – that have documented the long-lasting psychological impacts resulting from even a few days of social separation.
This past August, a hunger strike involving over 30,000 prisoners protesting conditions in restricted housing units at the Pelican Bay State Prison in California prompted the rapporteur to make an urgent appeal to the U.S. government to “eliminate the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement under all circumstances”, stressing that the average U.S. prisoners banished to the hole typically stays there roughly 7.5 years – “far beyond what is acceptable under international human rights law.”
Harold Engel, an attorney with over 43 years of experience and a retired partner of the global corporate law firm Reed Smith, said he co-signed the appeal Thursday in the hopes that an investigation undertaken by the office of the special rapporteur, housed at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, will bring an end to indefinite isolation.
“I first became involved in this case because my daughter told me about Shoatz’s situation and I found it abhorrent,” Engel told IPS.
“As I learned more I realised there wasn’t any clear law on the question of whether keeping someone in solitary confinement under conditions that Shoatz has been kept in violates the eighth amendment of the U.S. constitution [prohibiting the government from imposing cruel and unusual punishment] – which, in my opinion, it does.”
Speaking to IPS under condition of anonymity, an inmate who spent several years in solitary confinement in a Pennsylvania prison before being released back into the general population said his life was measured out in a series of arbitrary numbers: he was permitted one hour of exercise on five days out of the week; he was allowed three meals a day but zero contact visits with his family. His cell contained a single cot and one steel sink. Showers were taken thrice weekly, overseen by guards.
“Getting through each day felt like hewing a single stone from a mountain of despair,” he said.
Bret Grote, an activist who has worked for over six years with the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) – an advocacy group comprised predominantly of prisoners’ families, ex-prisoners and their supporters – says he and others have documented “hundreds upon hundreds of instances of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment inside the solitary confinement units of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC).”
“The approximately 2,500 prisoners warehoused in solitary by the PA DOC are held in units where physical abuse, psychological deterioration, retaliation for exercising constitutionally-protected rights, food deprivation, extreme social isolation, severely reduced environmental stimulation, theft and destruction of property, obstruction of access to the courts, and racist abuse are normative features,” Grote told IPS.
As Shoatz’s lawyers await an official response from the U.N. rapporteur, they are holding out hope that a full investigation into his case could also bring some respite for the tens of thousands of others enduring such conditions.
Roger’s note: Obama worse than Bush? On the face of it it seems a ludicrous idea. But digging a little deeper … Here are two articles that give much food for thought. I especially encourage you to play the video at the very end of the second article and watch Rachel Maddow take apart Obama’s academy award winning performance for convolution.
If Seymour Hersh says the tale of the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of US Navy SEALS is “one big lie” and “not one word of it is true,” President Obama will be hard pressed to keep his job when Hersh’s new book comes out. Over a lifetime, investigative reporter Hersh has become famous for his accuracy, honesty, reliability and integrity and if he says the bin Laden tale is a fake, you can take it to the bank.
Hersh told “The Guardian,” Britain’s investigative daily, “Nothing’s been done about that story.” A Pakistani report on the killing of bin Laden, Hersh says, was published with considerable U.S. input and is “a bullshit report.” bin Laden allegedly was killed by a SEAL team in Abbottabad, Pakistan, May 1, 2011.
Hersh is writing a book about national security, “The Guardian” says, and he’s hinted it will include a chapter on the Seals raid in Pakistan that allegedly bumped off bin Laden.
President Obama’s administration lies systematically, Hersh asserts, yet is never challenged by America’s supine media. “It’s pathetic, they are more than obsequious, they are afraid to pick on this guy (Obama),” Hersh said.
Hersh claims President Obama is worse than Bush, “Guardian” writer Lisa O’Carroll, who interviewed Hersh, reports.”Do you think Obama’s been judged by any rational standards?” Hersh asks.”Has Guantanamo closed? Is a war over? Is anyone paying attention to Iraq? Is he seriously talking about going into Syria?”How does Obama get away with the drone program?” How does he justify it? What’s the intelligence?”Why don’t we find out how good or bad this policy is?”
Hersh concludes, “The republic’s in trouble, we lie about everything, lying has become the staple.”
In his bid for re-election in 2012, the Obama campaign milked the bin Laden slaying for all it was worth, making a video narrated by actor Tom Hanks about it. The “Huffington Post’s” Ben Feller at the time wrote an article headlined, “Obama Campaign Using Osama Bin Laden Killing As 2012 Campaign Tool.”
Obama earlier had trumpeted the killing as “the most significant achievement in our fight against Al Quida.”
And Hersh says today the “gotcha” story is all “One Big Lie.” Sounds like an investigation, perhaps even a prosecution, may be in order. #
(Sherwood Ross, who formerly reported for major dailies and wire services, is a public relations consultant for good causes.)
Federal Emergency Management Agency relief trucks stage in New York, as seen as Army Gen. Frank Grass, the chief of the National Guard Bureau; Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall and other National Guard senior leaders visit areas impacted by by jim.greenhill
The Conspirosphere has been buzzing about FEMA camps – mass incarceration/relocation centers – for some years now.
There is no shortage of videos and more videos from conspiratists and mainstream sources alike.
Some purposes seem benign, even helpful, like using the camps to house natural disaster victims, instead of warehousing them in horrific conditions like what ensued after Hurricane Katrina, when up to 20,000 people were jammed into the Louisiana Superdome.
But the use of such camps can be expanded greatly, especially in the new Amerika, where everyone is a suspect, and Constitutional rights are a sometime option.
Rachel Maddow has compiled and dissected some recent speeches by Obama in which he explains the future use of FEMA camps directly, and his twisted but very real legal theory allowing, at least to him, indefinite pre-emptive detention for crimes that have not been committed yet, and Obama’s overreach, far beyond anything Bush and Cheney ever attempted, and completely outside even the constitution’s Article 1, Section 9, which allows for suspension of Habeas Corpus during times of “Rebellion (e.g. as in the Civil War) or Invasion.” She compares Obama’s evolving policy to that of the Tom Cruise science fiction movie: Minority Report, in which Cruise works as a cop in the department of pre-crime, arresting people for things they haven’t done yet.
So, FEMA camps: helpful shelter systems for the next super-storm, or involuntary detention centers for the round-up by the next super storm-troopers…or both? You can decide…for now.
“He wanted to say something public about the struggle he went through to [try to] have an assisted death, preferably with the types of barbiturates that are available in the countries that allow it,” his widow, Maureen Taylor, said in an interview about the video, which went live Tuesday.
Dr. Low, who died Sept. 18 without assistance, was the infectious disease expert who became the calming voice and medical face during the SARS crisis a decade ago. He was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour seven months ago.
“I am not afraid of dying,” he said in the video, “what worries me is how I’m going to die.”
He wondered aloud if he would end up paralyzed, unable to swallow or even talk with his family while he endured a protracted and painful death.
Even before his diagnosis, Dr. Low, 68, was in favour of legalizing medical assistance for “people who were terminally ill and of sound mind,” Ms. Taylor said, but it wasn’t until he was facing his own imminent demise that he tried to turn theory into reality. “There is no place in Canada where you can have support for dying with dignity,” he concluded.
The couple talked about going to Switzerland, where non-residents can swallow a toxic potion and fall into a terminal sleep, but “he wasn’t prepared to go away to die without his kids and my kids around him,” said Ms. Taylor. And he wanted to be here for the anticipated birth of a grandson in July and the wedding of his stepdaughter in late August. They also investigated speeding his death with helium, but “if I was caught buying the gas tanks, then I could have gone to jail,” she said.
Time was running out when the videographers from the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer arrived in early September. “Don wasn’t able to speak fluently, but he pulled it out of a hat,” Ms. Taylor recalled. Hearing was also a problem. Ms. Taylor had to relay the producer’s questions because hers was the only voice her husband could still distinguish. But there is no mistaking the challenge that the dying physician issued to doctors who oppose assisted suicide: “I wish they could live in my body for 24 hours. … I am frustrated not being able to control my own life.”
Dr. Low isn’t the only dying patient to rail against Canada’s prohibition against assisted suicide. Twenty years ago, Sue Rodriguez, a British Columbia woman with ALS, took her request for medical help in ending her life to the Supreme Court of Canada. Ms. Rodriguez lost her challenge, but the debate continued.
In June, 2012, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled that the Criminal Code section on assisted suicide was discriminatory and suspended the decision for a year to give the federal government time to draft a revision. Instead, the government has appealed the BC ruling.
Meanwhile, Quebec tabled right-to-die legislation in the National Assembly last June. Committee hearings into Bill 52, which contains the most radical end-of-life options of any jurisdiction in North America, began last week and are scheduled to continue into October. Among the witnesses expected to appear are representatives from Alzheimer’s and disabilities associations and experts on all sides of the debate, including professors Jocelyn Downie of Dalhousie University and Margaret Somerville of McGill University.
Last week, good ole North Carolina, whose wacko right-wing majority has been some busy passing laws that hurt women, minorities, the poor and the environment, got a nice jump on National Banned Books Week by banning of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, which Ellison described in his speech accepting the National Book Award as “a return to the mood of personal moral responsibility for democracy.” Ellison’s classic about American racism, about being “a man of substance, of flesh and bone,” who is not seen because he’s black, was evidently banned after one parent complained it was “not so innocent…filthier….too much for teenagers”; school board members agreed it was “a hard read” that “didn’t (have) any literary value.” Banning books is a time-tested, spirit-deadening tradition in fearful communities; there were 464 challenges to books reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, with The Bluest Eye and Persopolis perhaps the most recently banned. In the past, almost half of what are widely viewed as the top 100 novels of the 20th century have been banned or challenged, including The Grapes of Wrath, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Color Purple, 1984, Ulysses, Sophie’s Choice, Rabbit Run, Slaughterhouse-Five, A Farewell to Arms, and An American Tragedy, which it is.
“I am an invisible man…No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.”
The University of Oregon’s ‘Football Performance Center,’ which was paid for by Nike founder (and U of O alum) Phil Knight. (Photo by Wolfram Burner via Flickr)
The “University of Nike” sounds like an institution straight out of a dystopian novel. But that moniker has actually been embraced by the University of Oregon, where Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight is one of the school’s most important donors. A gleaming new football center, complete with a locker room requiring biometric thumbprints to enter, isn’t the only sign of the corporation’s influence on campus: During negotiations with the school’s faculty union over its first-ever contract, critics say that the university pulled out some fancy footwork meant to preserve the patronage of Nike and other major donors, including provisions that would have narrowed protections for faculty who speak out against university policies. But an ultimate victory this week by the union, which faculty voted to form last year, helped beat back these measures and uphold the academic freedoms that are increasingly endangered by campuses’ corporate ties.
Unionization rates among U.S. faculty members are traditionally lower than those of their counterparts in other countries, and faculty at private colleges and universities are barred from collective bargaining entirely. But the tussle at the University of Oregon demonstrated that dwellers of the Ivory Tower are also workers under attack—and that their ability to take collective action is essential to the future of higher education.
During the past week, several proposals advanced by the Oregon administration have alarmed campus free-speech advocates and captured national attention. Colleen Flaherty reported at Inside Higher Education on the attempt to insert a “civility” clause into a section of the contract on “faculty responsibilities,” a measure that the watchdog Foundation for Individual Rights in Higher Education (FIRE) says is often abused on campuses in order to “punish unpopular viewpoints.” Even after this proposal was withdrawn last week, City University of New York Professor Corey Robin, who blogs about the politics of higher education, noted that the administration’s insistence on its right to monitor faculty e-mails and even review non-work e-mails “to the extent that they address work-related subjects” represented a “draconian assault on faculty autonomy and privacy.”
Another proposal to limit the ability of faculty members to consult for outside organizations when the Provost deemed it “contrary to the university’s best interests” drew particular concerns that the administration might kow-tow to corporate donors eager to silence their academic critics. Given that Oregon’s Board of Trustees includes “CEOs from the state’s timber and construction industries, the wife of the CEO of Microsoft, and a retired executive from Nike,” wrote Robin, “it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which a professor is forbidden by the provost from consulting with an organization critical of Nike’s labor policies or Microsoft’s market practices.”
But at a bargaining session on Wednesday, the administration backed off these measures, and the two sides reached a tentative agreement on a new contract that also includes average salary increases of 11.75% over the two-year agreement. United Academics (UA), which is comprised of both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty, also won new contract protections for contingent faculty. Full details of the agreement have not yet been released, but Susan Anderson, a German professor and member of the bargaining committee, tells In These Times that it includes “robust protections” for free speech, including language referring to the First Amendment. The union will vote on whether to ratify the contract on October 8.
In a statement released yesterday by the university, U of O President Michael Gottfredson said that he also welcomed the agreement: “Our students benefit from the talents of professors who share their knowledge and passion for research and scholarship every day and this first contract reflects a fiscally responsible agreement that rewards excellence and invests in our faculty—strengthening the University of Oregon for all of our community.”
The administration’s shift is a particularly significant one because its initial proposal eschewed a union demand to guarantee the right to free speech outside the classroom, including where this concerns debate about institutional policies. Instead, Flaherty notes, the university’s proposal “decouples academic freedom and free speech, addressing them separately. Academic freedom is ‘necessary to teaching and research,’ it says, with no mention of the role of academics in speaking out if not related directly to teaching and research.”
The ability of faculty members to criticize university policies was a key tenet of academic freedom when the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) codified the concept in 1940. But the free-speech rights of university faculty have fallen into murky territory since 2006, when the Supreme Court ruled that public employees were not entitled to these rights for speech “pursuant to their official duties.” The Supreme Court did not address whether this ruling applied to professors at public universities, leaving the question in a legal limbo. Advocates are hopeful that a decision earlier this month from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco—which ruled that a controversial proposal circulated by a former Washington State University Professor David Demers to overhaul the school’s communications department should have constituted protected speech—will form the basis for more robust protections in the future.
But apart from legal uncertainty, academic freedom faces another threat: the growing reliance of universities on corporate patronage. To make up for stunning shortfalls in state funding, public universities have both hiked tuition and courted investment by private donors. “When universities are dependent on the money of private donors, administrators may feel pressure to enact policies that jeopardize the status of the university as a place of free inquiry,” says Anderson. Oregon has already seen this kind of influence wielded—the university reportedly terminated its involvement in the anti-sweatshop Workers’ Rights Consortium following pressure from Nike’s Knight.
According to Joe Lowndes, an associate professor of political science and member of the union’s organizing committee, the contract fight at the University of Oregon “has shown that a unionized faculty can, among other things, act to safeguard academic freedom—a freedom we have learned not to take for granted within the changing structure of American higher education.”
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Rebecca Burns, In These Times Assistant Editor, holds an M.A. from the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where her research focused on global land and housing rights. A former editorial intern at the magazine, Burns also works as a research assistant for a project examining violence against humanitarian aid workers.
The private prison industry is making a killing off the broken criminal justice system.
Private prison companies make billions from torture and confinement.
We can stop this by holding prison companies’ investors, board members, and public officials accountable.
The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and the private prison industry is making a killing off this broken system. For-profit prison companies get paid for each person that fills their cells — raking in $5 billion in annual revenue.1 Empty beds mean lost profits, so to keep the money flowing the industry spends millions lobbying the government to expand the destructive policies that keep more people behind bars for longer, harsher sentences.2
Tragically, one-third of all Black men will spend part of their lives in prison.3 Meanwhile, for-profit prisons promote and exploit mass incarceration and racial-bias in the criminal justice system — further accelerating our nation’s prison addiction. We can stop this. The prison industry depends on corporate backers for the capital it needs to keep growing,4 and allies in government for contracts that fill their prisons. If we convince enough investors and board members to leave the industry, we can discredit incarceration as a business, bring attention to the harm it creates, and deter public officials from granting contracts to prison companies.
Federal agencies and state governments contract with three main companies to lock people up: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), GEO Group, Inc., and the Management and Training Corporation (MTC). The top two prison companies, CCA and GEO, are publicly traded and financed by investors, major banks and corporations, who hold shares in the industry. CCA and GEO Group make money by charging a daily rate per body that is sent to them — costing tax payers billions for dangerous, ineffective facilities.5 The industry also makes money by avoiding tax payments. CCA will dodge $70 million dollars in tax payments this year by becoming a real estate investment trust (REIT) and designating their prisons as “residential”.6
In order to maximize profits, prison companies cut back on staff training, medical care, and rehabilitative services — causing assault rates to double in some private prisons.7A 2010 ACLU lawsuit against CCA-run Idaho Correctional Center cited a management culture so violent the facility is known as the “gladiator school”.8 The industry also maximizes profits by lobbying for and benefiting from laws that put more people in jail. In the 1990′s CCA chaired the Criminal Justice Task force of shadowy corporate bill-mill, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which passed “3 strikes” and “truth in sentencing” laws that continue to send thousands of people to prison on very harsh sentences.9Black folks are disproportionately subjected to these uniquely harsh conditions due to our extreme overrepresentation in the private prison system.10
In many parts of the country, the political tide is shifting against the for-profit prison industry. Earlier this summer, Kentucky, Texas, Idaho, and Mississippi broke ties with CCA after reports of chronic understaffing, inmate death, and rising costs to the states became undeniable.11 In April, New Hampshire rejected all private prison bids because the prison corporations could not show that they would follow legal requirements for safely housing prisoners.12 And, there is growing opposition to California Governor Jerry Brown’s misguided plan to comply with a Supreme Court order to alleviate the State’s prison overcrowding crisis by moving thousands of prisoners into private facilities, at a public cost of $1 billion over 3 years.13
The private prison industry should not control who is locked up, for how long, and at what price. For-profit prison companies have investors that cut across many industries. Some of these investors — wealthy individuals, major banks and financial companies — know exactly what they’re doing. But with enough pressure, they might reconsider whether it’s worth being known as profiting from exploitation and racism in the criminal justice system.
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