Part III. Creating a Gulag
The second item in Naomi Wolf’s book, “The End of America, A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot”, is “Create a gulag”. Thanks to step one, “Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy” creating a gulag is all but accomplished. The Bush administration created a worldwide network of ‘detainee’ camps. The most public Gulag is Guantanamo but it is not the only one.
One of the worst is Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan. Unlike Guantanamo prisoners at Bagram do not have the right of Habeas Corpus. Bagram is just the tip of the iceberg. Also used to ‘detain’ enemy combatants are navy ships4, jails in third world countries (where torture is legal) and military bases around the globe. From Gwynne Dyer ‘s article Obama and the Gulag Archipelago
“Only 242 prisoners are still held at Guantanamo, but that is just the tip of an iceberg. There are thousands more held in legal black holes at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, in Iraq, Djibouti and the prison ships, at the US base on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and in the countries where the Central Intelligence Agency has been out-sourcing the more severe forms of torture (notably Egypt, Morocco and Jordan).
An exact count of the detainees is impossible, because in many cases even their names are not known, but estimates run as high as 18,000 people. Some of them have been held for as much as seven years.”
When President Obama signed the executive order1 to close Guantanamo it was an empty gesture.
Obama has stated publicly he has no problem detaining prisoners outside the US2, specifically Afghanistan. And while on one hand he is condemning water boarding with the other his Justice Department is trying to dismiss the suit by Shafiq Rasul that claims he was unlawfully arrested and tortured3.
From the Washington Independent
“According to their legal complaint, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed claim they traveled to Afghanistan in October 2001 to offer humanitarian relief to civilians. In late November, they were kidnapped by Rashid Dostum, the Uzbeki warlord and leader of the U.S.-supported Northern Alliance. He turned them over to U.S. custody – apparently for bounty money that American officials were paying for suspected terrorists. In December, without any independent evidence that the men had engaged in hostilities against the United States, U.S. officials sent them to Guantanamo Bay”
At the same time we are imprisoning thousands of foreign citizens we are sending millions of Americans to jail. In Febuary of 2008 the United Stated reached a new milestone, more than one in 100 American adults were behind bars.5 Every state in the union is struggling with overcrowding in their prisons. It is a problem of our own doing.
Three Strikes and You’re Out. Possibly the most draconian sentencing policy the judicial system could devise. Consider the case of Gregory Taylor, a homeless man who frequented St Joseph’s church in Los Angeles, Fr. Allan McCoy, the parish priest, would often give Taylor food and sometimes let him sleep in the church. Around four am one morning Taylor, unable to wake Fr. McCoy, attempted to open the screen door to the church. A security guard observed Taylor then called the police who arrested Taylor.
It was Taylors third offense and according to California law mandated a minimum of twenty five years in prison. Fr. McCoy testified at the hearing asking that Taylor not be sentenced as a third time offender but his plea was ignored. An appeal was filed for Taylor in 2001 but was denied. One of the judges however remarked the Taylors case was “like something from Les Misérables”.
Unfortunately, leniency and prison reform are not the answer many legislatures pursue – building more prisons seems to be the solution. While many decry the economic cost of building more prisons few examine the human cost of locking away almost a tenth of the population. In some cases shrewd politicians and business leaders tout prisons as a growth industry. From the website – http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/2797/follow_the_prison_money_trail/:
“Supposedly, states turn to private companies to cope better with chronic overcrowding and for low-cost management. However, a closer look suggests a different rationale. A recent report from the Montana-based Institute on Money in State Politics reveals that during the 2002 and 2004 election cycles, private prison companies, directors, executives and lobbyists gave $3.3 million to candidates and state political parties across 44 states.”
Prisons are also a source of cheap labor6. Over a half million inmates are now employed by private contractors. UNICOR/Federal Prison Industries is, according to the Federal Burea of Prisons website a “wholly-owned, Government corporation established by Congress on June 23, 1934”. Again, according their website, “By statute, FPI is restricted to selling its products to the Federal Government.” On UNICOR’s website however it states, “After years of providing quality goods and services to federal agencies, UNICOR now has the authority to partner with private sector firms”…”Now, private companies and government agencies can outsource their contact center work to UNICOR. In a nutshell: You provide the software, telcom(sic), and training, and we’ll provide the facility and labor.” They also provide the toxic waste – http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/2982/americas_slave_labor/
It is hard to predict how much worse or how much larger our prisons will become. It is highly doubtful the situation will improve; the forces aligned against reform are just too great. As long as private contractors can use prison populations as a cheap labor source and run prisons at a profit there will be an increasing demand for inmates. And our government is only too happy to supply all the terrorists, drug users and illegal immigrants it can. It’s all a part of the plan.
From Reagan who started the ball rolling with his war on drugs (I wish he had just said no) to George H. Bush who not only escalated the ‘war’ but created the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and appointed the first Drug Czar – William Bennett. Next up was Bill Clinton who during the presidential election approved the execution of a mentally retarded black man and championed the “three strikes and you’re out” laws. Clinton was also responsible for privatizing the prison system (http://www.dunwalke.com/10_Clinton_Administration.htm). George W. Bush pioneered the use of off shore prisons where it is easier to torture and without those pesky constitutional rights.
So what will Obama do? We already know he is not going to do much about the American overseas gulag, but he may very well institute some reforms here at home. I believe he will pass some very public bills that appear to make things better for those in jail but privately will work towards maintaining the status quo.