There are many issues that have gained national attention and have been celebrated as cause for public debate and political polarization. But one item that should be on the national agenda that has been woefully underreported, and has remained relatively obscure on the landscape of news-land, is the veritable attack on the Constitution and Bill of Rights itself. I have mentioned some of these items within this (or my Yahoo page) blog, such as: radio host Mike Gallagher calling for public dissenters of the current administration to be put into camps, John McCain’s internet speech bill, the Military Commissions Act (or HR6166), and the brutal tactics used by Law Enforcement on American citizens who are peacefully protesting. And now, it seems, there may be yet another worry to concern us about the rights that we hold as citizens.
Radio host and Constitutional commentator, Alex Jones, has recently released a video about a holding facility in Taylor, Texas which he believes is some sort of modern day ‘concentration camp’ right here in the US. One can easily slough off his claim, putting it on the same shelf as other ‘conspiracy theories’ that have been discussed around the water cooler in hushed tones all across the country. But, at least to this author’s eyes, there are some facts surrounding the creation of the holding facility that certainly should raise an eyebrow in caution and pause, if not be cause for further investigation.
According to the official listing on the US Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE)site, the facility (named the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility) was set up by ICE to be run by a private corporation (Corrections Corporation of America or CCA) in order to house illegal immigrants and their families (including children) while they were being processed. The listing goes on to say that this type of facility was necessary due to the failure of the ‘catch and release’ program that ICE had previously instituted. Upon reading this, it would seem quite above board and legitimate, but some questions do arise apart from this official listing.
CCA, according to their own site, is: “the nation’s largest owner and operator of privatized correctional and detention facilities and one of the largest prison operators in the United States, behind only the federal government and four states.” And, as seems to be the norm with government contractors of this magnitude, they have been involved in their share of scandal and subterfuge. In December 2006, they were accused of trying to get around paying taxes for their facility being constructed in Arizona; also in December 2006 they convinced the local politicos of Pike county, MS, that there was no need for a public hearing on a proposition to build a prison facility in their area, citing that there was not enough public dissent to warrant a public hearing; they came under fire for the use of money received by one of its prisons under the banner of federal faith based initiatives; have been fined for purposefully understaffing their facilities concerning positions that were mandatory according to their charter and contract; have been noted for working with the Governor of Hawaii to ship off many of that State’s prisoners to mainland facilities owned by CCA for incarceration (so much for any sort of visitation); for Department of Corrections officials helping the company get government contracts; and for funding discrepancies (including payments made to the county from the company) for their Texas facility. Additionally, there have been accusations of intentionally overcrowding the Hutto facility in order to bill the state for a higher head count; according to the Texas Civil Rights Review the facility has space for 512 ‘residents’, but is currently holding 645 inmates. Yet, even after all these allegations levied against them, according to their site they have a 95% renewal rate for their government contracts.
According to a story from the Taylor Daily Press, a newspaper local to the area where the facility is located, the place has had somewhat of a spotty history. In 2004, CCA had planned to put the prison into ‘mothballs’ due to the sheer lack of prisoners. But in 2006 CCA signed a new contract with ICE to use the prison for the detention of illegal aliens; this contract, according to the story, has no term limits and is on a continuing, rolling renewal. Prior to this contract, the facility held prisoners that had to be relocated due to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, prisoners of the US Marshal’s office, and overflow prisoners from other facilities.
At first glance, one could surmise that the situation is relatively (in the world of political/business intrigue, at least) benign. Seemingly, this could be simply another case of the Government throwing money at a company in the form of no-bid government contracts regardless of their ethics record, and making that ‘business as usual’ in a Halliburton-esque way (speaking of Halliburton, it is that company’s subsidiary, KBR, who recently received a no-bid contract from the government for $385 million dollars for the building of more ‘detention centers’ all across the country).
There has been great debate as to the effects of privatizing the prison system, with problems ranging to cost effectiveness, the companies getting the contracts (like CCA), and the lack of public oversight due to the prisons themselves owning the status of a private corporation. Investigative reporter Eric Schlosser wrote in an article for the Atlantic Monthly: “The prison-industrial complex is not only a set of interest groups and institutions. It is also a state of mind. The lure of big money is corrupting the nation’s criminal-justice system, replacing notions of safety and public service with a drive for higher profits. The eagerness of elected officials to pass tough-on-crime legislation — combined with their unwillingness to disclose the external and social costs of these laws — has encouraged all sorts of financial improprieties.”
Obviously this situation is a reason for some investigation, or even Congressional oversight, in order to determine if there is unlawful collusion between segments of the government and private industry. But is it possible that there may be something more sinister afoot, or are the outcries of some accusing the government of troucing on the civil liberties of the civilian population nothing more than “conspiracy theories”?
HISTORY and PRECIDENT
Looking back on the history of our Republic, there are quite a few instances in that time-line where the government has stepped in and superceeded the rights given us in the Constitution and Bill of Rights in times of War or great national strife and created laws (or worked around them) and unconstitutionally imprisoned American citizens. In 1798 the Alien and Sedition Act was passed which made illegal the opposition of any law or being critical of the government; during the civil war the South jailed abolitionists, the north jailed anti-abolitionests, and Lincoln himself suspended freedom of the press, free speech, and habius corpus; much of the same happened during WW I; American citizens of Japoneese and German decent were imprisoned without being charged of any crime in ‘residential facilities’ during WWII.
Obviously there is much in the way of precident when it comes to uncontitutional imprisonment in our nations history, but is there any basis for having worries of similar situations occuring in our current timeframe?
Back in 1984 there was a plan forulated by the Federal government that outlined their ability to detain large ampounts of the civilian population in a time of civil unrest named REX84. The scholar Diana Reynolds wrots thusly of REX84:
“The Rex-84 Alpha Explan (Readiness Exercise 1984, Exercise Plan), [otherwise known as a continuity of government plan], indicates that FEMA in association with 34 other federal civil departments and agencies conducted a civil readiness exercise during April 5-13, 1984. It was conducted in coordination and simultaneously with a Joint Chiefs exercise, Night Train 84, a worldwide military command post exercise (including Continental U.S. Forces or CONUS) based on multi-emergency scenarios operating both abroad and at home. In the combined exercise, Rex-84 Bravo, FEMA and DOD led the other federal agencies and departments, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Secret Service, the Treasury, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Veterans Administration through a gaming exercise to test military assistance in civil defense.
The exercise anticipated civil disturbances, major demonstrations and strikes that
would affect continuity of government and/or resource mobilization. To fight
subversive activities, there was authorization for the military to implement
government ordered movements of civilian populations at state and regional
levels, the arrest of certain unidentified segments of the population, and the
imposition of martial rule.”
With the institution of both of the Patriot Acts (written, interestingly enough by Viet Dinh, ex assistant Attourney General, and Michal Chertoff, currently the head of Homeland Security)and the Military Comissions act, one can have their citizenship stripped by federal law enforcemnt if one is even suspected of being (or being connected to) terrorists, held indefinately without being charged of a crime, and tried only before a military tribunal in leiu of a judge and jury (this has already happened, the most well known case being that of Yaser Hamdi). The Department of Homeland Security created a plan in 2003 called project ENDGAME which proports to expand on the mission of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the goal of which is to, “remove all removable aliens,” including “illegal economic migrants, aliens who have committed criminal acts, asylum-seekers (required to be retained by law) or potential terrorists.” Also implemented have been various Continuity of Government (COG) plans which have been cause for public outcry and scrutiny concerning warrant-less eavesdropping, expanded detention capabilities, preparations for greater use of martial law, in addition to firming up other items that have received mention in the Patriot and Military Commissions Acts.
After stating all the above the question now becomes, ‘do I think that there is some sort of sinister plot afoot’? In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure. But the sheer amount of documented evidence which all points in the same direction makes it a fact that the power and ability for the government to close up shop on our Republic is most certainly available for them to do so at any given time. That alone is enough to make uneasy the footing of any citizen. The question of whether this power be exercised at any time in our future is certainly a matter for debate, but the existence of such needs to be warily scrutinized by the public.
US Immigration link : http://www.ice.gov/pi/news/factsheets/huttodetentionfac.htm
Yaser Hamdi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaser_Hamdi
Mike Gallagher’s comments: http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-ops5w1A7dK6gFjhfKgWwXC_nLPU-?cq=1&p=397#comments
John McCain’s internet bill: http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-ops5w1A7dK6gFjhfKgWwXC_nLPU-?cq=1&p=373#comments
Military Commissions Act: http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-ops5w1A7dK6gFjhfKgWwXC_nLPU-?cq=1&p=191#comments
Law Enforcement thuggish behavior: http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-ops5w1A7dK6gFjhfKgWwXC_nLPU-?cq=1&p=191#comments