Category Archives: Incarceration

Casino capitalists in the brainwash-Iraqis biz

I have long maintained (e.g. here, PDF) that two of the major goals of all oppressive powers that undertake campaigns of mass incarceration is to use that incarceration both as a means of active political blackmail against the families and communities of those detained (= quite illegal hostage-taking) and to use the control over detainees to brainwash them directly into some form of subservience, or otherwise to break their will.
‘Twas ever thus. Including in all imperial-style campaigns of “counter-insurgency” from the beginnings of imperial/colonial history until today. As in the occupied Palestinian territories (more than 7,000 men detained without trial by Israel) and in Iraq (around 17,000 held without trial by the US, plus thousands more by the Iraqi government), and Afghanistan.
Now, Nick Mottern of Consumers for Peace and Bill Rau have done some excellent spadework investigating the corporate structure of some of the “contractors” (i.e. mercenaries) doing the brainwashing work in the massive US-run detention system in Iraq. They report that the detention system inside Iraq that’s run by the US military’s “Task Force 134” operates a religious brainwashing program that employs 60 claimed “imams”– and that these imams are hired and supervised by a wholly owned subsidiary of Global Innovation (GI) Partners LLP, a California- and London-based private equity firm.
Among those investing in GI Partners are the pension systems run for employees of both the State of California (CALPERS) and Oregon, they report.
The “imams in the detention centers” program looks eerily similar to the way the British in Kenya used Anglican indoctrination in a long-sustained campaign to break the nationalist wills of the Kenyan independence activists known as the Mau-Mau, back in the 1950s. In the horrendous network of detention camps that the British ran then, detainees were humiliated and very seriously– often lethally– mistreated; meanwhile, they were promised better treatment or perhaps even “release” if only they’d abandon their “primitive” indigenous religions and take oaths of conversion into the Anglican faith.
Of course, all such forms of coercive brainwashing is completely illegal under international law, which guarantees the freedom of religion, religious understanding and practice, and conscience, to all persons. (It was illegal in the 1950, too. But that didn’t stop the British from practicing it.)
So now, Mottern and Rau have connected the dots of the story of how the restless forces of casino capitalism that are ever circling the globe in search of the next generator of the hyper-profits they seek, regardless of at whose expense, have met up with the world of mercenary brainwashing, in an allegedly “Islamic” religious context.
Investors, including those running state-employee pension funds, should dissociate themselves from companies that make profits in such a disreputable way.
(One final note: Human Rights Watch, and reportedly also Amnesty International, recently called on the US government not to hand control over its Iraqi detainees over to the Iraqi government under any of the bilateral security agreements it concludes. HRW had previously documented some serious abuses being committed inside the Iraqi-run detention centers. But HRW has done pitifully little to challenge the US’s own extensive– and extremely coercive– use of detention without trial in Iraq. In its latest press release, it calls on the US government only to “ensure that detainees are not in danger of being tortured [by Iraqi jailers] by establishing a mechanism that would provide each detainee with a genuine opportunity to contest a transfer to Iraqi custody, and by verifying the conditions of Iraqi detention facilities to which they could be transferred, through inspections whose results are made public.” Why on earth don’t they call more directly on the US to release all those detainees against whom it is unable to bring any credible charges of malfeasance? Why do they seem to concur so much with the US military’s view that sometimes it’s kinda necessary to detain large numbers of people without trial?)

Restorative justice in a DC church

Yesterday’s WaPo had a fascinating account of an innovative program the DC police is running, to offer people who are “fugitives” from the law a safe-seeming and humane way to come forward and resolve their situations. Significantly, it is based in one of the city’s big churches, the Bible Way church.
Thursday, in the first of three days the program will run, some 150 fugitives turned themselves in. Most of them were reportedly wanted in connection with nonviolent crimes. One man who came forward in connection with an assault and battery charge was arrested and taken away in handcuffs. The authorities reportedly offered “favorable consideration” to those who came forward.
WaPo journo Robert Pierre added these details:

    The effort is part of a national program that has resulted in more than 5,000 people with outstanding warrants coming forward in five other cities. Most have shown up with family members, and the vast majority said they might have kept running if not for the non-courthouse setting.
    “They talk about the safety and sanctity of the church,” said Kent State University professor Daniel Flannery, who has surveyed participants in all six cities.
    Participants yesterday expressed similar feelings as they arrived at Bible Way Church. They were greeted at the front door by volunteers, many of them members of the church, who guided them toward metal detectors set up inside.
    Dozens and dozens of law enforcement officers were present, although most of them were in the background, many out of sight of participants. Church ladies and pastors chatted with the arrivals, offering them something to eat or drink.
    Soon, however, participants were ushered into the basement, where the wheels of justice were in full motion. People were outfitted with wristbands, introduced to defense attorneys and moved to makeshift courtrooms, where judges heard their cases.
    In one of them, Rufus G. King III, chief judge of D.C. Superior Court, presided. Activity swirled all around: People hustled in and out, reporters requested interviews. Noise from adjacent “courts” crept over walls that didn’t reach the ceiling. The commotion became so overwhelming at one point that King signaled to an aide, who promptly gestured for quiet in the nearby hallway.
    Order restored for the moment, King whipped through cases, dismissing some, setting new court dates for others. As he dismissed one marijuana possession case, King told the man: “We all know that marijuana isn’t going to grow hair on your palms, but it will get you locked up. You got off of this case, but don’t get another one.”
    The man nodded and left, smiling…

I should note that the US is one of the world’s greatest incarcerators, now having more than two million people in jail. It is a vindictive, ill-organized, and largely dysfunctional system that leaves almost no room for the education and social rehabilitation of inmates. Instead, once behind bars, many of them become even further socialized into tough-guy, violent behaviors. And of course, their family ties are nearly completely disrupted and cut off; and yet another generation of kids is forced to grow up without fathers or– as is increasingly the case these days– mothers.
(And this system of so-called criminal “justice” is one that many well-meaning Americans want to export to all corners of the world??)
I am delighted that these churches are working with the court system to offer this alternative. What I see in this report has many aspects of the far more humane, life-affirming, and effective “restorative justice” approach to dealing with wrongdoers. Including that the offenders are welcomed into this program with family members accompanying them, rather than being forced to stand in a criminal dock alone; and they are treated with hospitality and respect by the “church ladies.”
My Quaker meeting in Charlottesville has been quite involved with offender-restoration projects in the city and region there; and more recently it has been working with the juvenile justice system to put in place some truly restorative justice procedures as an option, whenever possible. But as far as I know, the Bible Way church here in DC is far larger than most Quaker meetings. It is great that they’re doing this.

“Bending” Iraqi detainees to the US will

The commander of US detention facilities in Iraq, Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, on Tuesday told a group of military bloggers that the US is now holding 25,000 detainees there. He also, more scarily yet, said that the military has activated programs with the detainees designed to “bend them back to our will.”
This language does not make it sound like a program of friendly persuasion. It makes it sound like highly coercive brainwashing. And it seems it is being practised with particular energy on the “about 840-something” detainees who are minors.
That is a shockingly high number of youthful detainees. (We can note that the US and Somalia are the only two countries in the world that have not ratified the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child.)
Stone confirmed reports that some of the detainees are as young as 11 and 12 years old:

    now, the trend is towards the youth. And you know, if they’re 11 years old and 12 years old and 13 years old, we tend to see them, the psychologists tend too see them as, you know, kids that, you know, are — can be told to do anything and they’ll go do it. The older ones, the 15, 16, 17-year-old ones, you know, they’re the harder nuts. And again my numbers are going to be a little bit off, but 50 to 60 of those we’ve been able to actually get criminal court hearings against.

Many, many aspects of what Stone says are truly outrageous. (Indeed, his entire discussion there constitutes a very important document of the US “counter-insurgency” mindset at work in Iraq.) Detaining children… using the fact and conditions of detention to try to brainwash people and/or as hostages in a cynical political game… trying to use coercively applied interpretations of “religion” in this brainwashing effort…
Mainly, I wanted to blog this– despite the horrendous time-crunch on my book deadline– because what Stone describes his units as so hurriedly trying to do in Iraq is all very similar indeed to what the Brits were trying to do with “Operation Pipeline” during their brutal, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to quell the Mau-Mau rebellion in Kenya 50 years ago. As I wrote about here— PDF– about 18 months ago.
Interestingly, Stone presents a large part of his effort as very humane, and almost similar to “social work” (Operation Pipeline was also in its time publicized as having a “rehabilitative” intent.)
Stone also writes about how enthusiastic Iraqi Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi has become about the “educational” (i.e. mostly brainwashing) parts of the detention plan.
Well, maybe running a Pipeline-like detain-and-brainwash operation in Iraq will win the US a few extra months for Washington’s occupation of the country. Maybe not. It will almost certainly, however, sow additional trauma amongst everyone who takes part, both detainees and detainers, so from every point of view it is an extremely tragic episode.
But it won’t materially affect the ultimate fate of the US occupation there. Ending the occupation remains the prime responsibility of all Americans. We need to do it sooner rather than later and in a way that reduces to an absolute minimum both the conflict levels as we withdraw and the conflict levels within the Iraq that we leave behind. With wise diplomacy that is still possible– though of course nothing can bring back to life the many thousands who have died there in the 54 months of this senseless war to date.

“Rick Warren should be in jail”

“Rick Warren should be in jail.” So should Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth, Robert H. Schuller, and perhaps even…. Helena Cobban. :-}
I’m referring, if you haven’t guessed, to prison libraries and to the NYTimes report on new Federal Prison guidelines for libraries, specifically their sections on faith.
Kudos to Sojourners and “Sojo mail” for the catchy, if purposeful, headline about Mr. Warren. From their e-mail today:

Imagine walking into your local library, planning to read a theologian such as Reinhold Niebuhr or Karl Barth, or a popular inspirational work, such as Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life or Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
But instead of finding such important and popular titles, you discover that the religion section has been decimated – stripped of any book that did not appear on a government-approved list.
That’s exactly what’s happening right now to inmates in federal prisons under a Bush Administration policy. As The New York Times put it, “chaplains have been quietly carrying out a systematic purge of religious books and materials that were once available to prisoners in chapel libraries.”

Imagine, the Federal Prisons have labored to compile lists of approved books on faith; those not on the list get pulled or blocked. The specific criteria and the actual approved lists are not open for public review; this is, after all, the Bush-Cheney Administration.
Here’s a Sojo link for a suggested protest letter to the Prisons’ Director.
So how did the Bush Administration, reputed for faith-based approaches to social problems, come up with this bizarre policy? Maybe it comes from the “Feith-based” neoconservative view of the world — as in, “it’s all about national security.” According then to the “Stardardized Chapel Library Project,” we prevent prisoners from accessing anything that would “discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize.” As claimed by the Federal Prisons spokesperson quoted in the Times,

“We really wanted consistently available information for all religious groups to assure reliable teachings as determined by reliable subject experts.”

Just who, we wonder, determines what religious materials are “reliable teachings?” What’s meant by “radicalize,” or “discrimination?” Should we prohibit a book that says there’s only one way to be accepted by God? Wouldn’t that be “discriminating” against others who pointed to another “path?” One would think, this is absurd. Or as the Mark Early of Prison Fellowship puts it,

“It’s swatting a fly with a sledgehammer…. There’s no need to get rid of literally hundreds of thousands of books that are fine simply because you have a problem with an isolated book or piece of literature that presents extremism.”

Meanwhile, back to the front lines in Iraq – and their religious freedoms – consider this allegation that some US soldiers are being compelled to participate in Christian services. Perhaps there’s a “devil” or two in the details here, as I find it hard to believe that the Pentagon, much less Secretary Gates, would knowingly mandate the practice of any religion by soldiers.
Yet as we’ve noted here before, some “dispensationalist” Christian-zionist groups still view Iraq as a “crusade” for the spread of Christianity. It’s advance will bring on the rapture, Armageddon, the return & reign of Christ, etc. etc. See, for example, Max Blumenthal’s report on “Operation Straight Up” a group that operates with the Pentagon’s “blessing” and proselytizes among active-duty members of the US military, including with inflammatory apocalyptic video games.
In the judgment of Mikey Weinstein, a former Reagan Administration White House,

“The constitution has been assaulted and brutalized,… Thanks to the influence of extreme Christian fundamentalism, the wall separating church and state is nothing but smoke and debris. And OSU is the IED that exploded the wall separating church and state in the Pentagon and throughout our military.”

Meanwhile, the US State Department recently issued its annual, heavily politicized report on religious freedom around the world.
No doubt the rest of the world wonders:

“What, pray tell, gives you the standing to show us the way?

Mia Farrow: “virtual hostage”

Irony alert
Those familiar with Farzaneh Milani’s path-breaking literary analysis will recognize the phrase “hostage narrative,” a term she has been devloping over many years to apply to that best-selling genre of politically tinged “true stories.” In these “hostage narratives,” women writers who are now “liberated” or “un-veiled” tell the world of their past “cultural captivity” in their native, usually Muslim lands.
In this genre, as Professor Milani documents, the line between “fact” and “fiction” gets lost, as those sympathetic to the “message” focus only on the cause served. It’s a great way to sell books and a shrewd way to “heat up” the political culture to support bombings and invasions to “liberate” the presumed hostages. Thus the sequel:
“Reading Lolita while bombing Tehran.”
(And oh by the way, are women now better off in today’s de facto Islamic Republic(s) of Iraq than they were under Saddam? Where’s columnist Ellen Goodman been on that?)
Veteran actress Mia Farrow now takes the “hostage narrative” to a new, virtual realm, with her over-the-top offer to exchange herself for the “freedom” of a Sudanese “dissident” rebel leader and Darfur advocate, Suleiman Jamous. Depending on the source you read, Jamous is a “virtual prisoner” who cannot leave a UN hospital and/or cannot leave the country for medical treatment.
To Sudan’s President, Ms. Farrow writes,

Mr. Jamous is in need of a medical procedure that cannot be carried out in Kadugli… Mr. Jamous played a crucial role in bringing the SLA to the negotiating table and in seeking reconciliation between its divided rival factions.
I am… offering to take Mr. Jamous’s place, to exchange my freedom for his in the knowledge of his importance to the civilians of Darfur and in the conviction that he will apply his energies toward creating the just and lasting peace that the Sudanese people deserve and hope for.

How curious. Ms. Farrow’s “courageous offer” to become a female hostage in a Muslim land is a recognizable stroke of p.r. brilliance. It’s getting widespread softball media treatment in the US, as anything supporting the long-suffering Sudanese Darfuris is “hip” in the US and must be “a good thing.” And besides, she’s a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, and what’s the harm — particularly if it helps focus the international microscope back on unresolved Sudanese nightmares? (US international broadcasting has been prominently featuring Ms. Farrow’s offer too….)
Ms. Farrow of course knows there isn’t a chance the Sudanese government will take her up on her offer to become a “hostage.” What a p.r. disaster for them that would be!
In her best acting yet, Ms. Farrow professes to the media the sincerity of her wish to be a real hostage. Indeed.
We’ll likely have to settle for Ms. Farrow keeping a journal for enthralled admirers of her “ordeal” as a surreal hostage-in-waiting – a “virtual hostage” on behalf of a “virtual prisoner.”
Oh the drama. I feel another best-seller in the works, no doubt for a worthy cause. (Aren’t they all? Though perhaps in Mia Farrow’s case, the title, “Not Without My Daughter” might be a bit inappropriate…..)
So what’s next? Hundreds, if not thousands, of Darfur activists on college campuses signing up to join Mia as “virtual hostages?” eh? Me & Mia? No doubt that’s too harsh.
I hear Ms. Farrow’s next movie will be a comedy.

Alan, Haleh, and all others unjustifiably deprived of their freedom

It’s been more than two months of heart-rending uncertainty now, for Alan Johnston, the courageous and professionally talented BBC reporter who was abducted by persons unknown in Gaza back on March 12. Since then, Gaza has been wracked by very violent internal conflict and has been shelled by the Israelis several times. In Gaza there is almost no functioning civil administration, given the harshness of the siege to which the area’s people and their elected leadership have been subjected by the US, Israel, and other governments.
The elected leaders, and representatives of many civil-society organizations in Gaza and elsewhere in Palestine, have all expressed great concern for Alan’s wellbeing. But the PA government still aparently remains powerless to free him.
I hope he’s still alive, and that he can be freed very very soon.
Now, many people in the US are becoming concerned about Iran’s recent arrest of the US/Iranian scholar Haleh Esfandiari. Haleh is a sweet and talented woman, very dedicated to exposing the US public to a broad variety of views about Iran. In her work at the congressionally funded Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars she has been able, in particular, to bring a broad range of Iranian voices to Washington DC, the vast majority of whom have spoken out strongly in favor of more dialogue, more understanding, and NO WAR.
There is some reason to be concerned about Haleh’s wellbeing. In 2003, Canadian-Iranian journalist Zahra Kazemi was beaten to death, apparently inside Evin Prison, the same notorious place of detention where Haleh is now being held. However, at least the identity of Haleh’s captors– unlike that of the shadowy grouplet that abducted Alan Johnston– is well known. The Iranian government has admitted it is holding her and is subjecting her to a judicial investigation on allegations that she has been involved in the Bush administration’s extremely hostile, illegal, and foolhardy program of “regime change through subversion inside Iran.”
People who know Haleh’s work find these charges ridiculous; and I hope the Iranian investigators rapidly discover that they are quite baseless, and free her.
Haleh had gone to Teheran back in December to visit her mother, who is 93. Since her arrest she has been allowed a few short phone calls with her mother; but her mom has not been allowed to visit her in the prison.
I know both Alan Johnston and Haleh Esfandiari a little– Haleh better than Alan. It makes me quite sick to think of the sadness and fear that they and their families must now be feeling.
Yet I have hesitated to write about either of them until now.
I know that in the Middle East there are many thousands of individuals– most of them probably just as humane, talented, and innocent as these two– who are being held as “bargaining chips” or for other quite illegal purposes in the various horrendous conflicts now affecting the region.
For example, the UN’s Assistance Mission in Iraq reported that as of March 31, “37,641 detainees were being held by Iraq and US-led forces.” The term “detainees” is usually used in these circumstances for people against whom no formal charges have been laid.
I believe the number of Palestinian detainees being held by Israel is around 7,000. There are hundreds or thousands of political prisoners in each of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iran, and saudi Arabia, too…
So I personally believe that any pleas we make on behalf of Alan Johnston or Haleh Esfandiari should be tied very firmly to pleas of equal strength for the release of all people in the Middle East– and in Afghanistan and Guantanamo– who have been deprived of their liberty in a quite unjustifable way, and have been denied access to anything like due process in a fair tribunal.
For each of these individuals, and their families, the sadness and fear are just as real and just as intense as they are for Alan and Haleh. Free all the detainees! If there are people against whom there is solid evidence of wrongdoing, bring them to a fair and open trial.