Sunday, July 24, 2011

Afghanistan: Your Tax Dollars at Work

By William Fisher

Wherever there’s war, there’s waste. And theft. And corruption.

Think back to 2003-2004, when the Americans were still trying to track the US tax dollars that had “gone missing” in the Iraq War. In one Congressional hearing alone, lawmakers heard testimony that billions of Iraqi dollars – held in trust by the U.S. Government – still could not be accounted for.

Both Republicans and Democrats at that hearing appeared taken aback by the volume of cash sent to Iraq: nearly $12 billion over the course of the U.S. occupation from March 2003 to June 2004.

Rep. Christopher Shays, then the Connecticut Republican chairman of the committee, criticized Pentagon witnesses for their handling of the money.

"It's very clear that … we didn't have systems in place to account" for the
funds, he said.

Jack Behrman, professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina Business School, told this correspondent, "The misuse, abuse, and misdirection of funds to Iraq are a perfect example of the U.S. historical approach to crises abroad and development aid -- throw money at the problem quickly to demonstrate concern and activity. But, the government has apparently never heard or has not heeded the admonition of Aristotle that ‘It is easy to give money away, but it is exceedingly difficult to give it away wisely’.”

A report prepared by California Democratic Congressman Waxman found “an appalling level of incompetence, mismanagement, waste, fraud, and greed.” Waxman’s report cited numerous examples of “wasteful and potentially corrupt spending.”

So why should we be surprised to learn that things are no different in Afghanistan – only perhaps worse. Were we supposed to have learned any lessons from the Iraq fiasco?

Apparently not, because a new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is igniting yet more suspicions that U.S. taxpayer money for projects in Afghanistan may have been – and is currently being – diverted to extremists killing dedicated to killing American troops, and that an estimated $10 million a day is being smuggled out of the country by senior government officials.

The newest SIGAR report to Congress charges that the United States still has only "limited visibility" of what happens to billions of dollars, "leaving them vulnerable to fraud or diversion to insurgents."

The Inspector General says that more than $70 billion has been spent on security and development projects since 2002 in Afghanistan, but lack of oversight, foot-dragging by the Afghanistan government and failure to take simple steps like recording cash serial numbers means some of the money is hard to track.

One problem, the IG report says, is the use of hawalas -- traditional and informal financial organizations -- instead of banks to transfer funds. Some hawalas are registered with the government, but others are not and refuse to divulge details of their business.

The report cites an example of how a U.S. contractor tried to transfer
$2.8 million inside Afghanistan that never arrived. "Despite investigations by National Solidarity Program personnel and interventions on the part of the Afghan Attorney General's office, this hawala continues to retain the majority of these funds and refuses to deliver them to the intended communities," the report says.

Another problem is that large amounts of money -- as much as $10 million a day -- are smuggled out of the country. The report says that despite controls at Kabul airport, government officials and other powerful people in Afghanistan can avoid currency checks when they leave.

"Passengers designated by the Afghan government as VIPs bypass the main security and customs screenings used by all other passengers and instead use a separate facility to enter the secured area of the airport," the report says.

"While VIPs are required to declare their currency, Afghan officials reportedly have no plans to scan their cash through electronic currency counters." U.S. officials were denied access to that part of the airport to see how VIP passengers were screened.

SIGAR found that U.S. agencies have limited visibility over U.S. cash that enters the Afghan economy -- leaving it vulnerable to fraud and diversion to the insurgency. SIGAR also found that poor cooperation by the Afghan government has impeded U.S. efforts to help develop the Afghan financial sector.

"The United States has poured billions of aid dollars into a country plagued by corruption, insurgency and the narcotics trade. It is essential that we use all available tools to ensure that U.S. dollars are protected from fraud and diversion to the insurgency. We must also ensure that the Afghan government is a full partner in efforts to set a fledgling financial sector on sound footing," said Herbert Richardson, acting Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

"SIGAR auditors found that U.S. agencies have not done all they can to safeguard U.S. funds, and the Afghan government has not provided the cooperation needed to build a strong, secure financial system. SIGAR's recommendations, if implemented, would address these shortcomings and strengthen efforts to protect American taxpayers," the report says.

The agency recommended that the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan "improve interagency coordination on financial sector development programs" and also recommended that the secretaries of State and Defense "strengthen oversight over the flow of U.S. funds through the Afghan economy," according to the report.

Since 2002, Congress has appropriated more than $70 billion to implement security and development assistance projects in Afghanistan, with some of those funds converted into cash that flows through the Afghan economy.

The United States is implementing programs to increase the capacity of Afghanistan's central bank to regulate the nation's 17 commercial banks and to strengthen U.S. and Afghan law-enforcement monitoring of controls over the flows of U.S. aid through the Afghan economy.

SIGAR's audit evaluates U.S. efforts to improve the capacity of the Afghan government to regulate the financial sector and assesses controls that U.S. agencies use to track U.S. funds as they flow through the Afghan economy.

The New York Times reports that agents from the inspector general's office found that the living and working quarters of American occupation officials were awash in shrink-wrapped stacks of $100 bills, colloquially known as bricks.

One official, The Times reported, kept $2 million in a bathroom safe, another more than half a million dollars in an unlocked footlocker. One contractor received more than $100,000 to completely refurbish an Olympic pool but only polished the pumps; even so, local American officials certified the work as completed. More than 2,000 contracts ranging in value from a few thousand dollars to more than half a million, some $88 million in all, were examined by agents from the inspector general's office.

The report says that in some cases the agents found clear indications of potential fraud and that investigations into those cases are continuing.
Some of those cases are expected to intersect with the investigations of four

Americans who have been arrested on bribery, theft, weapons and conspiracy charges for what federal prosecutors say was a scheme to steer reconstruction projects to an American contractor working out of the southern city of Hilla, which served as a kind of provincial capital for a vast swath of Iraq under the Coalition Provisional Authority.

But much of the material in the latest audit is new, and the portrait it paints
of abandoned rebuilding projects, nonexistent paperwork and cash routinely taken from the main vault in Hilla without even a log to keep track of the
transactions is likely to raise major new questions about how the provisional
authority did its business and accounted for huge expenditures of Iraqi and
American money.

Key findings:

Although U.S. agencies have taken steps to strengthen their oversight of U.S. funds, the United States still has limited visibility over how these funds flow through the Afghan economy, leaving them vulnerable to fraud or diversion to insurgents. Among the vulnerabilities identified by SIGAR auditors:

· U.S. agencies do not record the serial numbers of cash disbursed to contractors and other recipients of U.S. funds;
· Afghan commercial banks do not record the serial numbers of Electronic Funds Transfer payments by U.S. agencies to contractors and other recipients when they are converted to cash;
· U.S. contracting regulations do not prohibit prime contractors from using unlicensed hawalas to pay subcontractors or require them to use EFT-capable banks to make payments. As a result, the United States is unable to record information n these funds when they enter Afghanistan's economy, and the Afghan and U.S. governments are unable to track these funds as they move from person to person, information that could be important for law enforcement purposes.
· Limited Afghan cooperation has negatively impacted programs to strengthen Afghanistan's financial sector and address money laundering and terrorist financing. For example, the Afghan Attorney General's office has not cooperated fully in prosecuting individuals suspected by the U.S. Treasury Department of having committed financial crimes, limiting the effectiveness of the Financial Transactions and Records Analysis Center of Afghanistan (FinTRACA). Of 21 leads forwarded by FinTRACA to the Afghan government, only four were pursued to prosecution by the Afghan Attorney General's office.
· In addition, Treasury officials report that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has barred U.S. government advisors from the Afghan central bank, a key institution that they described as having a "hostile"environment.
· Limited Afghan cooperation has hindered the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's efforts to strengthen controls over currency flows at Kabul International Airport. As a result of concerns over lack of controls over the significant flow of currency through the airport, DHS developed the Bulk Cash Flow Action Plan with assistance from Afghan ministries that conduct operations at the airport. DHS's responsibilities under the Bulk Cash Flow Action Plan include supporting Afghan government efforts to strengthen controls over passengers leaving Afghanistan with bulk cash. However, DHS reports that installation of two custom-built bulk currency counters for the airport's customs areas was delayed by seven months because of disagreements over where to place the machines.
· Also, as of SIGAR's April 2011 visit to the airport, Afghan customs officials were using the machines to count declared cash - but not to record serial numbers or report financial data to FinTRACA. Other impediments to DHS efforts include the Afghan government's practice of allowing VIPs to bypass the main security and customs screenings used by all other passengers; these VIPs are required to declare their currency, but Afghan officials reportedly have no plans to scan this cash through currency counters. Additionally, DHS officials are barred from the facility that VIPs currently use.

Yes, you read that correctly. US officials are barred from that particular room at the back of the Kabul airport so that Afghan VIPS will suffer no embarrassments or anxieties – dare I say pangs of conscience? – as they secret your tax dollars in their luggage or on their person, knowing that as government officials there will be no search at their destination either.

War usually means we have to accept some of this despicable behavior. It seems to go with the territory. But given that these funds are intended to improve the lot of the Afghan people, not US troops, is it not time to say ‘enough is enough?’

The US lopped off a good chunk of American aid to Pakistan because the Pakistanis were not with the program. Failing all past efforts to find an honest partner to work with in Afghanistan, hasn’t the time come to do the same?

SAUDIS HIDE REPRESSION BEHIND TERRORISM THREAT

By William Fisher

A new draft law that Saudi Arabia says is designed “to assist Saudi Security forces in tackling terrorist activity” would in reality allow the authorities to prosecute peaceful dissent as a terrorist crime, according to Amnesty International.

The organization says it has obtained copies of the Draft Penal Law for Terrorism Crimes and Financing of Terrorism.

“This draft law poses a serious threat to freedom of expression in the Kingdom in the name of preventing terrorism,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty
International’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director.

“If passed it would pave the way for even the smallest acts of peaceful dissent to be branded terrorism and risk massive human rights violations.”
A Saudi Arabian government security committee reviewed the draft law in June but it is not known when or if it might be passed.

The definition of “terrorist crimes” in the draft is so broad that it lends
itself to wide interpretation and abuse, and would in effect criminalize
legitimate dissent. It would allow extended detention without charge or trial. Questioning the integrity of the King or the Crown Prince would carry a minimum prison sentence of 10 years.

The draft law allows for suspects to be held in incommunicado detention for up to 120 days, or for longer periods – potentially indefinitely – if authorized by a specialized court.

Under the draft law, terrorist crimes would include such actions as
“endangering…national unity”, “halting the basic law or some of its articles”, or “harming the reputation of the state or its position”.
Violations of the law would carry harsh punishments. The death penalty would be applied to cases of taking up arms against the state or for any “terrorist crimes” that result in death.

Amnesty charges that a number of other key provisions in the draft law run counter to Saudi Arabia’s international legal obligations, including those under the UN Convention against Torture.

The leak of the draft comes as ongoing peaceful protests across the Middle East and North Africa are being met with government repression.

Amnesty said, “Incommunicado detention facilitates torture or other ill-treatment and prolonged detention of that nature can itself amount to torture. Detainees in incommunicado detention are also, by definition, denied access to a lawyer during their investigation.”

It added, “The draft law allows for arbitrary detention: it denies detainees the right to be promptly brought before a judge, and to be released or tried within a reasonable time. It gives the specialized court the power to detain without charge or trial for up to a year, and to extend such detention indefinitely. Detainees are not given a means to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in front of a court.”

It also fails to include a clear prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment.
The draft law gives wide-ranging powers to the Minister of the Interior “to take the necessary actions to protect internal security from any terrorist threat.”

It does not allow for judicial authorization or oversight of these actions.
“At a time when people throughout the Middle East and North Africa have been exercising their legitimate right to express dissent and call for change, Saudi Arabian authorities have been seeking to squash this right for its citizens,” said Philip Luther.

Amnesty called on King Abdullah to “reconsider this law and ensure that his people’s legitimate right to freedom of expression is not curtailed in the name of fighting terrorism.”

The Saudi Embassy in London issued a statement denying all of Amnesty’s allegations. It said, “The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia would like to point out that Amnesty’s concerns about this law are baseless, mere supposition on their part, and completely without foundation.”

But the Embassy went on to cite terrorist activity as a justification for the new measure. It said: “The Kingdom would also like to point out that it is determined to continue to tackle the threat of terrorism in Saudi Arabia. Since 1995, the Kingdom has been struggling with domestic terrorism, only recently eradicating Al-Qaeda cells that took root in the country. Before that time, a multitude of terrorist acts occurred, killing scores of people and sowing fear. Today, due to the efforts of the Saudi Security Services, those cells have largely been eradicated. However, regional unrest provides a breeding ground for new threats. The continued growth of Al-Qaeda presents us with a serious challenge, and policies that prevent this group from establishing an affiliated network in the Kingdom are necessary.”

By “regional unrest” the Embassy was apparently referring to what is customarily called “The Arab Spring” – the proliferation of grassroots anti-government protest movements that has so far toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt.

The Saudis have taken steps to attempt to preempt the outbreak of unrest or violence among its people. It gave substantial cash gifts to each Saudi family -- $3,000 is the figure mooted – and initiated a new program for skills development and job re-training.

Whether these measures, combined with the powers of a police state, will be sufficient to blunt the anti-government sentiment remains to be seen.

Prof. Chip Pitts of Stanford and Oxford, former Chair of Amnesty International USA, and board member and former President of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, commented on the proposed new law.

“Having just renewed the USA Patriot Act, the United States has sadly continued to set the stage for and model such counterproductive, harsh, and illegal approaches, and undermined its ability to credibly and effectively question them.” He said, adding:

“The myopic and reactionary approach taken in the new Saudi draft law, which would violate the country’s obligations under international human rights law, shows that the Kingdom is battening down the hatches and preparing for a long period of continued feudal rule that contradicts the very premises of expanding human rights that have swept the world in recent centuries.”

“Neglecting the lessons of the Arab Spring – that repression ultimately breeds instability and violence – the Saudi regime apparently prefers to look backwards to an error of medieval justice and absolute monarchical power which brooks no dissent. Such backwardness condemns the Saudi regime to greater isolation over time, and the Saudi people and businesses to constricted options for economic and social development, unless wiser heads prevail and move toward more progressive instead of regressive laws,” he said.

Prof. Lawrence Davidson, who teaches history at West Chester University, sees the proposed new law in its longer-term context. He said, “Laws like this essentially blur the lines between the criminal and the authorities. It makes it much harder to tell who is who. Presently, there are two aspects to Saudi power: Force of questionable legitimacy and the ability to buy the loyalty of a portion of their population. In a couple of generations the latter may well go away and then former will probably prove insufficient. This law will not lessen the probability that last of the Saudi royal line dying in exile.”

In addition to shoring up its repressive agenda at home, Saudi Arabia is actively assisting the King of Bahrain to put down the anti-government demonstrations that have been taking place there for the past few months.

Saudi troops were dispatched to neighboring Bahrain, along with soldiers from the United Arab Emirates, both under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council, to help the minority Sunni Royal Family to quell the demands of the majority Shia population it rules.

Reliable reports from Bahrain indicate that the government has been waging a “legal” war against protesters, with massive middle-of-the-night arrests, trials of doctors and teachers before military courts, often with defendants’ lawyers, and with credible charges of torture and abuse in detention.

The tiny island nation – smallest in the Gulf – is of strategic importance to the US, as it houses the American Fifth Fleet, The US has been deeply involved in attempting to perpetuate a “national dialogue” between opposing parties, but it is unclear whether a majority of the pro-democracy demonstrators will participate.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Egypt: Minister of What?

By William Fisher

Egypt has always been the land of endless surprises.

Lately. the biggest surprise, of course, was the Tahrir Square revolution, which toppled 30 years of Hosni Mubarak rule in 18 days.

Since then, the surprises have come fast and furious – almost too many to keep up with.

Now two of the strangest just happened.

The first is the creation, by the Ministry of the Interior, of a new position: Deputy Interior Minister for Human Rights. What’s strange about this is how totally other-worldly it is to see “Human Rights” in the same sentence as “Ministry of the Interior.”

During all of Mubarak’s reign, mere mention of the Ministry of the Interior was enough to strike terror into the hearts of most Egyptians. That’s because this Ministry was the home of the dreaded Egyptian State Security Investigations Service (SSI), the internal security service whose police force was guilty of the most unspeakable crimes against humanity: murder in detention, torture, enhanced interrogation techniques so Torquemadish as to make George W. Bush’s CIA look like The Boy Scouts.

The second big surprise is that, in a stunning show of independence from Egypt’s current military rulers, one of the country’s leading civil libertarians has turned the job down.

He is Bahey eldin Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS). His organization, along with a small number of like-minded and equally-courageous groups, have been standing up against Mubarak’s monsters for decades before it became fashionable.

In a statement, Hassan’s group said he was “not optimistic that the political context in which the post was created will allow it to have a real impact on the situation inside the Ministry of Interior.” On the contrary, the group added, “it may only serve to cover up a still ugly reality that must be changed, a task which is beyond the capabilities of the deputy - and perhaps even of the Interior Minister himself - to accomplish.”

CIHRS went on to say, “This does not mean there has been no change in the security establishment, but it has been very limited, as was made exceptionally clear in the events of June 28 and 29. Indeed, on those days, even some directives and orders from the Interior Minster himself were not obeyed. What, then, would it be like for a deputy in a newly formed position without roots or traditions in the ministry? A deputy who, moreover, comes from outside the police establishment? This situation makes the post even less effective than an advisory position or might be even used as an appealing front to market current policies to the national public and to donor nations in Europe and the United States.”

The chronic human rights problem of the police and security establishment, the organization said, “is too complex to be solved by the creation of a deputy human rights post in the Interior Ministry. Indeed, the problem is closely linked to the extent to which people realize the need for radical, far-reaching reform in the Interior Ministry and other state institutions and ministries.”

It added: “The experience of the last few months contains little to indicate this realization among the Interior Ministry, the Prime Minster, or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.”

The organization charged, “There is no political will to institute real change and to make a clean break with past policies. This will inevitably affect the possibility for the genuine reform of the first state institution targeted by the January 25 revolution on the national holiday of that very institution.”

Habib el-Adly, Mubarak’s last Interior Minister, is currently on trial for murdering anti-Mubarak protesters in Tahrir Square as well as money laundering and unlawfully acquiring public money.

This kind of pushback against Egypt’s military rulers – SCAF, The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – has grown exponentially since the historic day in February when the demonstrators in Tahrir Square and around the world heard the news that the dictator had resigned.

During the days preceding that historic day, pro-democracy forces has made the army their darling. After all, it was the army that refused to kill its own citizens. Since then, however, the trajectory for the generals has been downhill at great speed. It has become increasingly apparent that the military council consists of generals who are indebted to Hosni Mubarak. It also seems clear that the generals find governing a lot more complex than deploying tanks and cannons.

And, as for Bahey eldin Hassan, what can you say to encourage a man who is doing exactly what he’s been doing forever?

Somehow, thank you doesn’t seem enough.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

US Standing Plummets in the Middle East

By William Fisher

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, Arabs have turned against President Obama and US policy in the area.

The findings of a poll of 4,000 people in six Arab nations show that US and Obama favorable ratings are at a record low, top Arab concerns are US interference in the region and the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, killing bin Laden has not improved relations with the region, and there is a “mixed mood” in relation to The Arab Spring.

According to the Arab-American Institute (AAI), sponsor of the poll, the poll was commissioned immediately after President Obama's State Department speech in which he addressed the popular uprisings in the Arab world.

AAI says, “With the 2008 election of Barack Obama, favorable attitudes toward the US more than doubled in many Arab countries. But in the two years since his famous ‘Cairo speech,’ ratings for both the US and the President have spiraled downwards.”

AAI adds: “The President is seen overwhelmingly as failing to meet the expectations set during his speech, and the vast majority of those surveyed disagree with US policies.”

In five out of the six countries surveyed, the US was viewed less favorably than Turkey, China, France—or Iran. Far from seeing the US as a leader in the post-Arab Spring environment, the countries surveyed viewed “US interference in the Arab world” as the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East, second only to the continued Palestinian occupation.

Countries surveyed include Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon. Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Republic (UAE).

While AAI acknowledges that the vehemence of Arab reaction to the US was startling, the general sentiment echoed points made in AAI President James Zogby’s 2010 book Arab Voices, in which he reflected on Arab opinions of both the U.S. and our foreign policies. “American democracy [seems] a lot like damaged goods to many Arabs… US policy in the region has increasingly undermined Arab attitudes toward America as a global model.”

“This poll reaffirms what we’ve been saying,” Zogby said. “Americans looked to Obama for change in 2008. The expectations were high, and we haven’t delivered. It seems that one thing that Americans and Arabs agree on is that the US needs to make changes here at home before looking to build on changes abroad.”

Zogby added, “Here and abroad, people were looking for real changes in our domestic and foreign policies, for real engagement in the Arab world and for progress in Palestine. These numbers are a clear statement of their disappointment.”

The poll shows that in five out of the six countries surveyed, the US was viewed less favorably than Turkey, China, France -- or Iran. “Far from seeing the US as a leader in the post-Arab Spring environment, the countries surveyed viewed ‘US interference in the Arab world’ as the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East, second only to the continued Palestinian occupation.”

“American democracy [seems] a lot like damaged goods to many Arabs…
US policy in the region has increasingly undermined Arab attitudes toward
America as a global model,” Zogby said.

The key findings in the survey:

• After improving with the election of Barack Obama in 2008, US favorable ratings across the Arab world have plummeted. In most countries they are lower than at the end of the Bush Administration, and lower than Iran's favorable ratings (except in Saudi Arabia).

• The continuing occupation of Palestinian lands and US interference in the
Arab world are held to be the greatest obstacles to peace and stability in the
Middle East.

• While many Arabs were hopeful that the election of Barack Obama would improve U.S.-Arab relations, that hope has evaporated. Today, President Obama's favorable ratings across the Arab world are 10% or less.

• Obama's performance ratings are lowest on the two issues to which he has
devoted the most energy: Palestine and engagement with the Muslim world.

• The US role in establishing a no-fly zone over Libya receives a positive
rating only in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, but, as an issue, it is the lowest
priority.

• The killing of bin Laden only worsened attitudes toward the US.

• A plurality says it is too early to tell whether the Arab Spring will have a
positive impact on the region. In Egypt, the mood is mixed. Only in the Gulf
States are optimism and satisfaction levels high.

The survey also found that, in 2011, Arab favorable attitudes towards the US dropped to levels lower than they were in 2008, the last year of the Bush Administration. The 2009 favorable attitudes towards the US spiked upwards, as expectations were raised that U.S. policy toward the region would change.

Substantial majorities of Arabs in almost every country view both the US and Iran as not "contributing to peace and stability in the Arab World." The U.S.' contribution to the region is viewed less positively than Iran in every country except Saudi Arabia.

Lebanon is the only Arab country that sees Iran contributing to peace and stability in the region.

The roles of Turkey and Saudi Arabia are appreciated by strong majorities in every country.

When asked to choose "the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East," once again the "occupation of Palestinian lands" and “U.S. interference in the Arab world" rank as the top two concerns.

Majorities in every country say that the killing of bin Laden makes them view the U.S. less favorably. Given that overall favorable ratings are already so low, this should not make a substantial difference in the ratings. The prevailing view is that the killing of bin Laden will not appreciably improve the region.

A plurality of Arabs in four of the six countries say that "it is too early to tell" whether the Arab world will be better off after the Arab Spring. Almost one-half of Egyptians feel this way. Only in the UAE does a majority agree that the region is better off after the uprisings.

While satisfaction levels are down, optimism is up, the poll found. In Egypt, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia substantial majorities believe that they "will be better off in the next five years," at levels significantly higher than they were in 2009. Only in Lebanon and Jordan have optimism levels dropped and pessimism levels increased.

Acclaimed Egyptian writer and activist Ahdaf Soueif has expressed her own views regarding US presence and US policies. Writing in The Guardian, Saturday 21 May
2011, she described Obama’s speech on the US in the Middle East and North Africa as 'Chemical sweeteners.”

“This wasn't slipping poison into the honey; it was smearing chemical sweeteners on to toxic pellets,” she wrote.

“If Obama is serious about supporting self-determination, here's a to-do list:
remove state department warnings and give tax breaks to Americans holidaying in Egypt and Tunisia; grant a temporary tax amnesty to Egyptian imports; find our stolen money and hold it until our elections; regulate the US security industry; stop US aid to Israel and Egypt; close tax loopholes that encourage US citizens to fund settlements in Palestine; encourage Israeli transparency regarding its nuclear weapons.”

She added, “In the end, our revolutions are not by or for or about the US. We in Tunisia and Egypt, and soon in Libya, Syria, Yemen, are looking for ways to run our countries to the benefit of our people and the world. We see that democracy is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition. ‘Democratic’ systems are failing their people, in Britain, in India, in the US, as millions fall into poverty, banks take precedence over hospitals and universities, the environment is degraded and the fabric of society frayed, the media are compromised, and politico-business scandals are standard entertainment.”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bahrain Cracks Down on Teachers

By William Fisher

First, Bahraini authorities went after scores of doctors and nurses – as punishment for treating wound sustained by security services shooting live ammunition at peaceful protesters.

These health workers have been charged before military courts and their trials are pending.

Meanwhile, the Crown Prince of Bahrain’s royal family has been meeting with senior Obama Administration officials, and with the president himself. A member of a Sunni royal family that rules a predominantly Shia nation, the crown prince told reporters he was concerned about Bahrain’s “image.”

The Obama Administration has been trying to help the royal family to find a peaceful way out of their version of The Arab Spring, since Bahrain enjoys a key strategic position as home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet.

Bahrain also represents a delicate foreign policy challenge for Washington, since Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are Sunni neighbors and Saudi and UAE troops have been dispatched to Bahrain by the Gulf Cooperation Council to help quell the pro-democracy protests.

Now, Bahraini security forces have begun a protracted vendetta against the nation’s teachers, arresting at least 66, and subjecting them to torture, and putting them on trial before military tribunals.

The teacher arrests have been going on since April, according to Maryam Al-Khawaja, a spokesperson for the beleaguered Bahrain Commission for Human Rights, a non-governmental organization.

The BCHR claims that arrests took place at schools and at teachers’ homes, and that teachers were summoned to police stations.

“Not only were members of the Teachers’ Union targeted but teachers themselves as well, being subjected to severe abuse and torture by the brutal Bahraini regime” the BCHR charged, adding, “66 cases of teachers’ arrests have been reported to the BCHR, although the number is believed to be higher. Female teachers have been highly targeted as almost 74% of the cases reported were cases of women arrested. At least 15 Girls’ schools have also been repeatedly targeted by riot police, where both teachers and students were subjected to arbitrary arrests from the school campus and taken to police stations where they were physically abused.”

Typical, the organization says, is what happened on April 11, when three teachers from Al Busaiteen Elementary School were called to the principal’s office while teaching in class, to then be escorted by three policemen in civilian clothes to the police station, where they were interrogated from 11am to 1.30pm. Three more teachers were taken in the following day, where they were interrogated and insulted while blindfolded. Nine other teachers were called on May 20, to be present for investigation in Al Muharraq police station from 11am to 4pm before being released.

The BCHR charges that this sequence of events has been repeated numerous times.

On April 19, and during the intensified nightly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in their villages, it was decided that a band from the National Guard would be playing in Yathreb Intermediate School for girls in a day of loyalty to Bahrain’s leadership. The school consists of a majority of pro-democracy students and such a move to host a day of loyalty seemed to aim at provoking the students.

In the morning, many riot police were stationed outside the school’s gates as well as a number of policewomen inside the school, which caused a feeling of fear amongst students and teachers.

Mona, one of the teachers, said that policewomen started attacking the pro-democracy students and teachers after false allegations from some pro-regime students that they were chanting “Down with Hamad (King of Bahrain)”. That is when the policewomen started going to every classroom along with some of the students and teachers to identify those who had supposedly chanted the slogan.

They would take the girls to the school courtyard, beating and insulting them on the way and forcing them to stand facing a wall under the scorching sun. Mona continues, “We teachers, could not do anything. We would be shouted at and insulted whenever we left our offices. Two of my colleagues, Khadija Habib and Mahdiya were arrested that day and taken with the students to the police station”.

Mona says that the next day riot police was completely surrounding the school and filling it with policewomen who arrested 8 teachers that day, taking them to a police station where they were subjected to humiliation and physical torture. On 5 May 2011, the administrative supervisor of Yathreb School was summoned for investigation and then released and on 9 May 2011, more than 10 teachers were summoned to a police station, 3 of which were arrested and tortured and on 19 April then released.

Until few days before the end of the national safety status, the raids on schools continued, and on 25 May at 9am, 4 policewomen came to Al Qairawan Intermediate school for girls, with a list of 25 teachers to be taken to the nearby police station, after all teachers were in the meeting room, their bags, flash memories and laptops were confiscated before they were escorted to a bus where they were brutally assaulted and ill-treated.

Many more schools were attacked and even a larger number of teachers were arrested, interrogated, charged baselessly for going on strike, and participating in peaceful protests in the pearl roundabout or in front of their schools. They were also falsely accused of inciting hatred towards the regime. All these accusations demonstrate the Bahraini government’s illegal violation of teachers’ rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

There has evidently been evidence of torture and humiliation. The BCHR reports that Ali Al Banna, a teacher and member of the Teachers union, has been in custody for over two months. His family was allowed very few visits, reporting that he was blindfolded for around two months.

One of the female teachers says, “Around 10 policewomen were asking me and beating me at the same time then they handcuffed me and kept beating me on the head and back while kicking me and stepping on my feet. They would push me to spin until I lose my balance and fall, all while being insulted verbally and made fun of”. She continues saying that they made her call her colleague and lie to her to come and when she arrived, she was beaten, insulted and tortured the same way.”

A teacher named Sameera was called for investigation along with her other colleagues where they were all insulted and made ridiculed. They were made to stand the whole time and when asked any question whatever answer they give would get them severely beaten. She says that one of her colleagues who had detained brothers, was beaten very roughly on the face and head that she could hear the sound of the beating from the corridor where she was waiting for her turn, according to the human rights group.

Layla, another teacher, had her head stitched after it was smashed on the wall. Layla’s colleague, who had had a major back surgery was kicked on her back repeatedly after she told the officers about her surgery in hope of better treatment.

One teacher who spoke to Agence France-Presse (AFP) said she was threatened with rape if she did not confess to taking part in protests. "You'd better confess. Otherwise, I'd take you to the other interrogation room where men would make you talk" she said, quoting an officer's threat. The woman was dragged from her workplace along with other Shiite colleagues. In the bus to the police station, policewomen slapped their faces and made chant pro-monarchy slogans, she said. She asked AFP not to disclose details about her job because police warned them not to talk about their ordeal while in custody. The woman said she eventually confessed to taking part in demonstrations at Pearl Square, epicenter of the anti-regime protests, and also to protesting at work.

In the police station, other teachers were also brutally beaten using a stick with nails, asked to take their clothes off and a dog or a cat was brought to the investigation room for one of the teachers while she was blind folded to scare her. They were made to stand facing the wall from 10am to 3pm and were not allowed to go to the restroom until 3pm, when they gave them permission to go to the restroom and sit only on the floor.

Teachers have also suffered work Suspension, layoffs, salary cuts, and deprivation of pay.

The Ministry of Education’s actions varied from deductions in salaries to complete cuts in salary for months to suspensions. Some teachers, despite attending work throughout the ongoing strike, were subjected to this injustice, either being suspended or sacked.

BCHR received the complaints of more than 30 teachers who had their salaries partially deducted to amounts varying from BD40 to more than BD200. Other teachers were not paid for months. In Al Dair Elementary School for girls 33 teachers were not paid since March out of a faculty of 50 teachers; that is almost 66% of faculty.

Other teachers were suspended, 23 teachers from one school, Ruqaya Elementary School, although numbers not confirmed but it is believed to be dozens.

Furthermore, It has recently been reported that a number of teachers have been sacked, although not officially announced. The Unions Federation in Bahrain reports that 60 employees have been sacked from the Ministry of Education, mostly believed to be teachers.

Sacking teachers is an ongoing process, the organization claimed. It said 13 teachers were fired just last week, July 7, from Imam Al Ghazali Intermediate School for Boys allegedly for calling for strike and protests while there were no protests in the school at anytime as teachers confirmed; sacking decision are being communicated verbally to teachers without any documents proving it.

On June 5 2011 the Minister of Education, Majed Al Noaimi, stated that “Teachers will not be sacked by the end of the school year. Also, all teachers under investigation are getting paid.” This statement has proved to be wrong as many teachers have already been sacked and their salaries cut.

Two teachers, Mahdi Abu Deeb and Jaleela Al Salman, were among the first educators to be presented before military court for their position in the Bahrain Teachers Society as president and vice president. On June 6, they pleaded not guilty to “of inciting others to commit crimes, calling for the hatred and overthrow of the ruling system, holding pamphlets, disseminating fabricated stories and information, leaving work on purpose and encouraging others to do so and taking part at illegal gatherings”, their case was adjourned to June 15, as the military prosecutor stated.

Khadeeja Saeed, a teacher who was detained for three days in April after being arrested her from Yathreb Intermediate School, was sentenced in June after a military tribunal to three years imprisonment.

The BCHR says, “Teachers who have been arrested and some of those who underwent interrogations by the Ministry of Interior were informed that they will be summoned anytime for their trials, therefore, it is expected that more teachers and educators will be presented before court to be prosecuted in the days to come.”

The Shia majority in Bahrain has long complained that it is discriminated against in employment, housing and many other aspects of daily life.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Struck by Lightning: Capital Punishment in the U.S.

By William Fisher

It couldn’t have taken more than a two-minute visit to the web site of The Innocence Project to persuade most rational adults that the death penalty is not only cruel and unusual, but a costly and ineffective way to deter murder.

That’s the gist of a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). It’s entitled “Struck by Lightning: The Continuing Arbitrariness of the Death Penalty Thirty-Five Years After Its Re-instatement in 1976.” Richard Dieter, DPIC’s executive director, is the report’s author.

For those whose memories may be a bit hazy on this subject, the U.S. did have a moratorium on executions from 1972 to 1976, when the United States Supreme Court approved the reinstatement of the death penalty.

The moratorium came about in a 1972 court case, Furman v. Georgia, in which the United States Supreme Court decision that ruled on the requirement for a degree of consistency in the application of the death penalty. The case led to a de facto moratorium on capital punishment throughout the United States,

The moratorium came to an end when Gregg v. Georgia was decided in 1976. The Supreme Court consolidated Jackson v. Georgia and Branch v. Texas with the Furman decision, and thus also invalidated the death penalty for rape.

Gregg v. Georgia, et al reaffirmed the United States Supreme Court's acceptance of the use of the death penalty in the United States, upholding, in particular, the death sentence imposed on Troy Leon Gregg. Referred to by a leading scholar as the July 2 Cases and elsewhere referred to by the lead case Gregg, the Supreme Court set forth the two main features that capital sentencing procedures must employ in order to comport with the Eighth Amendment bar on "cruel and unusual punishments." The decision essentially overturned the de facto moratorium on the death penalty imposed by the Court in its 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia 408 U.S. 238 (1972).

The report notes that by the end of the 1960s, all but 10 states had laws authorizing capital punishment, but strong pressure by forces opposed to the death penalty resulted in an unofficial moratorium on executions for several years, with the last execution during this period taking place in 1967. Prior to this, an average of 130 executions per year occurred.

From 1930, the first year for which statistics are readily available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, to 1967, 3,859 persons were executed under civil (that is, nonmilitary) jurisdiction in the United States. During this period of nearly half a century, over half (54%) of those executed were black, 45 percent were white, and the remaining one percent were members of other racial groups -- American Indians (a total of 19 executed from 1930-1967), Filipino (13), Chinese (8), and Japanese (2), the report says, adding:

The vast majority of those executed were men; 32 women were executed from 1930 to 1967. Three out of five executions during that period took place in the southern U.S. The state of Georgia had the highest number of executions during the period, totaling 366 -- more than nine percent of the national total. Texas followed with 297 executions; New York with 329; California with 292; and North Caroline with 263. Most executions -- 3,334 of 3,859 -- were for the crime of murder; 455 prisoners (12%) -- ninety percent of them black -- were executed for rape; 70 prisoners were executed for other offenses.

Athough the death penalty had earlier been held unconstitutional because of its arbitrary and unpredictable application, the Court was willing to sanction new systems that states had proposed to make capital punishment less like “being struck by lightning” and more like retribution for only the “worst of the worst” offenders.

The Court also deferred to the states’ judgment that the death penalty served the goals of retribution and deterrence.

After three and a half decades of experience under these revised statutes, the randomness of the system continues. Many of the country’s constitutional experts and prominent legal organizations have concluded that effective reform is impossible and the practice should be ended. In polls, jury verdicts and state legislative action, there is evidence of the American people’s growing frustration with the death penalty. A majority of the nine Justices who served on the Supreme Court in 1976 when the death penalty was approved eventually concluded the experiment had failed.

Nonetheless, in 1976, the newly reformed death penalty was allowed to resume. However, it has proved unworkable in practice. Keeping it in place, or attempting still more reform, would be enormously expensive, with little chance of improvement. The constitution requires fairness not just in lofty words, but also in daily practice. On that score, the death penalty has missed the mark.

Four states have abolished the death penalty in the past four years, and nationwide executions and death sentences have been cut in half since 2000. A review of state death penalty practices exposes a system in which an unpredictable few cases result in executions from among thousands of eligible cases. Race, geography and the size of a county’s budget play a major role in who receives the ultimate punishment.Many cases thought to embody the worst crimes and defendants are overturned on appeal and then assessed very differently the second time around at retrial. Even these reversals depend significantly on the quality of the lawyers assigned and on who appointed the appellate judges reviewing the cases.

In such a haphazard process, the rationales of deterrence and retribution make little sense.

In 1976, the newly reformed death penalty was allowed to resume. However, it has proved unworkable in practice. Keeping it in place, or attempting still more reform, would be enormously expensive, with little chance of improvement. The constitution requires fairness not just in lofty words, but also in daily practice. On that score, the death penalty has missed the mark.

The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's "Death Row USA" shows that the number of people on death row in the United States is continuing to slowly decline, falling to 3,242 as of October 1, 2010. In 2000, there were 3,682 inmates on death row. Nationally, the racial composition of those on death row is 44% white, 42% black, and 12% Latino/Latina. California continues to have the largest death row population (714), followed by Florida (394) and Texas (322). Pennsylvania (220) and Alabama (204) complete the list of the states with the five largest death rows in the country. California and Pennsylvania have not carried out an executiion in over five years. Death Row USA is published quarterly by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The report contains the latest death row population figures, execution statistics, and an overview of recent legal developments related to capital punishment.

Four states in the past four years have abolished the death penalty, bringing the total of states without capital punishment to sixteen. As growing costs and
stark unfairness become harder to justify, more states are likely to follow that path.

The post-Gregg death penalty in the United States has proven to be a failed experiment.

The theory that with proper guidance to juries the death penalty could be administered fairly has not worked in practice. Thirty-five years of experience have taught the futility of trying to fix this stem. Many of those who favored the death penalty in the abstract have come to view its practice very differently. They have reached the conclusion that if society╩╝s ultimate punishment cannot be applied fairly, it should not be applied at all.

There have been 272 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States.

• The first DNA exoneration took place in 1989. Exonerations have been won in 34 states; since 2000, there have been 205 exonerations.

• 17 of the 272 people exonerated through DNA served time on death row.

• The average length of time served by exonerees is 13 years. The total number of years served is approximately 3,521.

• The average age of exonerees at the time of their wrongful convictions was 27.

Races of the 272 exonerees:

161 African Americans
80 Caucasians
21 Latinos
2 Asian American
4 whose race is unknown

• The true suspects and/or perpetrators have been identified in 122 of the DNA exoneration cases.

• Since 1989, there have been tens of thousands of cases where prime suspects were identified and pursued—until DNA testing (prior to conviction) proved that they were wrongly accused.

• In more than 25 percent of cases in a National Institute of Justice study, suspects were excluded once DNA testing was conducted during the criminal investigation (the study, conducted in 1995, included 10,060 cases where testing was performed by FBI labs).

• About half of the people exonerated through DNA testing have been financially compensated. 27 states, the federal government, and the District of Columbia have passed laws to compensate people who were wrongfully incarcerated. Awards under these statutes vary from state to state.

• 22 percent of cases closed by the Innocence Project since 2004 were closed because of lost or missing evidence.

Seventeen people have been proven innocent and exonerated by DNA testing in the United States after serving time on death row. They were convicted in 11 states and served a combined 209 years in prison – including 187 years on death row – for crimes they didn’t commit.

Kirk Bloodsworth served eight years in Maryland prison – including two years on death row – for a murder and rape he didn’t commit, before he was exonerated in 1993.

Rolando Cruz, and his co-defendant Alejandro Hernandez, served more than 10 years on Illinois death row for a murder they didn’t commit before DNA testing proved both men innocent in 1995.

Verneal Jimerson and Dennis Williams were sentenced to death in the infamous Ford Heights Four case in Illinois for a pair of 1978 murders they didn’t commit. Jimerson was cleared in 1995 after a decade on death row and Williams served more than 17 years on death row before he was freed in 1996.

Robert Miller spent nine years on Oklahoma’s death row for a murder and rape he didn’t commit before he was cleared by DNA testing in 1998.

Ron Williamson spent a decade on Oklahoma’s death row for a murder he didn’t commit before DNA testing secured by the Innocence Project proved him innocent in 1999. His co-defendant, Dennis Fritz, was sentenced to life and spent 11 years in prison before DNA cleared him as well.

Ronald Jones, an Innocence Project client, served a decade on Illinois death row for a murder and rape he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence and led to his release in 1999.

Earl Washington, a Virginia man with limited mental capacity, was sentenced to death after he allegedly confessed to committing a 1982 murder he didn’t commit. He served a decade on death row, once coming within nine days of execution before receiving a stay. He would serve a total of 17 years behind bars before DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project cleared him in 2000.

Frank Lee Smith died of cancer on Florida’s death row after serving 14 years for a murder and rape he didn’t commit. He was cleared by DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project 11 months after his death.

Charles Irvin Fain served more than 17 years on death row in Idaho for a murder and rape he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence in 2001.

Ray Krone served a decade in Arizona prison – including four years on death row – for a murder and rape he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence in 2002.

Nicholas Yarris served more than 21 years on Pennsylvania’s death row before DNA testing proved his innocence and led to his release in 2003.

Ryan Matthews served five years on Louisiana’s death row for a murder he didn’t commit before he was exonerated by DNA testing in 2004. His co-defendant, Travis Hayes, was sentenced to life in prison and served eight years before he was cleared in 2007.

Curtis McCarty served 21 years in Oklahoma prison – including nearly 18 years on death row – for a murder he didn’t commit before DNA tests secured by the Innocence Project led to his exoneration in 2007. He was convicted twice and sentenced to death three times based on forensic misconduct.

Kennedy Brewer, an Innocence Project client, served 15 years behind bars – including seven years on death row – for a murder and sexual assault he didn’t commit before DNA testing from 2001 finally led to his exoneration in 2008.

Michael Blair served 13 years on death row for a murder he didn’t commit before DNA testing obtained by his lawyers at the Innocence Project proved his innocence and led to his exoneration in 2008.

These DNA exoneration cases have provided irrefutable proof that wrongful convictions are not isolated or rare events, but arise from systemic defects that can be precisely identified and addressed. For more than 15 years, the Innocence Project has worked to pinpoint these trends.

Eyewitness Misidentification Testimony was a factor in 75 percent of post-conviction DNA exoneration cases in the U.S., making it the leading cause of these wrongful convictions. At least 40 percent of these eyewitness identifications involved a cross racial identification (race data is currently only available on the victim, not for non-victim eyewitnesses). Studies have shown that people are less able to recognize faces of a different race than their own. These suggested reforms are embraced by leading criminal justice organizations and have been adopted in the states of New Jersey and North Carolina, large cities like Minneapolis and Seattle, and many smaller jurisdictions. Read more.

Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science played a role in approximately 50 percent of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing. While DNA testing was developed through extensive scientific research at top academic centers, many other forensic techniques – such as hair microscopy, bite mark comparisons, firearm tool mark analysis and shoe print comparisons – have never been subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation. Meanwhile, forensics techniques that have been properly validated – such as serology, commonly known as blood typing – are sometimes improperly conducted or inaccurately conveyed in trial testimony. In other wrongful conviction cases, forensic scientists have engaged in misconduct. Read more.

False confessions and incriminating statements lead to wrongful convictions in approximately 25 percent of cases. In 35 percent of false confession or admission cases, the defendant was 18 years old or younger and/or developmentally disabled. Twenty-two of the first 265 DNA exonerees pled guilty to crimes they did not commit. The Innocence Project encourages police departments to electronically record all custodial interrogations in their entirety in order to prevent coercion and to provide an accurate record of the proceedings. More than 500 jurisdictions have voluntarily adopted policies to record interrogations. State supreme courts have taken action in Alaska, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia require the taping of interrogations in homicide cases. Read more.

Snitches contributed to wrongful convictions in 19 percent of cases. Whenever snitch testimony is used, the Innocence Project recommends that the judge instruct the jury that most snitch testimony is unreliable as it may be offered in return for deals, special treatment, or the dropping of charges. Prosecutors should also reveal any incentive the snitch might receive, and all communication between prosecutors and snitches should be recorded. Fifteen percent of wrongful convictions that were later overturned by DNA testing were caused in part by snitch testimony.

When the death penalty was permitted to go forward in 1976, many distinguished legal scholars warned that the task of creating an objectively fair system for deciding which criminals deserved to die and which should be allowed to live was impossible. A majority of those on the Supreme Court that approved the experiment ultimately concluded the attempt to fix the death penalty had failed.

Thirty-five years later a strong body of empirical evidence confirms that race, geography, money, politics, and other arbitrary factors exert a powerful influence on determining who is sentenced to death. This is the conclusion not only of experts, but increasingly that of the general public as well. Unfairness ranks near the top of the American public╩╝s concerns about
the death penalty.

As the use of the death penalty has declined, the rationale for its continuation has disappeared. With defendants already facing life without parole, no one is likely to be deterred by an added punishment that is rarely imposed and even more rarely carried out many years later, and that is dependent on so many unpredictable factors. Nor does the wish for retribution justify a death penalty that is applied so sporadically. The reality is that those in society generally, and those families of murder victims in particular, who look to an execution to counter a terrible homicide will very likely be disappointed.”

Thus, the report concludes, receiving the death penalty is still like being struck by lightning.

END

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

BAHRAIN: King Tries to Placate Anti-Government Demonstrators

By William Fisher

A day after Bahrain’s King Hamed announced the creation of an independent commission to investigate allegations that protesters' rights were violated during the anti-government demonstrations that erupted in February, riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse thousands of opposition supporters gathered near the square that was the epicenter of the nation's Shiite-led demonstrations earlier this year.

The White House is backing the “peace commission” and has urged the monarchy to meet some of the opposition's demands. But the king's appeal for dialogue got a cool reception from opposition groups. The leaders of the biggest Shiite party, Al Wefaq, have not yet decided whether they will join the talks.

At the same time, Bahrain's rights groups reported that another protester died on Thursday as a result of injuries he sustained during the unrest. Human Rights Activist Nabeel Rajab said the protesters at Manama's Pearl Square chanted: "Down, down Hamad." They also demanded the release of all demonstrators, opposition leaders and activists detained during the deadly crackdown on the Shiite-led campaign for political freedom and greater rights.

In an apparent concession to demonstrators’ demands, the trials of 47 doctors, nurses and other health professionals have been moved from military to civilian courts. The medical staff are charged with participating in an effort to topple Bahrain's monarchy by treating Bahrainis injured in the demonstrations and to prevent them from testifying as to what they saw.

In his speech Wednesday, the king said Bahrain is committed to reform and respecting human rights. In another move to draw the reluctant opposition into the talks, authorities on Thursday halted bringing anti-government protesters to trial at a special tribunal with military prosecutors and transferred the cases to civilian courts, a lawyer said. The practice has been criticized as unfair by rights activists and the Persian Gulf kingdom's Western allies.

The special tribunal was set up in March, when Bahrain's Sunni rulers imposed martial law to help quash protests by Shiites demanding political freedoms and greater rights. The trials of dozens of opposition figures, human rights activists and Shiite professionals continued even after the emergency laws were lifted earlier this human rights.

But the government accused the protesters of pushing the country into a "state of chaos" with the street marches and sit-ins during the turmoil.The king said the government would not interfere in the commission's probe into what he called the "unfortunate events" of February and March. The commission is to report its findings by Oct. 30.

The opposition condemned the announcement and demanded the investigation of the killing, torture, detention, inhuman treatment of the Saudi-backed Bahraini forces on Shiite Muslims of Bahrain from February to June 30th, rather than the government intention to probe only February and March incidents.

The leaders of the biggest Shiite party, Al Wefaq, have not yet decided whether they will join the talks.

The Financial Times quotes officials as saying the five-member commission will be headed by high-profile legal professor Cherif Bassiouni, a US-based UN war crimes expert nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in international criminal justice.

The other members are Nigel Rodley, a British lawyer and professor and member of the UN Human Rights Committee; Philippe Kirsch, a Canadian lawyer who was a judge on the International Criminal Court; Mahnoush Arsanjani, who has worked as a senior UN legal officer; and Badria al-Awadhi, a Kuwaiti lawyer.

The commission’s public report, which can include recommendations for prosecutions, will be submitted to the king by October 30. The monarch said the commission had set its own parameters and would operate independently.

The official Bahraini news agency said the Commission’s mandate is “to engage in fact finding and it has access to all concerned government agencies, government officials, government files and records. It is also free to meet with any person it deems appropriate, including but not limited to, representatives of civil society, human rights organizations, political groups, labor unions, and alleged victims and witnesses of alleged violations of internationally protected human rights.”

In connection with its work, “the Commission will be able to meet with alleged victims and witnesses of alleged violations in secrecy and in accordance with measures that it shall develop to protect the privacy and security of individuals it meets with, in line with international human rights norms.”

The Royal Decree said “the government shall not interfere in any way with the work of the Commission nor shall it prevent access to it by anyone seeking to make contact with the Commission or its staff. Moreover the government shall facilitate the Commission’s and its staff’s access to such places and people as the Commission deems appropriate.”

In his decree establishing the Commission, the king said, “The events which took place in February and March were distressing to us, as they were to all our people and to all friends of Bahrain everywhere. The events were unprecedented in our history, and came at a time when the Kingdom was taking broad strides forward in all areas. For ten years, we have sought reform of the institutions of Bahrain. We have a Constitution which is compliant with all international treaties on human rights to which Bahrain is a party. Our economic progress has also been remarkable, and we can be proud of an unemployment rate which has remained below 4%.”

He continued: “There can be no doubt that citizens have the right to express their views through peaceful and legitimate means. Citizens have the right to put their demands without being met violently; and in return, freedom must be exercised responsibly. Freedom of expression must not be exploited as a way to disturb public order, threaten civil peace, undermine economic interests or damage state facilities. During recent events, rumors were circulated to claim that some were right and others wrong. Given this situation, we cannot continue in our progress without healing these wounds and uncovering the whole truth.”

The majority Shiite population of Bahrain claims it has been routinely discriminated against, citing inability to obtain senior jobs in government or industry and “redline” housing that excludes them from the most desirable housing.

The tiny Persian Gulf kingdom is of strategic importance to the US, being home to the US fifth Fleet. That is one reason the US has been urging reconciliation. There are others, including Bahrain’s friendship with Saudi Arabia, whose troops are currently assisting the Bahrainis in putting down the unrest. Bahrain is also a producer of oil.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

EGYPT: ARAB SPRING MORPHS INTO SUMMER OF CONFLICT

By William Fisher

It should have been expected that the various groups who demonstrated in such a strong, unified position in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Egypt would begin to show their differences after Mubarak resigned.

After all, they won! So what to do now?

Governing is a lot harder than demonstrating. And, besides, they weren’t the government; the army was.

During the Tahrir Square uprisings, the Army became the darlings of the protesters. They didn’t fire on the protesters. In fact, it was the Army who kept pro-Mubarak forces from physically attacking those who wanted him out.

Now the worm has turned once again. Crowds of full-throated critics of the Army are out in Tahrir Square again in large numbers.

They insist that the demonstrators arrested in previous demonstrations be tried in civilian, rather than military courts. They scream when they learn that the cops who are on trial for mishandling demonstrators have been freed on bail. They insist on an apology from the Ministry of Interior for their mismanagement of the security police during the demonstrations. They’re furious at the supreme military council for abusing prisoners taken into custody during the demonstrations and sentenced to substantial prison terms for what the opposition characterizes as “nothing.” And they’re equally up in arms about the “virginity tests” the military police administered to women taken into custody (the army now says it is discontinuing this practice.)

Then there’s the fierce battle about whether a new Constitution should be written before or after Parliamentary elections.

Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace – one of the more perceptive of the Western think-tanks – has put the problem succinctly. She says that “there are other coalitions forming as well that for the most part pit non-Islamist parties against the (Muslim) Brotherhood in a struggle over constitution first (or at least electoral delay) versus elections first.”

She explains: “Constitution-firsters, mostly liberals and leftists, argue there is little sense in electing two houses of parliament and a president when the constitution to be written subsequently is likely to change the political system significantly enough to require all new elections within as little as a year. Behind their procedural argument is a fear that the FJP (the Freedom and Justice Party organized by the Muslim Brotherhood) will do well in parliamentary elections and thereby have the largest say in shaping the constitution.”

“Thirty-six different youth and political groups have joined the “Free Front for Peaceful Change” in backing a “Constitution First” campaign, which is seeking 15 million signatures to support a revised timetable. The coalition has threatened to bring a million protestors back into Tahrir Square on Friday, July 8 to protest, but the military leadership might still meet at least some of their demands before that,” she says.

Election-firsters, she continues, “led by the FJP, counter that a new constitution can only be legitimate if underpinned by elections; the current system mandates that the elected parliament choose a 100-member constituent assembly that would oversee the constitution’s writing, to be followed by a popular referendum on the document. They also argue that prioritizing constitution writing would violate the will of voters in the March 2011 referendum when three-quarters of voters supported constitutional amendments specifying the holding of parliamentary elections within six months.”

She concludes, “ Political forces in Egypt today face a dilemma: either proceed ahead expeditiously to elections in order to end the post-revolutionary rule of the military or slow down the electoral timetable and prioritize the writing of a new constitution. New political parties want more time to organize; parties, movements associated with the January revolution, and civil society groups are also pushing for guarantees concerning the content of the new constitution and the process by which it will be written.”

There are also a host of potentially central issues that must be resolved if they are to become part of the new Constitution. One of the most critical is the future role of the Army. This issue has been discussed in the series of meetings the ruling junta has held with the growing number of new political parties. The Supreme Council, which now rules Egypt, has made it clear that it wants to get out of the governance business as soon as possible. But conservative political interests are proposing that the military should continue to play a central role in the country’s affairs and that this role should be explicit in the new Constitution. The least threatening role has been likened to a referee, or to the last best option for resolving serious disputes.

But, in my view, this is a bad idea. The Supreme Council has already demonstrated that it is not skilled in governance. It does not wish to govern. Moreover, realistically, if the country ever finds itself in really calamitous trouble, the Army would be turned to, whether the arrangement was codified or not.

After all, the Generals who sit on the Supreme Council are Hosni Mubarak’s fellow officers. They all learned from the same teachers. And one of the things they learned particularly well is how to deal with dissent. Egypt has been there, done that. Today it needs a fresh start. And a fresh cast of characters.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Corrupt Corporate Incarceration Complex

By William Fisher

Seventeen year-old Hillary Transue did what lots of 17-year-olds do: Got into mischief. Hillary’s mischief was composing a MySpace page poking fun at the assistant principal of the high school she attended in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Hillary was an honor student who’d never had any trouble with the law before. And her MySpace page stated clearly that the page was a joke. But despite all that, Hilary found herself charged with harassment. She stood before a judge and heard him sentence her to three months in a juvenile detention facility.

What she expected was perhaps a stern lecture. What she got was a perp walk -- being led away in handcuffs as her stunned parents stood by helplessly. Hillary told the New York Times, “I felt like I had been thrown into some surreal sort of nightmare. All I wanted to know was how this could be fair and why the judge would do such a thing.”

It wasn’t until two years later that she found out why. In Scranton, Pa. two judges pleaded guilty to operating a kickback scheme involving juvenile offenders. The judges, Mark Ciavarella Jr. and Michael Conahan, took more than $2.6 million in kickbacks from a private prison company to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers. Since 2003, Ciaveralla had sentenced an estimated 5,000 juveniles. Conahan was accused of setting up the contracts. Many of the youngsters shipped off to the detention centers were first-time offenders. The two judges received sentences of seven years each and are also being sued by numerous parents of the children involved.

PA Child Care is a juvenile detention center in Pittston Township,
Pennysylvania. It was opened in February 2003. It has a sister company,
Western PA Child Care, in Butler County, Pennsylvania. Treatment at both facilities is provided by Mid Atlantic Youth Services. Gregory Zappala took sole ownership of the company when he purchased co-owner Robert Powell's share in June 2008.

In July 2009 Robert Powell pled guilty to failing to report a felony and being
an accessory to tax evasion conspiracy in connection with $770,000 in kickbacks he paid to Ciavarella and Conahan in exchange for facilitating the development of his facilities.

The child care facilities have also been criticized for their costs, which ranged as high as $315 per child per day. Butler county paid Western PA Child Care about $800,000 in payments between 2005 and 2008. Butler county did not renew Western PA Child Care's contract after an extension of the contract ran out at the end of 2008. The juvenile detention center Hillary was sent to was a private-for-profit facility run by one of the more than 50 companies operating in the five billion dollar private prison industry.

These companies have names you’ve probably never heard of -- like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO.

Ironically, it’s the federal and state criminal justice systems that produce the private prisons phenomenon and create the opportunity for private operators to capitalize. What they are capitalizing on is America’s obsession with handing out long prison sentences out of all proportion to the crimes committed.

Today, the United States has locked up more prisoners than any other country in the world -- 2.3 million-plus people locked up in state and federal prisons and county jails. This has predictably resulted in a shortage of publicly-owned prison beds – a shortage increasingly being filled by companies that charge so many dollars for each convict sent their way.

Detainees include immigrants who have applied for asylum in the U.S. and others awaiting hearings before being deported. The number of people detained has soared to more than 400,000 a year. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the sprawling Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the average detention is about one month, although some detainees are kept for years. The cost of detention is estimated to be $1.7 billion annually.

In the past five years, the nation’s largest private prison company has partnered with the federal government to detain close to a million undocumented people waiting to be deported or appear before an immigration judge. In the process, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has made record profits. Critics suggest that CCA cuts corners on its detention contracts in order to increase its revenue at expense of humane conditions. Thanks to political connections and lobbying, it dominates the immigrant detention industry. CCA now has close to 10,000 new beds under development in anticipation of continued demand.

Judith Greene, a policy analyst with Justice Strategies, a nonprofit sentencing-reform advocacy group in New York, says, "Profits by no means created the machinery of mass incarceration, no more than defense contracts invented war, but the huge profits to be made by incarcerating an ever-growing segment of our population serves the system very well."

"Profits oil the machinery, keep it humming and speed its growth," she adds.

For-profit prison companies claim to be able to provide prison and detention services to cities, counties, states and the Federal Government for less money – an idea that cash-strapped communities apparently find irresistible.

Yet studies throughout the country show that private prisons are only marginally less expensive than public prisons and are often substantially more expensive. The second issue is a medical care regimen that, until recently, allowed the government such wide discretion that it could deny urgent care, including biopsies for suspected cancers and treatment of heart conditions.

Moreover, a panoply of hidden subsidies is rarely calculated into the private prison industry’s cost claims. According to a study by Paul Wright, the founder and editor of "Prison Legal News," a prisoners’ rights advocacy newsletter, at least 44, or 73 percent, of the 60 facilities (studied) had received a development subsidy from local, state and/or federal government sources. Subsidies were found in 17 of the 19 states in which the 60 facilities are located.

Facilities operated by the two largest private prison companies, CCA and GEO, were frequently subsidized. Among the facilities in this study, 78 percent of CCA's and 69 percent of GEO’s prisons were subsidized, suggesting that these companies had been aggressive in seeking development subsidies.

According to the not-for-profit Private Corrections Institute, “the private prison industry relies on a number of allies and research studies to justify its claims of cost savings and proficiency; however, most of these sources have industry connections or vested financial interests.”

For example, it claims, the Reason Foundation, a strong proponent of prison privatization, has received funding from private prison firms. The American Correctional Association (ACA) receives sponsorship money from CCA, GEO and other private prison companies for its bi-annual conferences.

Former University of Florida Prof. Charles Thomas conducted supposedly impartial research on the private prison industry until it was learned that he owned private prison stock, had been paid $3 million for consulting for a private prison firm, and served on the board of Prison Realty Trust (a CCA spin-off). Thomas was fined $20,000 by the Florida Commission on Ethics and stepped down from his University position.

Private prisons are paid according to filled beds. So they are constantly pushing for more inmates – while officials of publicly owned prisons are trying to shed prisoners to relieve overcrowding and reduce expenses.

Private prisons seek to save money by hiring less experienced staff. The result of that policy can be seen in the disproportionate numbers of poorly controlled prison riots, by unsanitary health conditions, by substandard record-keeping, by high employee turnover, and by the number of deaths in detention.

A June 2004 study by academics Curtis R. Blakely and Vic W. Bumphus found that private prison turnover among correctional officers was 43 per cent while turnover in public sector prisons were only 15 per cent. Turnover in for-profit prisons was linked to lower staff pay and less training. Moreover, the study found, “Pay, training, and turnover may all contribute to the higher levels of violence seen in the private sector.”


One big area where for-profit prison firms skimp is on labor costs, according to Paul Wright. “While employees at state-run prisons get union-scale salaries, private-prison guards typically earn $7 to $10 per hour,” he says, adding: "They have low wages and high turnover and very little in the way of benefits or training."

Wright, 43, was once a prisoner himself, serving 17 years of a 25-year term for killing a cocaine dealer he was trying to rob. Today, he is an advocate for prisoner rights and over the years has filed numerous legal challenges against the industry and won.

"The private-prison industry is marked by corruption," he says. "Their premise is they can run prisons cheaper than the government, but taxpayers don't realize any of those savings. Any savings the private-prison industry obtains is basically profits for their shareholders."

For-profit prisons are private corporations and thus not subject to external oversight. They are not obligated to produce their internal records for public scrutiny and are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act at the Federal level because that law applies only to documents in the government’s possession.

Political pressure from interests in US border states has forced President Obama to exceed the record of former President George W. Bush in deporting illegal aliens. That surge has resulted in a windfall for the private prison industry. Today a substantial slice of its current growth can be attributed to its activities in the immigration detention field.

Private prisons have become a major influence in shaping critical legislation related to illegal immigration. The industry’s lobbyists have played a leading role in drafting a number of recent anti-immigrant laws, for example, Arizona’s SB-1070, and similar laws in Georgia, Alabama, and other states.

Under the Alabama measure, police must detain someone they suspect of being in the country illegally if the person cannot produce proper documentation when stopped for any reason. It also will be a crime to knowingly transport or harbor someone who is in the country illegally. The law imposes penalties on businesses that knowingly employ someone without legal resident status. A company's business license could be suspended or revoked. And the law requires Alabama businesses to use a database called E-Verify to confirm the immigration status of new employees.

Lee Fang reports in “Think Progress” that, in December 2009, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — a powerful front group that helps corporate representatives craft template legislation for state lawmakers, funded partially by the private prison industry — hosted Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce (R) and began debate on legislation that would provide broad powers to local police to arrest anyone who might look like an immigrant. ALEC then distributed the template legislation to its members. The January/February 2010 edition of ALEC’s magazine highlights the draft version of SB1070 — the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” — as model legislation.

It was Pearce who introduced ALEC’s “template” as the infamous SB1070 law. Notably, the ALEC task force which helped Pearce devise his racial profiling law included Laurie Shanblum, a CCA lobbyist. CCA previously played an important role in privatizing many of Texas’ prisons.

An investigation by Arizona’s KPHO-TV found more ties between SB1070 and the private prison industry: Paul Senseman, Arizona’s Gov. Janet Brewer’s deputy chief of staff, was a former lobbyist for CCA (his wife is still a lobbyist for CCA), and Chuck Coughlin, Brewer’s campaign chairman, runs the lobbying firm in Arizona that represents CCA.

CCA was set to receive well over $74 million in tax dollars in FY2010 for running immigration detention centers. In a recent presentation, Pershing Square Capital, a hedge fund with a large financial stake in CCA, suggested that CCA’s profitability depends on increasing numbers of immigrants sent to prison. Many of the legislators helping to earn CCA more profits with radical anti-immigrant bills mirroring SB1070 have been recipients of private prison industry cash or have worked closely with the CCA-funded ALEC organization.

“When detentions increased following the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and the Pentagon”, author Mark Dow writes, “private prison profiteers saw another opportunity. The (then) Chairman of the Houston-based Cornell Companies spoke candidly in a conference call with other investors: ‘It can only be good…with the focus on people that are illegal and also from Middle Eastern descent…In the US there are over 900,000 undocumented individuals from Middle Eastern descent…That’s half of our entire (US) prison population…The Federal business is the best business for us…and the events of September 11 (are) increasing that level of business…”

Efforts to reach the CEOs of the two leading private prison companies, CCA and GEO, to invite comment on this article were unsuccessful. However, their websites present a comprehensive picture of the companies’ vision of their operations. Both are doing extremely well. GEO’s revenues for 2010 rose 11 per cent to $1.27.billion. CCA’s revenues in 2009 rose to $1.670 billion. The companies’ annual reports and 10-K filings present a robust picture of these operations and strike an optimistic note for the future.

Beau Hodai, considered an authority on the private prison industry, noted in Prison Legal News last year that private prison leaders had substantially increased their spending on lobbying.

For example, he writes, “From January 2008 to April 2010, CCA spent $4.4 million lobbying the Department of Homeland Security and ICE, the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee, the Office of Budget Management, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and both houses of Congress. Of the 43 lobbying disclosure reports filed by CCA during this period, only five do not expressly state intent to monitor or influence immigration reform policy or gain Homeland Security or ICE appropriations.”

The private prison industry’s operation of immigration detention centers has been less than stellar – a lot less.

For example:

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas and El Paso co-counsel Mike Torres and Leon Schydlower filed a lawsuit on behalf of the survivors of Jesus Manuel Galindo. Named as defendants were the federal government and the GEO Group, the administrator of the West Texas for-profit prison where Galindo, 32, died on December 12, 2008, after suffering a seizure in solitary confinement where he had been placed for complaining about the facility’s failure to provide him medication to control his epileptic seizures.

At least nine immigrant prisoners have died in the Reeves County Detention Center in the last five years. The GEO Group has had at least six facilities in Texas shuttered or contracts canceled. The state of Idaho pulled its inmates from the Dickens County Correctional Center in the spring of 2007 in the wake of the suicide of inmate Scot Noble Payne and a subsequent investigation into "squalid" conditions at the lock-up. Idaho also cut its contract the Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield, Texas after the 2008 suicide of Randy McCullough. In October 2007, the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center was shuttered by the Texas Youth Commission after a damning investigation into conditions at the youth detention center.

Despite that record – ironically, on the very day the lawsuit was filed -- the company was awarded a contract by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to operate a new 600-bed "civil" detention center in Karnes County, Texas. Texas has more for-profit prisons than any other state.

In another case, a former immigration detention guard was convicted of sexually abusing female detainees in the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, near Austin, Texas, which is managed by Corrections Corporation of America. The resident supervisor, Donald Dunn, 30, was charged with three counts of official oppression and two counts of unlawful restraint, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

The ACLU said CCA officials were violating policy by allowing female immigration detainees to be isolated with male staff members. After an ACLU investigation into sexual abuse at the Hutto facility, Vanita Gupta, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU, said the charges show additional need for reform.

Then there is the issue of death in detention. Nina Bernstein, writing in The New York Times, alleged that ICE officials, fearful of media scrutiny, conspired to conceal the details surrounding the deaths of a number of detained immigrants who died in privately-run detention centers.

Bernstein wrote that “…it is now clear, the deaths had already generated thousands of pages of government documents, including scathing investigative reports that were kept under wraps, and a trail of confidential memos and BlackBerry messages that show officials working to stymie outside inquiry.”

The documents were obtained by The Times and the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act. They relate to most of the 107 deaths in detention counted by ICE October 2003, when the agency was created within the Department of Homeland Security. The documents also revealed ten deaths in detention that had never been disclosed by the government. The ACLU says the number of deaths has increased since then.

The article details a litany of abuses. For example:

“As one man lay dying of head injuries suffered in a New Jersey immigration jail in 2007, for example, a spokesman for the federal agency told The Times that he could learn nothing about the case from government authorities. In fact, the records show, the spokesman had alerted those officials to the reporter’s inquiry, and they conferred at length about sending the man back to Africa to avoid embarrassing publicity.”

“In another case that year, investigators from the agency’s Office of
Professional Responsibility concluded that unbearable, untreated pain had been a significant factor in the suicide of a 22-year-old detainee at the Bergen County Jail in New Jersey, and that the medical unit was so poorly run that other detainees were at risk.”

“The investigation found that jail medical personnel had falsified a medication log to show that the detainee, a Salvadoran named Nery Romero, had been given Motrin. The fake entry was easy to detect: When the drug was supposedly administered, Mr. Romero was already dead.”

“Yet those findings were never disclosed to the public or to Mr. Romero’s
relatives on Long Island, who had accused the jail of abruptly depriving him of his prescription painkiller for a broken leg. And an agency supervisor wrote that because other jails were ‘finicky’ about accepting detainees with known medical problems like Mr. Romero’s, such people would continue to be placed at the Bergen jail as ‘a last resort’.”

Another case concerns Yusif Osman, who was a U.S. legal resident from Ghana and had been living in Los Angeles for five years. After a companion carrying false ID landed him in an immigration detention center run by CCA. Osman was facing deportation on smuggling charges, an allegation he denied. While at the immigration detention center outside San Diego, he died suddenly. His story highlights the poor care some immigrants have received in the scores of immigration facilities across the United States.

Near midnight on a California spring night, armed guards escorted Yusif Osman into an immigration prison ringed by concertina wire at the end of a winding, isolated road. During the intake screening, a part-time nurse began a computerized medical file on Osman, a routine procedure for any person entering the vast prison network the government has built for foreign detainees across the country. But the nurse pushed a button and mistakenly closed file #077-987-986 and marked it "completed" -- even though it had no medical information in it.

Three months later, at two in the morning on June 27, 2006, the native of Ghana collapsed in Cell 206 at the Otay Mesa immigrant detention center outside San Diego. His cellmate hit the intercom button, yelling to guards that Osman was on the floor suffering from chest pains. A guard peered through the window into the dim cell and saw the detainee on the ground, but did not go in. Instead, he called a clinic nurse to find out whether Osman had any medical problems.

When the nurse opened the file and found it blank, she decided there was no emergency and said Osman needed to fill out a sick call request. The guard went on a lunch break.

The cellmate yelled again. Another guard came by, looked in and called the nurse. This time she wanted Osman brought to the clinic. Forty minutes passed before guards brought a wheelchair to his cell. By then it was too late: Osman was barely alive when paramedics reached him. He soon died.

His body, clothed only in dark pants and socks, was left on a breezeway for two hours, an airway tube sticking out of his mouth. Osman was 34.

The next day, an autopsy determined that he had died because his heart had suddenly stopped, confidential medical records show. Two physicians who reviewed his case for The Washington Post said he might have lived had he received timely treatment, perhaps as basic as an aspirin.

Privately, Otay Mesa's medical staff also knew his care was deficient. On Page 3 of an internal review of his death is this question:

Did patient receive appropriate and adequate health care consistent with community standards during his/her detention ...?

Otay Mesa's medical director, Esther Hui, checked "No."

The ACLU records that “One man was brought in with such high blood pressure that if he was not in custody, he would have been sent to an emergency room immediately. He was denied treatment and shortly thereafter her suffered a massive heart attack and died.”

The ACLU said he was denied treatment because the treatment he needed – a coronary artery bypass – was not considered an ‘emergency’ procedure, the only condition under which care could be provided.

Another detainee had for over a year been denied a biopsy to detect a possible cancer. He died soon afterward.

The medical neglect they endure is part of the hidden human cost of increasingly strict policies adopted following the Sept. 11 attacks. A Washington Post investigation found that detainees have less access to lawyers than convicted murderers in maximum-security prisons and some have fewer comforts than al-Qaeda terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Post investigation, carried out by Dana Priest and Amy Goldstein, found that the most vulnerable detainees, the physically sick and the mentally ill, are sometimes denied the proper treatment to which they are entitled by law and regulation. They are locked in a world of slow care, poor care and no care, with panic and coverups among employees watching it happen.

The investigation found a hidden world of flawed medical judgments, faulty administrative practices, neglectful guards, ill-trained technicians, sloppy record-keeping, lost medical files and dangerous staff shortages. It is also a world increasingly run by high-priced private contractors. There is evidence that infectious diseases, including tuberculosis and chicken pox, are spreading inside the centers.

Nurses who work on the front lines see the problems up close. "Dogs get better care in the dog pound," said Catherine Rouse, a contract nurse at an Arizona detention center who quit after two months last year because she saw what she regarded as "scary medicine" in the prison: patients taken off medications they needed and nurses doing tasks they were not qualified to do. "You don't treat people like that. There has to be some kind of moral fiber," Rouse said.

Bob Libal, senior organizer for Grassroots Leadership in Austin, Texas – considered by many to be the “guru” of private prison opposition – summed up the situation as he sees it. He told Truthout, "A litany of human rights abuses, scandals, and lawsuits have plagued private prisons corporations, particularly in Texas, where there are more private prisons, detention centers, and jails than in any other state," he said, adding:

"Unfortunately, the private prison industry has fought even the most limited oversight and transparency measures. Furthermore, the largest private prison corporations - CCA and GEO - spend millions of dollars each year on lobbying and campaign contributions that ensure that their interests - an ever increasing flow of prisoners and detainees into private beds - are met."

ACLU Attorney David Shapiro told Truthout that two issues play a major role in creating an environment in which death and deprivation in detention become inevitable. The first issue is the absence of any enforceable standards for the maze of 400 federal, municipal, county and private jails used by ICE to house immigrants.

The second issue is a medical care regimen that, until recently, allowed the government such wide discretion that it could deny urgent care, including biopsies for suspected cancers and treatment of heart conditions. As a result of an ACLU lawsuit, there is now a new document that defines the medical care to which detainees are entitled. But lack of independent oversight casts doubt on the extent to which the new regimen is being followed.

The Obama administration has declined to produce system-wide enforceable standards for the prisons its uses to house immigrants. Shapiro declined to speculate on the administration’s rationale, but others have said that it is based on the wide differences between the various types of facilities used by the government. It has also failed to produce a medical care program that is binding on ICE personnel and its contractors. A number of the reported deaths in detention have been caused by ICE’s failure to provide timely medical interventions in emergency situations. Some observers believe that the rationale for deciding against providing “long term” medical care – for example, biopsies – is that ICE detention is largely short-term.

Yet ICE and its DHS parent department have acknowledged that many immigrants are held in custody for years. ICE has also admitted many of the deficiencies in its detention system and have vowed to initiate reforms. But Shapiro contends that the most recent documents obtained by the ACLU show that ICE’s culture of secrecy has not changed.

Bernstein’s New York Times article says that the documents show how officials — some still in key positions — used their role as overseers to “cover up evidence of mistreatment, deflect scrutiny by the news media or prepare exculpatory public statements after gathering facts that pointed to substandard care or abuse.”

As of today, there are no legally enforceable rules governing immigration detention, despite an order by a federal judge to create such rules. The Obama administration refused the judge’s order, which followed a petition filed in court by former detainees. Instead, ICE chose to follow an inspection system instituted during the administration of George W. Bush. That system relies in part on private contractors. Judge Denny Chin ruled that the agency’s failure to respond to the plaintiffs’ petition for two and a half years was unreasonable.

DHS contended that rule-making would be ”laborious, time-consuming and less flexible” than the review process now in place. It said its current inspection system would “provide adequately for both quality control and accountability.”

According to Paromita Shah of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, one of the plaintiffs, the government’s decision “disregards the plight of the hundreds of thousands of immigration detainees.” She claims that the absence of enforceable rules is the major cause of problems of mistreatment and medical neglect. “The department has demonstrated a disturbing commitment to policies that have cost dozens of lives,” she says.

In the view of numerous observers, ICE is itself a highly dysfunctional unit. Thus far the promises of significant operational changes have not come to fruition. The agency remains opaque.

But it is precisely this condition that presents private prison contractors with growing opportunities to pitch their services. Increasing numbers of alleged illegals are being detained by ICE and its various programs, such as 287(g), which enlists local police forces to suss out people in this country who they say shouldn’t be.

As to the future of the private prison industry, its reach is vast – from the teenager in Pennsylvania to the undocumented worker in Arizona. The ACLU’s Shapiro told Truthout, "The main thing the government should do is stop using private prisons. They are a failed experiment and have contributed to mass incarceration, horrid conditions, and escalating costs. At minimum, greater oversight and transparency are critical."

But President Obama continues to use detention and deportation as a political tool to curry favor with the hard right. In the process, myriad injustices are being committed. And with the 2012 election looming, it seems unlikely that Washington has the appetitite to actually fix any of the headaches caused by ICE and its for-profit prisons.
In a chapter from a forthcoming book, Alex Friedmann, associate editor of Prison Legal News, writes, “The most harmful effect of private prison companies is that they have made imprisonment-for-profit politically and socially acceptable, thereby creating an insidious industry that benefits from incarceration while instilling the notion that justice literally is for sale and crime does in fact pay.”

He adds, “Hopefully, at some point in the future we will look back on the time when private prisons were considered sensible and wonder how such a destructive concept was allowed to exist. For now, though, we must deal with the harsh reality of the private prison industry, including its many flaws and harmful effects on prisoners, our justice system and society as a whole.”




This article originally appeared in Truthout.org