Planet Watch

BP facing fraud lawsuits over oil spill

Two lawsuits have been filed against BP alleging violations of the Rackteer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute in connection with the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Amazon

Peru: oil spill fouls rainforest communities

Some 4,000 living in communities on the banks of the Rio Marañón in Peru’s northeastern Loreto department have been affected by an oil spill caused by the Argentine firm Pluspetrol.

Issue #169, July 2010

Electronic Journal & Daily Report PRIVATE PRISONS, PUBLIC PAIN Systematic Abuse in Texas’ For-Profit Archipelago by Peter Gorman, Fort Worth Weekly THE WILDCAT STRIKES IN CHINA Towards an Independent Labor Movement? by Lance Carter, Insurgent Notes COLOMBIA TERROR: CLINTON’S COMPLICITY… Read moreIssue #169, July 2010

Does World War 4 Report Have Readers?

Dear Readers:

We have a very important question for you.

Do you exist?

No really, we need to know. We work hard on World War 4 Report every day. A month ago, with our June issue, we both asked for reader response on an Exit Poll (as we do every month) and announced our annual Summer Fund Drive (our first this year). We received no responses to either.

We ask our readers to show they are engaged with our project by either sending a small donation once a year, or by answering our Exit Polls, or both. If we are going to continue this project (which is about to enter its ninth year), we need to know that somebody is paying attention.

Now, we are not completely discouraged, because our benefit bash on the Lower East Side on June 18 was a big success. But we remain struggling with debt following the travel that brought you first-hand reportage on indigenous struggles in Peru and Bolivia over the past year.

So, let’s try again. Our Exit Poll, now extended into a second month, is: Will future generations note April 20, 2010 as a greater turning point than Sept. 11, 2001? (In case you’ve forgotten, that is the date the Gulf of Mexico disaster began.)

And once again, World War 4 Report receives NO foundation sponsorship. We depend on our readers to survive. Plenty of Idiot Left websites with bad politics and no editorial standards (we’ll refrain from mentioning any names for the moment) routinely rake in thousands in their fund drives. All we’re asking for is hundreds. And right now, we’re at snake eyes.

Is anybody out there?

Please let us know.

Bill Weinberg

Editor, World War 4 Report

Send checks payable to World War 4 Report to:

World War 4 Report
121 Fifth Ave. #172
Brooklyn NY 11217

Or donate by credit card:

Write us at:

feedback (a) ww4report.com

Continue ReadingDoes World War 4 Report Have Readers? 

IT’S OFFICIAL: THE U.S. IS NOT A SAFE HAVEN FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSERS

by Pamela Merchant, Center for Justice and Accountability

This month, in one of the most significant human rights cases to be heard by the Supreme Court in years, the Court unanimously ruled that former foreign government officials who come to the US and avail themselves of the benefits of living here are not immune from suit under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

The Court’s ruling in Samantar v. Yousuf means that former foreign officials who have committed egregious human rights abuses, such as torture and extrajudicial killing, can be held accountable for their crimes and will not be able to find comfort and sanctuary in the US. In an era in which the Court has often moved to curtail plaintiffs’ access to courts, the Court’s unanimous ruling is truly noteworthy. The Court’s decision assures that US courts will remain open to survivors of human rights abuses and that the US can continue to serve as a leader in the protection and promotion of human rights and individual dignity.

The Supreme Court’s decision is the latest development in a case originally filed in 2004 by the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), a non-profit legal human rights organization based in San Francisco, California. CJA filed a lawsuit under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) and the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) on behalf of five plaintiffs who were tortured or whose family members were killed under the command of former defense minister of Somalia, Mohamed Ali Samantar. It is undisputed that Mr. Samantar presided over a brutal campaign of violence in which at least 50,000 civilians were killed or tortured. Despite his past, Mr. Samantar has lived comfortably in a Fairfax, Virginia, suburb—just a stone’s throw away from the steps of the highest court in the land—for over a decade.

Mr. Samantar’s presence in the US landed him at the heart of a debate pitting accountability against impunity. In this case, Mr. Samantar had attempted to evade responsibility for his actions by claiming immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) of 1976. Mr. Samantar’s claim of immunity relied on an inventive, but flawed, reading of the FSIA. Lawyers for Mr. Samantar argued that because he was acting on behalf of the government, he was entitled to the same immunity that the government of Somalia (if there were a recognized and functioning government) would enjoy. His argument ran counter to well-settled precedents dating back to the postwar Nuremburg trials and the guiding principle that individuals can and must be held liable for egregious human rights violations. His position would also have undermined decades of US jurisprudence on human rights law and recent US efforts to secure accountability for those crimes.

The plaintiffs, by contrast, joined by a diverse and broad group of supporters including former American diplomats, retired military professionals, Holocaust survivors, anti-genocide activists, and members of the US Senate and House of Representatives, argued that the FSIA could not be interpreted in a way that would afford immunity to individual human rights abusers. Various amici argued, for example, that human rights abuses are threats to both international security and our national interests, noting that the US commitment to internationally-recognized human rights is critical to our diplomatic and military strength. Moreover, plaintiffs asserted that when Congress passed the TVPA, it explicitly determined that the law was a necessary deterrent to human rights abusers seeking safe haven in the US.

The Court, faced with a choice between upholding accountability or permitting impunity—an impunity unsupported by either morality or law—concluded that US law provides for and demands accountability. Now, Mr. Samantar and other former officials who commit human rights abuses will not be able to hide behind a shield of FSIA immunity. Mr. Samantar will be forced to account for his past crimes. And the plaintiffs who have been pursuing him will finally have their day in Court—and an opportunity for justice.

—-

Pamela Merchant is executive director of the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA).

This story first appeared June 18 on Huffington Post.

See also:

SOMALIA CASE THREATENS WAR CRIMINALS WORLDWIDE
US Supreme Court to Rule on Sovereign Immunity
by Paul Wolf, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, January 2010

——————-

Reprinted by World War 4 Report, July 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingIT’S OFFICIAL: THE U.S. IS NOT A SAFE HAVEN FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSERS 

COLOMBIA’S PRESIDENT RAILS AGAINST JUSTICE, CLINTON STANDS BY

by Lisa Haugaard, Colombia Peace Update

Colombia’s outgoing President Alvaro Uribe has launched an assault against his country’s courts for taking some initial steps to bring high-ranking military and government officials to justice for their role in murder, illegal wiretapping, disappearances and torture. This is no abstract political debate. When the President takes to the airwaves to denounce those working for justice, the judges, lawyers, witnesses and victims’ families know that death threats, and sometimes murder, often follow. The threats and attacks usually appear to be from paramilitary groups. Colombia’s Supreme Court made a call for help: “We make an appeal to the international community to accompany and show solidarity with the Colombian judicial system which is being assaulted for carrying out its duties.”

These tirades come just as Hillary Clinton makes her first trip to Colombia, announcing in a June 9th joint press conference with President Uribe that, “The United States has been proud to stand with Colombia and we will continue to stand with you in the future.” The Secretary sought to assure the Colombian government that US military assistance would flow, and that the Obama Administration supported a trade agreement, seeming to signal that concerns about human rights and labor rights came from the Congress rather than the White House.

“The security threats have not completely been eliminated and therefore the United States will continue to support the Colombian military, the Colombian people and their government in their ongoing struggle,” Clinton said. “There is no resting until the job is done.”

On June 10, President Uribe went on national television surrounded by the military’s high command to denounce the justice system for a verdict against Colonel Luis Alfonso Plazas Vega for the disappearance of 11 people in 1985 following the army’s storming of the Palace of Justice. The M-19 guerrillas had seized the Palace, taking hostages and demanding to put the President on trial. In the army’s no-holds barred retaking of the Palace, more than 100 people were killed, including the guerrillas and 11 of the 24 Supreme Court justices. The colonel’s conviction, however, was not for the methods used when the army retook the palace. Instead, it was for the disappearance of 11 people, mainly cafeteria workers, who left the Palace alive and then disappeared, “allegedly tortured and killed because they witnessed heavy-handed tactics by the army as it stormed the building.”

Uribe blasted the verdict part of a “panorama of judicial insecurity which conspires against the maintenance of public order in Colombia.” But to the families of the disappeared cafeteria workers, justice is finally at hand. “With this groundbreaking ruling the victims’ families, who for almost a quarter of a century have campaigned for justice, have begun to break the silence that has for so long protected those responsible,” said Marcelo Pollack, Colombia researcher at Amnesty International.

On June 1, President Uribe attacked the Prosecutor General’s office for investigating his ex-director of the Special Administrative Unit for Financial Information and Analysis (UIAF), who was allegedly implicated in the DAS scandal regarding the illegal wiretapping of judges, human rights defenders, and journalists. He labeled the ex-director “an innocent, good man who has only served the country.”

A few days later, Uribe blasted the Prosecutor General’s office and lawyers for bringing General Freddy Padilla de León in for questioning. Padilla was summoned to testify regarding the system of armed forces’ incentives which are believed to have driven soldiers to commit abuses in order to up their body counts. “I raise my voice against the accusations against
General Padilla de León. They are useful and useless idiots of terrorism who don’t do anything more than make false accusations… Terrorism now wants to win via ink-stained wretches who want to stop the advances of democratic security.” Uribe called for new legislation to protect the military’s high command from accusations regarding the conduct of their troops.

Clinton’s one-day trip included a much-commented visit to a Bogotá restaurant, which was used to demonstrate that the country’s improved security situation now permitted her to have a “wonderful meal” in safety.

—-

This story first appeared in the June edition of Colombia Peace Update, publication of the Fellowship of Reconciliation Colombia Program. It also appeared on the website of the Latin American Working Group.

From our Daily Report:

Colombia: US documents on Palace of Justice affair reveal army massacre
World War 4 Report, June 20, 2010

Colombia: scandal-tainted Freddy Padilla is new defense chief
World War 4 Report, May 25, 2009

——————-

Reprinted by World War 4 Report, July 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingCOLOMBIA’S PRESIDENT RAILS AGAINST JUSTICE, CLINTON STANDS BY 

THE WILDCAT STRIKES IN CHINA

Towards an Independent Labor Movement?

by Lance Carter, Insurgent Notes

The wildcat strike at the Nanhai Honda factory which formally ended on June 4 with a partial victory for workers, has subsequently inspired two other Honda factories in the Pearl River Delta to go on strike. In addition, workers from several Taiwanese-owned factories have adopted similar tactics, holding a sit-in in Jiangsu and blocking roads in Shenzhen.

The initial Honda strike began on May 17. It took place in a transmissions factory in Foshan, Guangdong. The strike lasted over two weeks and received considerable coverage in mainland Chinese newspapers. At its height, around 1,900 workers (almost the entire factory) walked off the job. Because the Nanhai factory is responsible for making car transmissions, the strike eventually stopped production at four other Honda assembly plants. In total, Honda’s losses amounted to 2,500 cars per day.

Over the two week period of unrest Honda presented four different offers to the workers, all of which were rejected. The offers were designed to divide the more skilled interns from the bulk of the regular workers by offering the former more. Interns make up one third of the Nanhai factory workforce. Because interns do not sign contracts, receive no insurance plan, and are not protected under Chinese labor laws, their grievances were particularly acute.

However, Honda interns are young—many having not yet graduated from school—and so were seen by management as more susceptible to persuasion. At one point student representatives from the interns’ schools were sent to the factory to convince interns to return to work. In the end, all attempts to divide workers failed.

On May 26, after management’s second offer was rejected, workers banded together to come up with a list of coherent demands which reflected their collective interests. Thus, on the following day of May 27 workers presented Honda with the following demands:

(1) an increase in wages of 800 renminbi per month (roughly 75% raise) for all workers.
(2) additional cash bonuses based on duration of employment—a cumulative wage increase of 100 rmb every year for ten years.
(3) an immediate return of worker ID cards to workers upon resumption of work; workers cannot be fired or pressured to resign after returning to work; those already fired will be reinstated; a promise that workers will not be held legally or financially responsible for the strike.
(4) all wages lost, dating from May 21st up until the resumption of work, will be repaid to workers.
(5) within a month of returning to work management shall respond to the various suggestions posed by workers on May 17.
(6) a reorganization of the local trade union; reelections should be held for union chairman and other representatives.

Workers at the Nanhai factory organized themselves independently of the local trade union. E-mail and text messaging seem to have played an important role in facilitating communication. On several occasions over the two week period, workers decided to elect representatives to negotiate with management. This representative structure seems to have developed naturally out of the needs of the struggle and was not originally connected to any specific political goals. However, over the course of the struggle many workers began to demand a restructuring of the local unions along such democratic lines. Later, workers from a different Honda factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong who began a subsequent strike on June 9 reasserted this goal as one of their primary demands.

The official unions in China (under the All-China Federation of Trade Unions—ACFTU) are state-controlled. In the Nanhai factory strike, the unions played only a “mediating” role and refused to openly support the workers. On May 31, members of the local Shishan Town trade union even physically attacked a group of forty workers, causing seven or eight seriously injuries. However, the incident seems to have instilled more solidarity among workers than fear. The following day, the local unions issued a public “apology” to the workers in which they tried to play down responsibility for the assault.

The Nanhai strike formally ended on June 4. A settlement was reached between the worker-elected negotiating committee and the general manager of Honda Motors in China, Zeng Qinghong. Workers won a partial victory. Honda agreed to raise all employee wages by 500 rmb per month (around 33%), as well as agreeing to regular cash bonuses and other demands. The issue of restructuring the local union was not reported on. Towards the end of the strike the sixteen-member workers’ negotiating committee issued two letters to the public which were published by the Chinese media amidst much fanfare.

Media coverage of the initial Honda strike was surprisingly broad and in-depth. Although, the state-censored media received orders to stop reporting on any labor disputes as early as May 28, coverage by local Guangdong media continued well up until June 4.

However, since the conclusion of the Nanhai strike, mainland media has remained completely silent in regard to the subsequent wave of wildcat strikes that have rocked other parts of China. This tacit approval of coverage of the initial Nanhai strike seems to reflect a desire on the part of the CCP to see domestic consumption rise. On June 4, coinciding with the resolution of the Nanhai strike, the Beijing Municipal Government announced it was raising Beijing’s minimum wage by 20%.10 Later on June 9th, the Shenzhen government followed suit and announced a minimum wage increase of 10%.11 Since January, a total of fourteen Chinese provinces have declared 10%-20% increases in the minimum wage.

As the Nanhai strike was coming to a close, another dispute erupted on the other side of the country. On June 4, workers from the Taiwanese-owned (KOK International) rubber factory outside Shanghai began a sit-in to protest low pay and intolerable working conditions. Workers complained of being subjected to toxic fumes and having to labor in temperatures well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. From the beginning, the strike received almost unanimous support from workers. Though the sit-in started on June 4, reports did not reach Western media until June 7 when striking workers clashed with police. Around fifty workers were injured and dozens arrested in the clash.

Back in Guangdong, a third incident broke out in Shenzhen. On June 6, between 300 and 500 workers from a Merry Electronics factory—a Taiwanese audio components manufacturer—staged a walkout and blocked roads for the better part of a day. The company immediately responded by announcing a significant wage increase, though a spokesperson denied that the increase had any relation to the strike.

As the week proceeded, two more strikes erupted in Honda factories based in Guangdong.

The second, like the initial, was in Foshan. On June 7, workers from Honda’s Fengfu exhaust system factory folded their arms and demanded the same concessions granted the Nanhai workers. Around 250 workers, out of a total about 500, joined the strike. Production at the Fengfu factory had not been affected by the events of the previous two weeks, but workers had learned about the Nanhai strike through media reports. The Fengfu strike, though only lasting three days, forced production to stop at two of Honda’s four assembly plants—which had just returned to work after being paralyzed by the initial strike. An agreement was finally reached on the evening of June 9 which granted significant concessions to the workers.

Earlier in the day on June 9, a third Honda strike broke out in Xiaolan, Zhongshan. The Xiaolan Honda Lock factory is responsible for supplying key sets, door locks, side mirrors, and other components for Honda automobiles. The strike apparently began when several employees were beaten up by security guards for allegedly planning an industrial action. Though demanding wage increases similar to the Nanhai and Fengfu workers, it is this third strike at Honda Lock that seems to have briefly taken on more radical dimensions. According to the New York Times, in addition to an 89% wage increase, Honda Lock workers at one point also demanded the right to form an independent labor union based on elected representation. Workers elected a ten-member “factory-wide council” to enter negotiations with management on the first day of the strike. Though Honda agreed to consider the workers’ wage demands, it said it had no authority to approve an independent union. “Management said that a government labor board would decide on the workers’ requests by June 19, and asked that the workers return to their jobs in the meantime.”

On June 11, around 500, out of a total of 1,500 workers, took to the streets outside the Honda Lock factory to demonstrate. Workers encountered several lines of riot police who sealed off the street, surrounding the protesters for nearly two hours. In the days following the demonstration, workers have held several rallies outside the plant while waiting for management to present an acceptable offer. However, Honda Lock appears to be taking a hard line. Because the Honda Lock factory relies on mostly unskilled labor, management has repeatedly insulted workers by offering a wage increase of 100 rmb and attempting to bring in strike breakers. As of June 15, the vast majority of workers remain on strike while about 100 have returned to work.

Beijing has maintained a strict silence over the past month. Though no doubt welcoming higher wages as a boost to internal consumption, the CCP does not want to see workers become too emboldened. Calls for autonomous and democratic trade unions, if granted only at the local level, would have far-reaching consequences. But workers seem to have backed away from this demand. No doubt what is of most significance in these strikes is the worker-elected negotiating committees that have sprung up in place of the unions. The Chinese media refereed to the initial Nanhai factory committee as an independent union. However, these committees clearly lack the bureaucratic character of the ACFTU. If workers continue to demand a restructuring of the unions, will the committees we have seen spring up over the past month serve as a model for this restructuring? If so, this would have truly radical implications for the Chinese working class.

—-

This story will appear in an upcoming edition of Insurgent Notes: Journal of Communist Theory and Practice.

Resources:

More Honda Labor Trouble in China
New York Times, June 9, 2010

A Chinese Alternative? Interpreting the Chinese New Left Politically
Lance Carter, Insurgent Notes, June 2010

All-China Federation of Trade Unions—ACFTU
http://www.acftu.org.cn/

From our Daily Report:

China: Gansu under siege after riots
World War 4 Report, Nov. 22, 2008

China: workers revolt at Mickey D’s contract factory
World War 4 Report, July 30, 2006

——————-

Reprinted by World War 4 Report, July 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingTHE WILDCAT STRIKES IN CHINA 

PRIVATE PRISONS, PUBLIC PAIN

In prisons run by private companies, the bottom line is the only thing that matters.

by Peter Gorman, Fort Worth Weekly

Reeves County straddles Interstate 20 in far West Texas, between Odessa and El Paso. The county seat is Pecos, a town anchored in cowboy mythology. Tiny homes, many of them 100 years old and made of stone, line several dozen downtown streets; beyond them, sandy soil dotted with clumps of short grass and tumbleweed surround the town for miles. Oil crickets are more commonplace than trees on the landscape.

It’s the home of the world’s first rodeo and the former home of the legendary Pecos Kid and Judge Roy Bean. Just around the block from the Sheriff’s offices is a replica of Bean’s office and the single cell jail the building housed.

Times change, and these days, a newer prison sits in the southwest corner of town. The Reeves County Detention Center is bigger than Bean’s, with a capacity of 3,700 inmates, most of them non-violent illegal immigrants. The facility is owned by the county and run by the GEO Group, formerly a division of Wackenhut—the giant security firm—a company that runs more than a dozen prisons in Texas, nearly four dozen in the US, and another 10 in Australia, England, South Africa and Cuba. All told, they are in control of over 60,000 inmates worldwide. They’re also a company that has one of the worst track records imaginable in inmate care: the horror stories range from prison rapes to suicides to murder to death because of inadequate medical care.

It’s a company that once put a convicted sex offender in a guard’s position at a facility for juvenile females. It’s not as if something goes wrong occasionally at GEO-run prisons; something goes terribly wrong on a regular basis at GEO’s facilities, and the only explanation is that the corporate atmosphere tolerates prisoner abuse. With GEO, it’s not a question of “Will prisoner abuse occur again at a GEO prison?” It’s simply a question of when, where, and how terrible will it be. Texas alone has twice removed all its inmates from a GEO-run facility because of deplorable conditions. Despite that track record, the company is still supported by the state and federal governments, a testimony to GEO’s connections and enormous lobbying efforts.

And GEO’s work in Texas has been the company at its worst.

“They have simply been horrendous,” said said Bob Libal, coordinator of the Texas division of Grassroots Leadership, an organization aiming to eliminate privatized prisons.

The sprawling prison complex—the largest private prison in the world—sits at the far southwest corner of Pecos, on County Road 204, just past a small cluster of double-wides and a juvenile detention center run by the county. Beyond the complex is a cemetery dotted with colorful plastic flowers.

The minimum-security detention center is made up of several squat, drab buildings surrounded by twin chain-link fences that are covered in roll after roll of razor wire. Most of the inmates are illegal immigrants. Some of them have been convicted of criminal charges; a lot of them, according to Reeves County Sheriff Arnulfo Gomez, are simply immigration violators. Gomez insists it’s not a bad place to be locked up, as lockups go. “They get plenty of time in the yard, good food, good treatment, lots of programs and great medical care.”

Not everybody feels that way: five inmates have died there since August, 2008—three from inadequate medical care, according to the inmates, and two from alleged suicide—resulting in the complex being the site of two major riots in the not too distant past. The first one took place in December, 2008 and the second in February, 2009. The first caused $1 million in damage to the complex; the second, which burned large areas of the prison, was estimated to have caused between $20 and $40 million in damage. Areas of the detention center are still under reconstruction. According to the families of inmates, the immediate cause of the riots were the result of the death of an epileptic who died while in solitary confinement, without medication, just prior to the first riot.

“When an epileptic dies in solitary confinement from seizures—and the allegations are that he asked for his medications and was denied them before he was put in the hole—well, that doesn’t sound like great medical care to me,” said Dotty Griffith, Public Education Director of the ACLU of Texas.

“Prison riots are rare. And in this case, these were mostly non-violent prisoners in a mimimum security prison. It strains the imagination that they would riot without cause.”

The epileptic who died was Jesus Manuel Galindo. He was serving 30 months for illegally crossing into Texas from Mexico at El Paso in 2007. Though he’d grown up in the United States since the age of 13, he remained “illegal” and was deported in early 2007 to Ciudad Juárez, just across the border from El Paso. Not having family or friends in Mexico he returned to the states several weeks later. Unfortunately, he had a seizure in a convenience store, and when law enforcement arrived to help, Galindo was arrested and eventually tried and sentenced for illegal re-entry.

According to reports, Galindo’s seizures increased in frequency while in Reeves, and when he demanded to see a doctor to get his anticonvulsive medication he was instead taken to solitary confinement in the Segregated Housing Unit of the prison. He arrived in the hole on November 12, 2008. A month later he was dead, without having seen a doctor.

When two other inmates also in the SHU saw his body being taken out in a body bag—The Texas Observer wrote that it was purple and that rigor mortis had already set in—they started a fire in a mattress using electrical wires. Guards responded and tried to put the fire out but the mutiny spread quickly. Guards used rubber bullets, stun grenades and other non-lethal weaponry; the inmates forced their way into the yard areas of the prison, covering their faces to prevent identification from surveillance cameras. Two prison employees—non-guards—were taken hostage. That evening, the inmates sent a delegation to meet with negotiators. They demanded less crowded conditions, better food and better medical care. When the negotiators promised to consider the inmate complaints, the hostages were released unharmed and the riot was over.

But the negotiators didn’t follow through, and seven weeks later, on January 31, 2009, a second riot broke out—that time because another inmate, Ramón García, 25, was put into solitary confinement after complaining that he was sick and unable to get attention. That riot lasted until February 5 and burned a large section of the prison, reducing available bed space to 3,000. However, the county expects the complex to be running at its full capacity of 3,700—a figure inmates and their families say is well over reasonable capacity—by August, 2010.

The ACLU has repeatedly requested information from GEO concerning the facility and the events leading up to the riots, but according to Griffith, their requests have gone unanswered. Their requests for an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General for the Bureau of Prisons have similarly met with silence.

“When we speak with the inmates and their families, we’re told of horrendous conditions; when we speak with the sheriff we get an entirely different picture. We just want to get at the facts,” Griffith told the Fort Worth Weekly.

According to Lisa Graybill, legal director for the ACLU in Texas, private prisons simply invite problems. “Any time you try to take a layer of profit from the basic cost of housing an inmate, you are going to have to cut that from somewhere.”

But some private contractors have a lot more problems than others, and GEO stands at the top of the list in Texas.

“There’s no question that GEO’s performance in Texas has been markedly worse than any other company running private prisons there,” said Libal. “GEO’s had a number of facilities closed due to horrendous conditions in this state alone.”

The problems GEO’s had at its Texas facilities read like teasers from upcoming potboilers.

* Seven youthful offenders at the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center in Bronte, Texas, sued the GEO group in 2007 over unfit living conditions. The Texas Youth Commission investigated, found feces on the walls and floor of the facility, bug infested food, filthy bedding and subsequently pulled all of its nearly 200 juvenile detainees from the facility.

In 1999 at the same facility several female juvenile detainees claimed they had been sexually abused by a Wackenhut—prior to the change of name to GEO—employee who had a prior conviction for sexual abuse of a child. GEO settled the suit for $1.5 million.

That same year a female detainee committed suicide following the settlement of an even earlier lawsuit stemming from sexual abuse at the prison which allowed Wackenhut to avoid accepting responsibility for the actions of their employees there.

* At the Dickens County Correctional Center in Spur, Texas, an Idaho inmate committed suicide in 2007, prompting an investigation by the Idaho Department of Corrections Health Director, who called the prison the worst he’d ever seen and removed all of Idaho’s inmates from it. GEO no longer runs the facility.

Idaho also pulled all it’s prisoners from the Newton County correction center in 2006 after widespread reports of prisoner abuse.

* In 2007, at the Frio County Detention Center in Pearsall, a female detainee sued GEO after being denied necessary medication, being put into isolation, stripped, ridiculed and having her crutches taken away by guards.

* in 1999, 11 guards and a case manager were indited on felony charges of sexual assault and improper sexual activity, as well as the misdemeanor charge of sexual harassment at the Travis County State Jail in Austin.

* At the Val Verde Detention Center in Del Rio, TX, an African-American guard sued GEO for racial discrimination in 2005 after his superior posed for pictures in Ku Klux Klan garb and had a noose in his office. A year later, the GEO group and Val Verde County were sued by a civil rights organization after an inmate who was denied medication and was sexually abused committed suicide.

The worst single case of abuse at a GEO facility occurred at the Willacy County State Jail in Raymondville, Texas, in 2001, when a prisoner just four days shy of release was beaten to death in front of the warden and guards.

“Two inmates at a GEO Group-operated facility in Willacy County stuffed prison-issued padlocks into socks and beat Gregorio de la Rosa on his head, neck, ribs and back, striking him dead,” wrote journalist Matt Pulle in a 2009 story for texaswatchdog.org.

The family of De la Rosa, an honorably discharged National Guardsman imprisoned for 1/4 gram of cocaine, filed a wrongful death suit and their lawyer was able to show that the GEO Group had destroyed a videotape of the killing. They were awarded $47.5 million, an award upheld on appeal.

The prosecutor on that case was Juan Angel Guerra, then District Attorney for Willacy County. “I was the one who looked into that case from the beginning,” Guerra told the Weekly. “I prosecuted the two inmates who committed the murder and got 25-year sentences for each of them. But while I was prosecuting them I realized that the case was bigger than just an inmate killing. I realized that GEO’s guards and the warden were involved as well.”

Guerra said he called for federal help with his investigation and decided to go after GEO in the family’s civil suit. “By 2006 we had a solid case against the company, and the jury found the death to have occurred due to the ‘malicious acts’ of the company. That means intended, planned actions.”

Guerra, who served a total of 16 years as Willacy’s DA, is now a defense attorney in private practice in Pecos and Laredo. One of the cases he’s working on is the death of José Manuel Falcón, 32, who allegedly committed suicide while in solitary confinement at Reeves a month after the second riot ended.

A GEO statement released at the time said, “On March 5, 2009, at approximately 6:40 PM, inmate Jose Manuel Falcon took his life by self-inflicting numerous lacerations with a disposable razor blade. At the time of the incident the inmate was in a single cell and there is no evidence of foul play…”

Guerra doesn’t believe GEO’s suicide story. “Listen, this guy Falcón had already served nearly his whole sentence of five years. He had two months left. And he winds up with cuts on his arms and hands, and then his throat is slit. The cuts on his arms and hands indicate he was in a defensive position. That makes it murder.”

Like Galindo, Falcon grew up in the US, close enough to the Rio Grande to nearly see it. “Well, when the federal crackdown on illegals started,” said Guerra, “Falcon was caught and deported to Mexico, just across the river. Naturally, because he lived here on the U.S. side, he came back. Three years later he was stopped for speeding and his name came up as having been previously deported, so he was prosecuted and given five years. That was his only crime. And then he has no problems in prison and decided to kill himself by cutting his throat just before he gets out?”

Guerra, who claims to have nearly 200 clients in the Reeves facility alone—clients pay a one-time fee of $100 and nothing further—said that the prison is worse than described by most. “I’ve got one client in there who got an eye infection. No one would treat it and it kept getting worse. Now he’s blind.”

He also said that corruption is not just rife, but part of the system. “When the first riot at Reeves ended and the inmates were checked for contraband, over 400 phones were confiscated. Where do you think 400 phones came from?” he asked. “Inside, the going rate from the guards can go as high as $500 a phone and $100 to charge it.”

He also noted that when the first riot broke out the staff was short 200 guards. “That’s the private prison industry. You’re getting paid per inmate, but if you can save on the salaries of 200 guards, you’re making a lot of money. It’s like its own mafia.”

How is a company with that track record still be able to do business with both the state and federal government? The answser to that can be traced to the company’s roots, which date back to the 1950s. George R. Wackenhut, the company founder, was a former FBI agent who left the bureau to start his own company, Special Agent Investigators, with three former colleagues in 1954. A year later, he split with his associates and formed The Wackenhut Corporation, which specialized in creating and selling dossiers on US citizens to the FBI. According to Sourcewatch, by 1966 the corporation had produced “over four million files, or one for every 46 adults in the country.”

The Wackenhut connections with the US government are apparent in a glance at some of the corporation’s early board members. Those included General Mark Clark, former FBI director Clarence Kelley; former Defense secretary and CIA deputy director Frank Carlucci; former Defense Intelligence Agency director General Joseph Carroll, and prior to his becoming the director of the CIA, William Casey was its outside legal council.

In 1967 Wackenhut took the company public, and at about the same time formed a division known as Wackenhut Services, Inc, which quickly went on “to become the largest contract security provider to the Federal government,” according to official Wackenhut history. The company would grow to provide security at nuclear installations, at federally sensitive federal installations and for multinational corporations. Its employees were culled primarily from former military forces.

The unofficial record had Wackenhut operatives also acting as strike breakers in both the US and overseas and as a key element in getting arms to the Contras in Nicaragua during the Reagan era.

In a 1992 Spy Magazine article, CIA analyst William Corbett noted that “For years, Wackenhut has been involved with the CIA and other intelligence organizations, including the Drug Enforcement Administration. Wackenhut would allow the CIA to occupy positions within the company [in order to carry out] clandestine operations.”

In return, said Corbett, Wackenhut was given plum contracts throughout the Reagan presidency, and by the time prison privatization was introduced in the mid-1980s, Wackenhut was in a prime position to become a pioneer in the field. In 1984 the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation was formed as a division of The Wackenhut Corporation. The company won its first contract in 1987, to run the Aurora Processing Center in Denver Colorado, giving it care and custody of 150 illegal detainees for the Bureau of Immigration. (The facility is now the Aurora ICE Processing Center).

By 1992, Wackenhut expanded overseas, developing the Australasian Correctional Management PTY to run prisons in Australia and a year later won a contract to design, build and operate the first privately run jail in New South Wales. In 1996 the company was awarded Scotland’s first private prison project—a contract it has since lost—and shortly afterward formed another subsidiary to provide residential drug treatment services to state and local government agencies. The company would later move into running private prisons in South Africa, New Zealand—the company no longer operates there—and the Guantanamo Bay Migrations Operations Center in Cuba, as well.

The Wackenhut Corporation was eventually acquired by the Danish-based Group 4 FALCK, which in turn merged with Securicor in 2004, becoming Group 4 Securicor, the largest security outfit in the world.

But not wanting to lose its lucrative private prison contracts, the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation bought all of its stock from G4S in 2003, becoming an independent company with the new name The GEO Group, Inc.

The politically connected roots of GEO also run into lobbying and local political connections. Wackenhut was a contributor to both George and Jeb Bush (the company’s headquarters are in Boca Raton, FL), and former Sen. Phil Gramm, who urged prisons to be privatized and the inmates put to work “so that we can produce component parts in prisons…now being produced in places like Mexico, China, Taiwan and Korea.”

While he was still in office, Tom DeLay was a major backer of GEO. More recently, Matt Pulle’s 2009 story for texaswatchdog.org detailed financial links between State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and state Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville and the GEO Group. “Zaffirini’s husband, Carlos, is a lawyer and advocate for the firm,” he noted, and Oliveira’s “Brownsville law firm serves as its local defense council.” Further, Pulle wrote that Oliveira’s cousin, David, a partner in the firm, “represented the company [GEO] in a lawsuit alleging misconduct that one judge described as ‘reprehensible.'”

Zaffirini, who purportedly makes $600,000 a year from GEO, insists that his senator wife would never let his position as a lawyer for GEO influence her lawmaking.

For lobbying, GEO annually spends more than any other private prison company in Texas. In 2007, at the height of the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center scandal, GEO upped its Texas lobbying fees from $60,000 to over $600,000, leading Texas’ Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire (D-Houston) to tell the Dallas Morning News, “Now enters GEO with their paid lobbyists attempting to put a good face on this. I’m saying the corporation should back off. They’ve run a very poor facility that probably violates the youths’ civil rights. Kids were stepping in their own feces. The sheets were such that a cat or dog wouldn’t sleep on them.”

Among GEO’s leading lobbyists are Ray Allen, the former Texas State Representative from Grand Prairie, who chaired the House Committee on Corrections—and a longtime proponent of prison privatization—and his former chief of staff, Scott Gilmore. And when Reeves County threatened to default on $39 million in bonds used to build its third housing unit and the feds didn’t immediately fill it with inmates, the county hired Tom DeLay’s brother to go to Washington to lobby for federal prisoners to fill the new beds. Shortly thereafter, the feds came through with a contract to fill the extra 960 beds.

GEO’s lobbying efforts have aimed at keeping its prisons full—which means pushing for major ICE raids periodically if bed space becomes available. But it also has worked to keep their prisons in Texas from being monitored and held to Texas Commission on Jail Standards, according to Grassroots Leadership’s Bob Libal.

“Prior to 2003, Jail Standards would go into facilities like the one at Reeves—which is county owned but filled with federal Bureau of Prison inmates—and inspect it. But after heavy lobbying, a bill was passed that took away that purview.”

At Reeves and several of its other Texas prisons, what GEO has is a contract with the county—which owns the prison—to administer the facility. That contract calls for all of the prison beds to be filled with federal inmates; in Reeves and elsewhere, they are almost exclusively immigration-related inmates. But with the state having no oversight, the Feds depend on a county appointed monitor who inspects the prison and reports back to the federal BOP.

“What that means,” says Libal, “is that if that monitor says things are fine, that’s what they are, even if conditions are atrocious. At Reeves, they’ve always been understaffed, which has led to a number of problems. But since no one from jail standards can inspect the complex, that is just ignored.”

A bill was introduced in the Texas legislature last year which would have reversed the 1993 law and given inspection responsibility back to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, “but that bill was defeated, and we’re told it was defeated largely because of the lobbying effort of GEO,” said Libal.

The prison complex GEO runs in Reeves County is both the county and Pecos’ biggest employer. It wasn’t always that way. Thirty years ago, Pecos had nearly 20,000 inhabitants and Reeves County that many more. Oil was everywhere; there was enough agriculture that a frozen food plant kept a lot of people working. Firestone ran a tire testing track; the Duval sulfur mine was the county’s largest employer.

But oil booms go bust once the wells are all drilled. And a protracted drought dropped the water table so low the farmers couldn’t afford to water their crops. With no crops to process, the frozen food plant shut down. Firestone moved its track, and finally, the sulfur mine was closed when the price of sulfur dropped, putting hundreds more out of work.

These days, Reeves County has a population of about 9,000, most of whom can be found in Pecos. But even Pecos has been largely abandoned: it’s population is down to 7,000; its two movie theatres closed down years ago, and there are only two bars left in the town, down from about 20 according to locals.

“If it wasn’t for Wackenhut and the Detention Center,” said Linda Clark, Reeves County treasurer, “this county would have blown away by now.”

“This used to be a thriving place,” said Sheriff Gomez, a thick man with a big features, a good smile and mitts for hands. “I had a good time growing up here.”

So how did Reeves, and Pecos, wind up with a prison in the first place?

“Well,” said Clark, “everything was shutting down around here, everybody was out of work and we were near finished. But some of the town fathers spoke to some legislators and found out the Bureau of Prisons needed a prison in Texas, and Pecos was ideal because we’re so isolated out here. So we raised bonds and built one.”

The first prison building opened in 1986 with 400 beds that were filled on a contract by the BOP. The county built it, staffed it and ran it for two years, then turned over the administration to the Corrections Corporation of America.

“In 1990 the county got mad and got rid of them and we went back to running our own prison.”

The county continued to run the prison until 2003. During that time they built a second prison and expanded the first, raising their total bed number to 2,000.

GEO was brought in to administer the prisons in 2003, at the recommendation of the BOP. A third prison was added to the complex in 2005, and expansions on the first two have brought the bed total to 3,700.

“Well, that’s only about 3,000 now, because of the riots,” said Clark. “But we’re told we’ll be completely filled again by August of this year.”

The contracts between Reeves County and GEO call for Reeves to hire and pay all of the guards and general staff at the detention center, build and maintain the complex, and provide medical services for the inmates. GEO hires its own warden and the other administrators—as well as screens all employees—and sees to the day to day operations. The 2006 contract—the most recent the Weekly could get—calls for Reeves county to pay GEO $362,000 monthly—$4.34 million annually—on top of administrative salaries and any other expenses incurred. The county share of the funds the BOP pays per prisoner daily was a net of $3.1 million last year—the BOP paid nearly $70 million all told to Reeves—despite having heavy riot damage that cost tens of million to repair and having lost 700 inmates a day. “We’ll be well over that when we’re full again,” said Clark.

For a sparsely populated county such as Reeves, that’s a windfall, considerably higher than all county property taxes combined. “To be honest, we’d prefer not to have a prison here. But we would not have survived without it,” said Clark.

According to GEO’s website, the company currently runs 14 correctional facilities in Texas—though others put that number as high as 19. They range from the minimum security short term offender North Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility in Fort Worth to state jails, maximum security prisons and several immigration detention centers run for the federal Bureau of Prisons. Reeves County Detention Center falls into that last category. Its inmates are nearly all immigration violators, who will be deported following the conclusion of their sentences, which range from one-to-5 years. Most of those inmates are Mexican, though there is a smattering of blacks, whites and other Latino races among the population. Some are imprisoned simply for having been deported for illegal entry and subsequently caught trying to reenter the US or while living here. Others were deported following conviction of a crime—mostly small drug crimes, said Sheriff Gomez—and then caught trying to illegally reenter. That crime, aggravated reentry, can bring as much as 20 years.

GEO claims the Reeves facilities offer “Classes in electrical repair, typing, basic computer skills, basic home wiring, GED classes and ‘English as a second language’ classes. There are also vocational programs such as auto mechanics and horticulture… high quality drug and alcohol counseling… Recreational activities available to inmates include leather and hobby crafts, the opportunity to play in one of several inmate bands and the opportunity to participate in sporting tournaments.”

“They are inmates,” said Sheriff Gomez, “but they have it very good. We basically pamper them, give them whatever they want.”

But organizations including the ACLU of Texas and Grassroots Leadership question whether those programs exist on anything but paper.

“I’ve never heard of any of that,” said the ACLU’s Graybill. “None of the inmates we’ve interviewed ever mentioned those things. Which doesn’t mean they’re not there, but if they are, how many inmates have access to them? Generally, because these inmates are mostly due for deportation, the federal government doesn’t want to spend money on them, so I’d be surprised if those programs are in place.”

Gomez insists they are—or were—before the riots. “They really hurt themselves. Those guys burned down the gymnasium, the crafts shop, everything.”

Still, when asked about teachers for the various programs, Gomez wasn’t sure how many there were or who hired them, and GEO didn’t return phone calls to respond to questions for this story. Clark said she thought that was done through GEO, but didn’t think most of the teachers were actually certified. She tried several times to get the information from the administration but she said they were too busy to get it for her.

Christina Fernández, one of several inmate family members contacted by the Weekly, said everything on the GEO site was a lie. “My husband, who is Cuban, has been in the Safe Housing Unit—segregation—for over five months because of a racial incident that happened on the basketball court between two Mexicans and a Cuban. All three were sent to the SHU but as days passed the Mexican population”—which greatly outnumbers the Cuban population—”started to get more and more aggressive with the Cubans, until the Cubans asked to put in the SHU for their own safety.”

Fernández says that the food has always been poor quality, and that the medical treatment has always been awful. Reeves county did hire another doctor after the riots, but to see him “an inmate must file a request form and wait until the doctor consults him through a window on the unit door, and then, if necessary, the doctor will put the inmate on a list of patients to see physically.

“As for the music and classes, I’ve never heard of them.”

Another family member who says the medical treatment is far from adequate is Anna Maria Alfonso García, the mother of an inmate. “You have to make a request to see the doctor. But the request has to be in English. My son doesn’t speak English, so the doctor wouldn’t see him. But he had a terrible earache in his left ear and needed to see the doctor. By the time he finally got someone to write the note in English, the earache had gone from his left ear to his right ear. And the doctor said he couldn’t look at his right ear because the request said the earache was in his left ear. That’s treating a person worse than a dog. If anyone says the prisoners have a good life there, they’re lying.”

“It’s things like that which make us want information,” said the ACLU’s Griffith. “You hear one thing from the people in the county, but something entirely different from the families of inmates.”

It’s not surprising that Clark and Sheriff Gomez would think the medical treatment is fine: Reeves county pays more than $7 million annually to the Physicians Network Association, out of Lubbock, to handle the medical, mental health and dental needs of inmates. But for that money, they don’t appear to get a lot. Their contract for the 2,700 inmates in the facility’s original two housing units calls for a doctor to be on site less than a single eight hour shift only four days a week. A dentist is on site less than a single shift five days a week. There’s a 40 hour-per-week dental assistant and a 32-hour per week hygienist. With the contract mandating that the hygienist see each prisoner twice a year, it’s hard to imagine a thorough teeth-cleaning for everyone in that time. There are two mental health workers five days a week for one shift each—but no psychologist or psychiatrist on staff; two nurses and two medication aids on duty seven days a week, for most of all three shifts; and one EMT on duty seven days a week on the second and third shift only.

PNA came on board at Reeves in 2002. Their specialty is inmate care, having control of about 17,000 inmates in two dozen facilities across the US. But care is a considered word here: less than four months after the company arrived at Reeves, the warden at the time, Rudy Franco congratulated them at a county commissioners’ meeting for slashing the number of surgeries, outside visits and other services inmates received.

“That care, if you can use that word, has abused a lot of prisoners,” said Guerra. “The reports say five men have died—including the two alleged suicides—in Reeves alone since August, 2008. But we have evidence that people who were going to die are removed from Reeves to die elsewhere to keep the numbers down. We’ve found three inmates at Reeves that are not included in the death toll because they were taken elsewhere to die. And reporters don’t catch on because local hospitals aren’t used. They send them to Dallas or somewhere just as far away and nobody can make the connection. But those men were abused at Reeves, and their deaths are the result of that abuse.”

Over the years, PNA’s poor track record has resulted in numerous lawsuits and at least one Justice Department investigation at a private prison in Santa Fe, NM, in 2003 which found, “We find that persons confined suffer harm or the risk of serious harm from deficiencies in the facility’s provision of medical and mental health care, suicide prevention, protection of inmates from harm, fire safety, and sanitation.”

The Santa Fe detention center was not a GEO prison, but the lack of medical care by PNA appears to be similar to that at GEO facilities all across Texas and the US.

“Let’s be honest,” said Ken Kopezynski, of the Private Corrections Working Group, which collects information on private prisons from around the world. “The truth is that in for-profit prisons you do whatever you can get away with. You give inmates the least amount possible of everything, doing just the minimal to make sure they don’t rot. Anybody who tells you differently about a private prison is misinformed or lying.”

Nobody in Pecos is ready to apologize for building the prisons and bringing in GEO. And they probably aren’t apologizing in Montgomery County for building the Joe Corley Detention Center and having GEO run it there. Or in Laredo or El Paso or anywhere else across the state where GEO runs facilities.

In Pecos, everyone who was asked said they wished they were working at Reeves. They said it was the best paying job around. When asked why they didn’t apply, some said they had minor criminal records; others said they didn’t have a good enough credit score and that the BOP insisted that everyone who works at facilities that house BOP inmates needs a good credit score so that they’ll be less tempted to get involved with corruption. Others said they were afraid to work at a place that housed murderers and rapists. Told that no one in the entire facility had committed those types of crimes, and that in fact most of the inmates were doing time simply for illegally crossing into the US, no one believed it. “If they weren’t criminals they wouldn’t be in prison,” was the general response.

And despite the problems Reeves has had with prisoner abuse and inmate deaths, Linda Clark isn’t about to apologize either. “We were desperate and that prison was our chance and when you don’t have a choice you do what you have to do to survive.”

Even if it’s a deal with the devil.

—-

This story first appeared March 10 in Fort Worth Weekly.

Resources:

The GEO Group Inc.
http://www.thegeogroupinc.com/

Wackenhut Corp.
http://www.wackenhut.com/

Source Watch page on Wackenhut
http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Wackenhut

Grassroots Leadership
http://www.grassrootsleadership.org/

Texas Watchdog
http://www.texaswatchdog.org/

Private Corrections Working Group
http://www.privateci.org/

From our Daily Report:

Immigration detainees revolt in West Texas jail —again
World War 4 Report, Feb. 4, 2009

Cheney indicted in Texas prison scandal
World War 4 Report, Nov. 20, 2008

Somali ex-detainee wins damages from NJ prison farm
World War 4 Report, Nov. 26, 2007

——————-

Reprinted by World War 4 Report, July 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingPRIVATE PRISONS, PUBLIC PAIN