Thursday, February 26, 2015

American Gulag

The only aspect of Chicago's black site prison more shocking than its existence is the fact that it's been an "open secret" for years. People in a position to do something about it chose instead to keep their mouths shut.

Homan Square (The Guardian)

It took one of the victims of Homan Square (the secret detention facility) to blow the whistle on it to the British newspaper The Guardian, which published its exposé this week. And now other detainees and their lawyers are coming forward to tell their own horror stories. You might call this the Bill Cosby Effect.

Officials and politicians proclaim themselves absolutely shocked that there could be a secret interrogation pen in the heartland of The Homeland. Spencer Ackerman, who broke the original story, writes:
 As a second person came forward to the Guardian detailing her own story of being “held hostage” inside Homan Square without access to an attorney or an official public record of her detention by Chicago police, officials and activists said the allegations merited further inquiry and risked aggravating wounds over community policing and race that have reached as high as the White House. 
Caught in the swirl of questions around the complex – still active on Wednesday – was (Rahm) Emanuel, the former chief of staff to Barack Obama who is suddenly facing a mayoral runoff election after failing to win a majority in a contest that has seen debate over police tactics take a central role.
Emanuel’s office refused multiple requests for comment from the Guardian on Wednesday, referring a reporter to an unspecific denial from the Chicago police. But Luis Gutiérrez, the influential Illinois congressman whose shifting support for Emanuel was expected to secure Tuesday’s election, joined a chorus of colleagues in asking for more information about Homan Square. “I had not heard about the story until I read about it in the Guardian,” Gutiérrez said late Wednesday. “I want to get more information, but if the allegations are true, it sounds outrageous.”
Oh, please. Homan Square is just one of many go-to places for the ruling class to send noisy dissidents and undesirables while very important people are holding their NATO summits and other neoliberal meetups.

Take Nassau County in Long Island, New York. In 2012, during the Hofstra University pseudo-debate between the two male narcissists then running for president, two female Green Party candidates were hauled away to "a remote police warehouse" and kept shackled to metal folding chairs for eight hours, without charge. They weren't allowed phone calls or bathroom visits. They were detained so that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney could safely simper back and forth over "binders full of women."

Although the illegal detention of Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala was widely reported at the time, there was no massive public outcry and definitely no demand from either legacy party for a Department of Justice probe into totalitarian police state practices. To the contrary: Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were grateful that their charade of a debate was not interrupted by anybody asking about perpetual war, government surveillance, wealth inequality, mass unemployment and lack of prosecution of Wall Street fraudsters.
News of the incident spread quickly around the world via media coverage carried on ABC, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Democracy Now!, and many other channels, as well as via social media, trending on Twitter, for example, as far away as Egypt.
On her release, Dr. Stein said that, "It was painful but symbolic to be handcuffed for all those hours, because that what the Commission on Presidential Debates has essentially done to American democracy." Stein and Honkala were eventually released into the cold at 10:30pm. Police provided no advance notice of the release to campaign lawyers and staff, and did not allow the two candidates to make any phone calls.
Cheri Honkala called her incarceration, "extremely uncomfortable, but standard for what so many Americans face on a daily basis in our corrections system." Added Stein Campaign Manager Ben Manski, "These arrests and this treatment are outrageous and disproportionate; who do the police think they are protecting here?"
Who do the police always protect? Police are merely functionaries of the ruling class. They protect and serve the very important people by suppressing dissent, culling the herd of the deliberately marginalized and disenfranchised, and keeping the world safe for anti-democracy. 

Homan Square and its many secret clones are only temporary warehouses, way-stations for human beings destined for either formal prison terms or quick releases, depending upon the offense or on the politician who is in danger of being temporarily embarrassed. 

There are now thousands of men, women and children being detained in longer term prisons known as immigrant "residential centers." Built by the Obama administration specifically to imprison refugees fleeing Central American poverty and violence, officials readily admit that these for-profit facilities were designed solely to "stem the tide" of undocumented migrants. People will think twice, they rationalize, about crossing the border once they find out that life in the Land of the Free is as hellish as Life in the Third World. The detention centers are rife with physical and sexual abuse at the hands of low-paid guards, as well as lack of medical care. They are gulags befitting any totalitarian regime ever dreamed up by a despot.

And what would an immigration "crisis" be without its disaster capitalism? Wall Street is profiting big-time from its investments in GEO, the Corrections Corporation of America, and Management and Training Corp. three of the private prison operators operating Homeland Security's "family-friendly" detention warehouses.

It seems, however, that the families enjoying the amenities have finally had enough of them. A riot broke out at a south Texas warehouse this week, after tenant complaints about the sexual abuse, the beatings, the lack of medical care went unheeded by the slumlord known as Uncle Sam. From Al Jazeera:
The uprising, or unrest, as prison officials called it, began early Friday at the Willacy County Correctional Center — operated by the privately held prison company Management and Training Corp. on behalf of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Management and Training's 10-year contract with the federal government is worth about half a billion dollars. The facility is about 40 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border in Raymondville, Texas, and has been nicknamed Ritmo, or Raymondville's Guantánamo, for its "crammed and squalid" conditions.
 Two hundred inmates are packed into each Kevlar tentlike structure that serves as housing, with no privacy between beds or in the bathrooms, where toilets and showers are open without partitions, the ACLU said in a 2014 report titled "Warehoused and Forgotten.
Insects and spiders crawl through holes in the tents and bite detainees. Toilets frequently overflow, and the water was shut off for days in 2012 after it started to look yellowish-green, according to the report. Authorities gave inmates bottled water two days later.
The riot, officials wryly noted, left the warehouse (euphemised by the government as a "Criminal Alien Requirement Prison") uninhabitable. The inmates were being transferred to friendlier Texas prisons, until the Homeland profiteers can extract more low-wage labor to generate more construction cash for themselves.

Meanwhile, in response to the ACLU lawsuit, a humane federal judge has finally ordered the Obama administration to stop its depraved practice of imprisoning women and children caught at the border. From the New York Times:
The ruling on Friday, by Judge James E. Boasberg of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, invalidates a central piece of the administration’s strategy to curb illegal immigration across the Southwest border.
During the influx of migrants last summer, the Department of Homeland Security started holding most women who came with their children in detention centers in Texas and New Mexico, to discourage others in their home countries from embarking on an illegal passage to the United States. The women and children were detained even after they had asked for asylum and passed the initial test to prove their cases, showing they had credible fears of facing persecution if they were sent home. Their petitions for release were routinely denied.(snip)
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh C. Johnson said the detention policy was devised to send a clear message to families in Central America, where most of the migrants were from: “If you come, it is likely you will be detained and sent back.”
The imprisonment of political dissidents like the NATO summit protesters in Chicago and presidential candidates in New York who dared challenge the elite duopoly is also devised to send a clear message to all of us: get with our program, shut up, and be afraid. We can't send you back, but we can still make you disappear.

I am waiting with bated breath for the Department of Justice to clamp down on the secret police black site in Chicago with one ill-fitting denture. I am waiting for the Obama administration to construct new "off the books" immigrant detention sites and call them Holiday Inn Expresses. I am also waiting for these stories of abuse to quickly fade into the ether, to be replaced by the usual infotainment and propaganda: Hillary breaking the glass ceiling, Obama urging equal pay for women while finding rape unacceptable on elite college campuses, and the latest domestic terrorists being conveniently caught "aspiring" to join ISIS, right before our shocked and awe-struck eyes.


Denis Neville said...

There were too many silent voices in the early days of the Nazi Germany.

It couldn’t happen today! This would never be allowed to happen in our day and age!

“The police state that has long existed in Black America may one day soon extend well beyond racial borders.” - Glen Ford, “Black Prison Gulag and the Police State” (2008)

“The system of mass incarceration works to trap African Americans in a virtual (and literal) cage…If considered as a system of social control—specifically, racial control—then the system is a fantastic success.” - Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Our prisons are a mirror showing the soul of America and it’s not a pretty picture.

“The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life…Lock yourself in your bathroom and then imagine you have to stay there for the next ten years, and you will have some sense of the experience.”

The Guardian report evokes memories of another sorry chapter in Chicago’s history when African-American and Latino men often were tortured to obtain confessions, frequently under the direction of disgraced ex-Commander Jon Burge.

Mark Clements is a survivor of torture by Chicago police under the command of Jon Burge. At the age of 16, he was coerced into a confession that was used to convict him of murders he didn't commit. Mark spent 28 years in prison before winning his freedom.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel apologized for the police misconduct, but said the city needed to move forward.

Move forward???!!!

“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” ― H.L. Mencken, Prejudices: First Series

“Well, as Hannah Arendt famously said, there can be a banal aspect to evil. In other words, it doesn't present always. I mean, often what you're meeting is a very mediocre person. But nonetheless, you can get a sort of frisson of wickedness from them. And the best combination of those, I think, I describe him in the book, is/was General Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina, who I met in the late 1970s when the death squad war was at its height, and his fellow citizens were disappearing off the street all the time. And he was, in some ways, extremely banal. I describe him as looking like a human toothbrush. He was a sort of starch, lean officer with a silly mustache, and a very stupid look to him, but a very fanatical glint as well. And, if I'd tell you why he's now under house arrest in Argentina, you might get a sense of the horror I felt as I was asking him questions about all this. He's in prison in Argentina for selling the children of the rape victims among the private prisoners, who he kept in a personal jail. And I don't know if I've ever met anyone who's done anything as sort of condensedly horrible as that.” - Christopher Hitchens

“I decided it is better to scream. Silence is the real crime against humanity.” Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope

"Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained." - Helen Keller

voice-in-wilderness said...

The parallels between the advance of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s and the advance of Fascism in the United States in the last decade is striking -- and frightening. And of course that is the whole point -- for us to be frightened.

Key is suppression of dissent, development of a gulag of prisons, and proliferation of police groups.

Read Naomi Wolf's excellent little book, "The End of America". And note how far we've moved in the directions she describes since it was published in 2007.

War is peace. Ignorance is strength. Freedom is slavery.

Jay–Ottawa said...

A new mayor might help Chicago and set a fresh goal for other American cities steeped in corruption. What if Jésus Garcia did win the upcoming runoff with Rahm Emmanuel? Would Garcia come around to repeating the famous quote of the exhausted Simón Bolívar: “I have ploughed the sea.”

Pearl said...

The End: Finding Joy in My Father’s Death via @nytopinionator

Denis: I sent in a comment about my feelings about this article that reported in excruciating detail the sufferings of a family member and finding joy in his passing and relief from the time and effort needed. I was called a callous clod among other things by one commenter (with a high number of recommendations) for stating that I found it an invasion of privacy with such detailed reports and never found joy at the death of a friend or family member, etc.
I then responded to this commenter's remarks by mentioning that I had spent a great deal of time in recent years in criticizing the excuse for a health care system in my birth country and mentioned all the work I had done to help others. I felt that caregivers did not have support by the health care system to avoid such horrendous problems that developed as a result. Of the 20 or so comments, most were also people reporting in great detail their experiences with a deteriorating loved one and appreciation for the writer's article. I also stated that I supported the right of a terminally ill patient to not be forced to endure unnecessary suffering which only one commenter mentioned. There were also comments about the religious input being a necessary part of this process (to excuse enduring this unnecessary suffering in my opinion).
Would love your wise comments on this situation which you have obviously witnessed in your profession. I am obviously on an other wave length about it. I apologize for digressing from the current topic but I feel it is an important issue that just hit the NYTimes along with other endless exposures of people's most private experiences which make me think the writers want to publish themselves rather than face the necessity for changes in health care procedures as well as considering other approaches to people's personal problems.

Pearl said...

Correction: I was called an insensitive clod, smug, self righteous, etc.
Not a good way to start the day.

Clod Pearl said...

Ah, another lengthy detailed criticism of my comment because I obviously have no experience with such problems!!!

My second comment explicitly outlines my vast experience with such problems but hasn't been printed yet. Why do I feel hopeless about many of my fellow citizens?

annenigma said...


Wow, those brats really ganged up on you. But consider the source - the NYT attracts mostly economically comfortable Liberal Democrats, especially the phony bleeding heart hypocrite variety. They claim to respect diversity except when it comes to other people's opinions.

Karen Garcia said...


I just flagged Southern Bigot's comment, which called you an insensitive clod, as a personal attack. Maybe a moderator will remove it. All the recommendations just display the bigotry and ignorance of the Times faux liberal readership. Faux, because liberalism used to be defined as tolerance to a range of personal views. The Internet brings out the worst in people. Southern Bigot probably plays the respectable Good Christian Bitch in real life and behind the scenes she might even be an Annie Wilkes-type psycho from Stephen King's "Misery."

I also posted a published response to his/her own later ignorant comment describing impaired dying people as "vegetables." Here it is:

Southern View, Your insensitive use of the odious term "bedridden vegetable" betrays your ignorance. The correct medical term you were probably aiming for is "chronic vegetative state," which describes a human being apparently unaware of his or her surroundings. People in comas are said to be able to hear conversations. They are not "vegetables." Ms. Patchett's father, impaired though he was, remained a human being until he drew his last breath.

Southern Bigot also bitched about old dying folks stealing from the young, and their medical care robbing the Homeland of its infrastructure.

You, Pearl, have a point about the current over-sharing craze, part of the pervasive culture of exhibitionism (explaining too why so many people are okay with the NSA and willing relinquishment of their own privacy.) Also, there is no one, "correct" way to display grief. Some people cry and throw things, some people laugh and crack jokes. Some people experience delayed grief, even years from the actual event.

Pearl said...

Annenigma:Thank you for your incisive to the point comment. I feel better because I now understand why I get angry when the Democratic party e-mails call for our support for their fight to preserve the middle class. Many have become too comfortable in that class and have not been interested in anyone else's problems. It is called narcissism which was what hit me about the article and its writer and some of the commenters and is a larger problem in our current culture than the topic in that article.

And Karen: you always know what to say and how to say it. Yes you picked up on some details that rubbed you the wrong way and I found many rather cold blooded statements in the article about the writer's father. For example, she complained how difficult it was to keep making long distance trips to visit her father since he lived 3 years longer than predicted which obviously constricted her busy life, and although as you say there are different ways of grieving, her finding of joy involved no kind of grief or sense of loss; just life back to normal for herself. Perhaps her father was like her and she never learned about real compassion and sacrifice from him. Her descriptions about him, especially as a writer, gave no real picture of the man as a human being, but as you said, just a bedridden vegetable.

Yes the NYtimes emphasizes appealing to the younger, affluent crowd who have some knowledge of political reality but not enough to upset the applecart. Their articles about food, fashion, relationships, appeal to those with jobs that pay well and can afford the offerings of better restaurants and higher priced clothing. And I can imagine how other less "liberal" newspapers handle such topics.

Thank you for sending them a wonderful comment about a human being as a bedridden vegetable among other self centered observations.

This article moved to the Times opinionater section which a lot of people might miss as evidenced by a comparatively small response. I wonder how it would have been judged if it was more prominent and more people would have responded. But it all gave me a chill much beyond the topic and the characters involved.
It should have worried the commenters own vision of their own futures as a result and it certainly worries me at my advanced age!.
Thank you dear friends - I can always count on you for support and balanced reality. And if they call you some kind of a clod, Karen, I will be honored to be in such company.

Zee said...


I did not find anything “insensitive” in your remarks made regarding the NYT Opinionator article.
As Karen has said, 'there is no one, "correct" way to display grief.' There is, alas, often more than one way in which to interpret the words that another uses to express that grief, as well.

I, too, was somewhat shocked that Ann Patchett chose to use the word “joy” to express what was really probably more “relief” at the death of her beloved father after his long mental fade into darkness. Is “joy” upon the death of a loved one what she really meant, or is that simply the word that first came to mind as she chose to share—or, perhaps, “overshare”—her experience? Or does “joy” have a different connotation for her than it does for you or me, and so you and I have misinterpreted her? Who knows?

On the other hand, sometimes there is a hidden subtext when one ostentatiously mourns the death of a “loved one,” as did Ms. Patchett. What if that “loved one” wasn't really so loveable not-so-far-beneath-the-surface, yet the survivor(s) feel(s) obligated to express grief overtly when “relief,” or maybe even “gratitude” or “joy” is what one is really feeling underneath? I personally know of at least one such case. Is it not possible that Ann Patchett “protests too much?” But who am I to psychoanalyze her at a distance? (Then again, who do I have to be? This is the Internet, after all!)

One thing is certain: As soon as someone writes anything for publication on the Internet and invites comments, it will be commented upon. And, almost inevitably, controversy and contumely will result. Again, as Karen says, the Internet brings out the worst in people. Especially when they can hide behind pseudonyms.

That's why I no longer comment on anything that I see on the Web outside of Sardonicky which, I think, is very well moderated. The NYT seems to be comparatively well-moderated, and perhaps, with “flags” from people like Karen, some of the uncivil comments regarding "Finding Joy In My Father's Death” will be removed. But I'm not holding my breath.

But look at some of the “Comment Threads” on The Guardian, Truthdig, Truthout. Alternet and other “news outlets” that are followed by Sardonickistas. My God! These “discussions” instantaneously degenerate to nothing but pseudonymous (is that a word?), unintelligible name-calling and sputtering. Why bother?

And it's not just on the Internet. annengima has it right when she mentions that “the NYT attracts mostly economically comfortable Liberal Democrats, especially the phony bleeding heart hypocrite variety. They claim to respect diversity except when it comes to other people's opinions.” (My bold emphasis.) Sounds like the “tolerant” liberals at my “ diverse” and “open and affirming” church when they have to deal with some of the opinions of the likes of me.

But the same is true of those on the Right, as well, be it on the Internet or face-to-face: “Of course there are two sides to every story... I just don't have time for yours. So sorry. And by the way, did I mention that you're a[n] a******?”


So, Pearl, you might be better served by saving your remarks for the better-moderated segments of the NYT if there are any, and for those of us here at Sardonicky who are willing and eager to learn from your knowledge and life experiences, and to civilly disagree with you when and where we must.

Pearl said...

Karen: Re:your comment to Maureen's latest - I don't know whether to laugh or cry or feel joy like Ms. Patchett's recent article about death.

Clever comment about impotent Supreme Court decisions. Wonder if you will be called an insensitive clod.

Denis Neville said...


Having witnessed death, both personally and professionally, I am no stranger to the commonly spoken phrase “at least they are no longer suffering.”

While many would agree that these words are true, mourning the loss of a loved one is never easy.

“Letting go” of one’s sorrows in order to “move on” in life is certainly not what immediately follows a loss. After the death of a loved one, there is pain. The grieving process requires as much time as necessary. Some kinds of grief seem like they will never go away and can take over one’s life unless lessons can be learned from it.

There's also a different kind of grief, anticipatory grief, when one loses a loved one inch by inch. Anticipatory grief provides an opportunity to gain closure and can make it easier to accept death. Trying to prepare for the grief they knew was coming stands out in Patchett’s story. Fortunately, they had the time to say good-bye and concentrate on his life well-lived.

“Finding Joy in My Father’s Death” is, I suspect, what Anne Patchett accepts as a gift buried in her loss. She is saying that there is an end to grief for the living, and while they will always mourn the loss of her father, they must move on for the sake of his memory and their own lives.

Death isn’t an end, but another beginning. Mortality should not lessen our zest for life. Rather, it should inspire us to live more fully.

As for writing details of anyone's physical and mental deterioration for public consumption…

The anxiety that we feel for our inevitable mortality is universal.

“Everyone wants to know the details of dying, though few are willing to say so. Whether to anticipate the events of our own final illness or better to comprehend what is happening to a mortally stricken loved one… we are lured by thoughts of life’s ending… To most people, death remains a hidden secret, as eroticized at it is feared. We are irresistibly attracted by the very anxieties we find most terrifying; we are drawn to them by a primitive excitement that arises from flirtation with danger. Moths and flames, mankind and death — there is little difference.” - Sherwin Nuland, How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter

Nuland again:

“The belief in the probability of death with dignity is our, and society’s, attempt to deal with the reality of what is all too frequently a series of destructive events that involve by their very nature the disintegration of the dying person’s humanity. I have not often seen much dignity in the process by which we die… Only by a frank discussion of the very details of dying can we best deal with those aspects that frighten us the most. It is by knowing the truth and being prepared for it that we rid ourselves of that fear of the terra incognita of death that leads to self-deception and disillusions.”

Our culture doesn’t treat grief well. It tells us how we ought to feel and behave in the face of sorrow.

“The ancients are right: the dear old human experience is a singular, difficult, shadowed, brilliant experience that does not resolve into being comfortable in the world. The valley of the shadow is part of that, and you are depriving yourself if you do not experience what humankind has experienced, including doubt and sorrow. We experience pain and difficulty as failure instead of saying, I will pass through this, everyone I have ever admired has passed through this, music has come out of it, literature has come out of it. We should think of our humanity as a privilege.” - Marilynne Robinson in The Paris Review Interviews, IV

Pearl said...

Denis: Thank you for your response. However, nowhere in any of the comments that you included was there any mention of the need to reduce suffering for patient and caretaker by allowing all of us to be able to choose the time of our deaths when there is no turning back to health.
Animal lovers do not prolong their pet's suffering and have the right to have them legally 'put to sleep'.
I resent that there was no choice permitted for me or my loved ones in the past to be able to end their suffering since we were all frightened of the consequences involved and I regret not having taken courageous steps to do so.
That is what love is all about.

Most of the comments to the article involved were very detailed descriptions of the deterioration of their parent or close relative which was allowed to go on and on and which memories haunt them even after many years.
There is no glory in accepting such pain and suffering which many people, especially with religion involved, feel is necessary to somehow cleanse the soul.
My only wish in my life now is that I am never subjected to such cruelty when my time comes nor have my family witness such pain.
We have a long way to go to reduce cruelty in this area of living and dying as in so many other areas of caring for others.

And the money spent for expensive care which is often unnecessary and useless (but a bonanza for the medical profession and pharmaceutical organizations) could free people from debt and be put to better use.
I don't see how one can find joy after allowing a loved one to suffer unnecessarily, which was the point of my criticisms.

Denis Neville said...


You said, “nowhere in any of the comments that you included was there any mention of the need to reduce suffering for patient and caretaker by allowing all of us to be able to choose the time of our deaths when there is no turning back to health.”

Yes, as Arthur Frank says, “Caregivers are the other halves of illness experiences. The care they give begins by doing things for ill persons, but turns into sharing the life they will lead…Eventually a balance must be worked out between what the ill person needs and what the caregivers are able to provide.”

Frank, who examined the difficult relationship between sufferers of illness and those who care about them, made the following observations about those who bear witness and try to help the suffering:

“As little as we know of illness, we know even less of care. As much as the ill person’s experience is denied, the caregiver’s experience is denied more completely.”

“The voices of the ill are easy to ignore, because these voices are often faltering in tone and mixed in message … These voices bespeak conditions … that most of us would rather forget our vulnerability to. Listening is hard, but it is also a fundamentally moral act … In listening for the other, we listen for ourselves. The moment of witness in the story crystallizes a mutuality of need, when each is for the other.” – Arthur Frank, At the Will of the Body

Dying on their own terms, unfortunately, is not an option for most people.

Will our law makers ever ultimately trust that American adults are capable of deciding important matters in their lives and eventual deaths? Or will they conclude that we don’t want to know about our choices, can’t handle important end-of-life decisions, and are better off without such considerations in the public dialogue? Remember the hyperbole about “death panels”?

“Making someone die in a way that others approve, but he believes a horrifying contradiction of his life, is a devastating, odious form of tyranny.” - Ronald Dworkin (1931-2013), Emeritus Professor, University College London

Pearl said...

Canada's Right-to-Die Ruling May Fuel U.S. Movement: Experts via @NBCNews