Sunday, February 25, 2007

9 year-old Canadian imprisoned in infamous Texas detention facility

Contact Peter Mackay. Contact him now.
AnnaMarie at Verbena-19 has alerted us to the latest Canadian-related outrage stemming from the 'War on Terror.' Kevin, a 9 y/o Canadian boy is being detained in an Immigration prison in Texas:
The child’s only crime was that he and his Iranian parents happened to be on a flight enroute from Guyana on what was a direct flight to Toronto on February 4th. Unfortunately, the plane was diverted to Puerto Rico after a passenger suffered a heart attack.
Once they disembarked, US officials discovered the family was travelling with fake Greek passports. They were detained for five days, then flown to the detention centre in Texas.
AnnaMarie has posted about this daily since the story broke in The Toronto Star, last week. On Friday, the family managed to get through to Democracy Now. Here's Kevin's father, Majid, speaking with Amy Goodman & Juan Gonzales:
MAJID: Hello. Thanks for taking my call. I was on my way to go to Toronto, Canada, and my plane was -- after three hours in the flight, somebody died on the plane and had an emergency landing to Costa Rica. After that, they said everybody should come out. After that, we went out. Immigration, they said you need to have American visa. We had no American visa. And they hold us over there --
AMY GOODMAN: Now, just to be clear, you were never planning to end up in the United States, is that right? You were flying to Canada, but another passenger on the plane had a heart attack, and so you guys had a forced landing in Puerto Rico, and when you had to come out of the plane, while he was taken off the plane, that's when they took you?
MAJID: Yes. This happened, yes -- was a Canadian Zoom Airline, and our ticket was direct from Guyana to Toronto. And this happened. They hold us -- my son is Canadian -- hold child is nine-and-a-half years old, and they put us in detention in Puerto Rico. And from Monday to Friday, I was in the jail in Puerto Rico between criminal people, and my wife and son was other place. We had no news from each other from Monday morning until Friday at noon, until we see each other in a Puerto Rico airport. After that, they brought us here to Hutto Detention Center, and here we are in same part, but different room. My wife and my son is room, but it’s totally inside the room, uncovered toilet. My son has asthma, and he’s very bad and still comes here. It’s very horrible here. And we are in very bad situation. We need help. We need the people help me --
JUAN GONZALEZ: Majid, in other words, basically, what reason did they give you for holding you if you never intended to enter the United States at all? What reason did they give for locking you up?
MAJID: Because they said, “You have an American visa?” That's why you have to stay here. Just plane was waiting one hour for us, but they didn't let us pass. A few officers came. They said Immigration officers -- six, seven -- they said, “We’re going to send you, but let us make decision.” After that, they called the police chief. He came there. He said, “Let me think five minutes.” After five minutes, he came, he said, “I’m going to send you to Canada, but I’m afraid to lose my job. But usually we have to send with your plane, but we keep you here. America is much better than Canada. Here you have safer place. We send you to hotel, and after a few days, you're going to be free.” But they broke their promise. That's why they keep us here, and we have very bad situation here.
First off, I had no idea that such "family" prisons existed in North America. I can't even begin to wrap my head around the concept of imprisoning children and babies. Upon hearing the news from AnnaMarie's blog, I hopped around the internets and landed on this report by Michelle Brane: "Locking up family values". Brane et al. discovered that 'family detention' has increased quite drastically in the last 6 yrs:
On any given day the U.S. government has the capacity to detain over 600 men, women and children apprehended as family units along the U.S. border and within the interior of the country. The detention of families expanded dramatically in 2006 with the opening of the new 512-bed T. Don Hutto Residential Center. Although Hutto has become the centerpiece of a major expansion of immigration detention in America, it builds on and further institutionalizes many of the practices established at the smaller Berks Family Shelter Care Facility in Leesport, Pa., where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has detained a small number of families since 2001.
Among Brane's findings regarding the Hutto facility:
  • Hutto is a former criminal facility that still looks and feels like a prison, complete with razor wire and prison cells.
  • Some families with young children have been detained in these facilities for up to two years.
  • The majority of children detained in these facilities appeared to be under the age of 12.
  • At night, children as young as six were separated from their parents.
  • Separation and threats of separation were used as disciplinary tools.
  • People in detention displayed widespread and obvious psychological trauma. Every woman we spoke with in a private setting cried.
(h/t Mujeresliebres for the link to the report)
The Texas Civil Rights Review and Texans United for Families have worked really hard to raise awareness about these prisons. In fact, Texans United held a vigil outside Hutto on Dec 16, 2006 (watch videos documenting their protest here). As you can see, Kevin is one of approximately 200 children held at the Hutto prison. There are others, and their stories are slowly trickling out. Meet John Gibson, attorney:
Immigration attorney John Gibson represents two Palestinian families, including a pregnant woman and five children ranging in age from 2 to 17. After the families were detained in early November, the fathers were separated, and the women and children sent to the Hutto jail.
Our last update from AnnaMarie urged us to act quickly, as Kevin's asthma is worsening in the poorly ventilated and moldy prison. I believe this account, not just because I trust AnnaMarie's sources, but because so many other children have taken ill in this place (from In These Times magazine). The Houston Chronicle has also worked hard to document the stories of Hutto families:
Detainees say that families sleep in cold prison cells, with the slamming of jail gates and a siren of wailing children ringing in the halls. During the day, they share couches in a common area, reading or watching TV for hours on end.
[...] While many of the guards are said to be warm and friendly with the children, presenting them with stickers and turns at the PlayStation, others are said to yell at misbehaving youngsters and even threaten to separate them from their mothers if they don't comply.
"They don't treat people like humans, only animals," said one former detainee, who is seeking asylum from gang violence and corruption in Guatemala. He asked that his name not be used for fear it would hurt his asylum case. "The baby was crying a lot because he didn't see the sun. I thought prisons were for murderers. What did the baby do wrong?"
[...]Some detainees
complain of rashes and sores, which they believe could be caused by dirty uniforms, detergent allergies or depression and stress. Some children reportedly suffer vomiting bouts from the food or weight loss from refusing to eat.
Mustafa's mother, Bahjo Hosen, said her toddler won the hearts of many guards. But he soon became sick with diarrhea, fever and dizziness, she said. He would often vomit after meals and lost several pounds after he refused to eat the food and drank only milk.
Mustafa and Bahjo now were released at the end of January. This is how they first wound up in an American "family" prison:
They arrived last June after fleeing death threats in their homeland. Bahjo said her brother had been murdered and the killers were afraid she'd turn them in. Fearing for her life, she left her husband and 7-year-old son in Mogadishu and boarded a flight to Mexico.
She crossed the border in Mission and wandered lost for a few hours before she found a woman who gave her and Mustafa, then 2, some water. Bahjo asked the woman to call immigration authorities. The woman at first refused and told her to run, but Bahjo insisted she wanted to turn herself in to formally request asylum. She believed in the American system.
"I used to think this was the best country in the world, that it would take care of kids, respect kids," she said. "I never thought I would be seven months inside Hutto."
Let's get to work and make sure this same fate doesn't befall Kevin and his family. Check-in with AnnaMarie for regular updates. She has been in email-contact with Matthew Pizzo, the law student who took Majid's phone-call to the University of Texas' immigration clinic. Pizzo has communicated the family's plight to the Canadian Consulate in Dallas. Something of a 'blogburst' is beginning to take shape. Pogge (skdadl), liberal catnip, April Reign, Thought Interrupted, The Cylinder, Vive le Canada, The Next Agenda (nbstar), My Blahg, JimBobby, The Galloping Beaver and Kenn Chaplin have added their voices. Please add yours!

Now. We need to contact Peter Mackay at Foreign Affairs.
We need to contact him now.

Sunday, February 25, 11:19 AM: Edited to add JimBobby link; 12:57 PM: Edited to add Galloping Beaver link; 8:18 PM: Edited to add Kenn Chaplin's link.
{Hutto image courtesy of Julie Pippert at
The Ravin' Picture Maven}

Read on, MacDuff!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Lame Justice: late-nite Libby fun

Forgive me. I promise to write more about this Libby trial once I've had a chance to read all of the exhibits. In the meantime, I present the following for your careful consideration:
Scooter Libby, October 28, 2005 (Indictment Day):

Tim Russert, February 7, 2007 (Day 1 of his testimony for the prosecution):

Coincidence? Please! You think his hands have been soakin in Ivory liquid?
I'm just sayin'...Booby best watch his back. Wouldn't want anything to "happen" to him. BTW, What's a D.C. bodyguard run ya these days?
Because when you spend all your time carrying water...sometimes you need that special someone to carry you.

Read on, MacDuff!

Monday, February 05, 2007

"Inkblot" or Rorschach test? Military theory made E.Z.

Bush has been lying again.
Hold on there, I'll fetch you a glass of water to revive you from the shock. So what's "the" fib du jour? Well, it's about that blessed "surge" we've been hearing so much about lately. Bush wants to escalate the war in Iraq. Ok, augmentation, escalation, po-tay-to, po-tah-to. He wants to send more bodies over there. Preferably bodies with guns to tut-tut at those incorrigible Iraqis who just can't seem to "step up to the plate." And, if they don't happen to...
What? "Play ball?" (or do you think it's time they stopped speaking idiomatic baseball?) Ok, if the Iraqis don't happen to get their shit together in time for the next US president, well...y'know, that's just too bad, too sad. That damn future-Democrat preznit shoulda thought of that before s/he voted/didn't vote for the invasion in the first place. I mean, we all saw the same intelligence, right?
You know what would be a great start? If US politicos quit infantilizing the people they invaded & occupied (I'm lookin at you, too, John Edwards).
But I digress. (again, I will revive you from your shock)
The lie-of-interest to me this week relates to whom advised Bush to send more servicemen/women to Iraq. Here's an excerpt from Jim Lehrer's latest interview with the Smirker in Chief (Jan 16, PBS Newshour):
MR. LEHRER: General Casey said yesterday that the commander said that it may be spring or even summer before we have any signs of success from the new program -
MR. LEHRER: -- from the new strategy, and even then I can't guarantee you that it's going to work. That's the general; that's the guy who is the commander.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I - look, I mean, I think that's a -
MR. LEHRER: That's -
PRESIDENT BUSH: -- that's a sober assessment. Well, it's a sober assessment. I think he's not going to stand up and make guarantees that may or may not happen, but he is also the general who felt like we needed more troops, and he's also the general that believes this is the best chance of working. I think he's giving a realistic assessment for people.
But He-LLo, what's this? Turns out the same General "best chance" Casey denied that the escalation was his suggestion. Here's what happened at his confirmation hearing, last week (he's been nominated for Army Chief of Staff):
The outgoing top U.S. general in Iraq diplomatically aired his differences with the commander in chief on Thursday, telling lawmakers that President Bush has ordered thousands more troops into Iraq than needed to tame down violence in Baghdad.
Now, I don't mean to pry but... if it wasn't Casey's big idear, then who ordered all those bodies?
Why, t'was the Decider, of course. Mr. 'the buck stops anywheres but me' Bush.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not defending Gen. Casey's honour. Casey had scarcely testified his denial when he simpered:
Gen. George Casey quickly added he understood how his recently confirmed successor, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus could want the full complement of 21,500 additional troops that Bush has ordered to Iraq. Casey said they could “either reinforce success, maintain momentum or put more forces in a place where the plans are not working.”
Right. Lt. Gen. David Petraeus. The thinking man's General. The guy literally wrote the book on counterinsurgency. All bow before him and his success in Tal Afar. Even my buddy Al Franken has heaped praise on the man who did his PhD on counterinsurgency. Franken has said, only half-jokingly, mind: "I'm gay for General Petraeus," though the good liberal from Minnesota has the sense to know that "even" a man-god like Petraeus can't fix what's so irretrievably broken. First off, the 20K troops doesn't even come close to satisfying Petraeus' own doctrine. Here's Fred Kaplan with debunk #1:
Petraeus and his co-authors discussed this strategy at great length in the Army's counterinsurgency field manual. One point they made is that it requires a lot of manpower—at minimum, 20 combat troops for every 1,000 people in the area's population. Baghdad has about 6 million people; so clearing, holding, and building it will require about 120,000 combat troops.
So there won't be 120 000 new troops entering the Petraeus calculus. Ok. I think that's a good thing.But what's all this hoopla about his success in Tal Afar? Here's Matt Taibbi with debunk #2 :
I was in Tal Afar's "genuine success" story over the summer. It was such a success story that the city's neurotic, hand-wringing mayor, Najim Abdullah al-Jubori, actually asked American officials during a meeting I attended if they could tell President Bush to stop calling it a success story. "It just makes the terrorists angry," he said. At the meeting he pointed to a map and indicated the areas where the insurgents held strong positions.
"Here," he said. "Oh, and here. And here. Here also...."
After that meeting, the unit I was with -- MPs from Oklahoma on a personal security detail, guarding a colonel who was inspecting police stations in the area -- went to a precinct house in one of Tal Afar's "safe" neighborhoods. There I found five American soldiers huddling in a room about the size of a walk-in closet, hunched over a pile of MRE wrappers and PlayStation cassettes. They seldom ever left that room, they explained. Occasionally they would have to go out and fight whenever someone started shooting at the police station (a regular occurrence, they said); sometimes they'd even round up the aggressors, only to have some Iraqi army creeps come by later and insist on the attackers' release, telling the soldiers they had the "wrong guys." The Iraqi army units and the Iraqi police in the town were constantly at odds and the soldiers there spent a lot of their time breaking up violent outbreaks between the two groups. In short, Tal Afar was a total fucking mess, a violent chaos, and yet Tal Afar is still upheld as the Iraqi success story-- and an example of the "impossible" standard of a one-soldier-per-forty-residents security paradise that even a liberal columnist like Nicholas Kristof dismisses as a hopelessly optimistic fantasy, saying such a wonder couldn't be replicated in Baghdad.
And from the Booman Tribune, last spring:
We have gone into Tal Afar twice now and declared victory: in 2004 the 3rd Cavalry cleared out the local insurgents in Tal Afar, but as soon as the 3rd Cav left, those insurgents returned. Now the same thing has happened again. This last time, it was elements of the First Armored Division which drove out the "bad guys" and reinstated law and order, only to see history repeat itself when the city was returned to the control of units of the Iraqi security forces.
Tal Afar is not a success story. It is a ongoing repetitive tragedy with elements of farce.
But Nevermind Kaplan. Nevermind Taibbi. Nevermind Booman. Why don't we ask the troops what they think? Y'know...the ones who are currently mired in hellish East Baghdad:
While senior military officials and the Bush administration say the president's decision to send more American troops to pacify Baghdad will succeed, many of the soldiers who're already there say it's a lost cause.
"What is victory supposed to look like? Every time we turn around and go in a new area there's somebody new waiting to kill us," said Sgt. 1st Class Herbert Gill, 29, of Pulaski, Tenn., as his Humvee rumbled down a dark Baghdad highway one evening last week. "Sunnis and Shiites have been fighting for thousands of years, and we're not going to change that overnight."
"Once more raids start happening, they'll (insurgents) melt away," said Gill, who serves with the 1st Infantry Division in east Baghdad. "And then two or three months later, when we leave and say it was a success, they'll come back."
[...] "We can go get into a firefight and empty out ammo, but it doesn't accomplish much," said Pvt. 1st Class Zach Clouser, 19, of York, Pa. "This isn't our war - we're just in the middle."
Almost every foot soldier interviewed during a week of patrols on the streets and alleys of east Baghdad said that Bush's plan would halt the bloodshed only temporarily.
There you have it, from the mouths of the "grunts," the very people Bush has no problem loading into his gilded cannon (from thousands of miles away, mind).
I would be remiss if I let you think that all servicemen and women felt this way. As you might expect, the outlook grows rosier as you ascend the rungs of the military ladder. Here's what an older officer told the same McClatchy Baghdad crew:
If there's enough progress during the next four to six months, "we can look at doing provincial Iraqi control, and we can move U.S. forces to the edge of the city," said Lt. Col. Dean Dunham, the deputy commander of the 2nd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade, which oversees most of east Baghdad. Maj. Christopher Wendland, a senior staff officer for Dunham's brigade, said he thinks there's a good chance that by late 2007 American troops will have handed over most of Baghdad to Iraqi troops. "I'm actually really positive," said Wendland, 35, of Chicago. "We have an Iraqi army that's actually capable of maintaining once we leave."
And whence does Maj. Wendland gain his confidence? Wait for it...wait for it...
If the Iraqi army can control the violence, his thinking goes, economic and political progress will follow in the safest areas, accompanied by infrastructure improvement, then spread outward. In counterinsurgency circles, that notion is commonly called "inkblot" approach. It's been relatively successful in some isolated parts of Iraq, such as Tal Afar on the Syrian border, but in most areas it's failed to halt the bloodshed for any length of time.
So here we are: more bodies are on their way. Expect to hear more about the genius of Petraeus' counterinsurgency doctrine and the 'inkblot' approach. Expect to hear virtually nothing regarding the US role in arming Kurdish and Shia militias as long as 2 years ago (the "Salvador" option. Turns out Negroponte had such success with the Central American deathsquads, they couldn't wait to see what he did in Iraq. The big question? Will the media play ball and continue to censor the bloody results?

As for the fabled city of Tal Afar? People will continue to see what they want in the inkblot.

Read on, MacDuff!