Whistleblower Exposes Torture and Child Abuse at For-Profit Prison

Social worker Oliva López, formerly employed at a family immigrant detention center in Texas, testifies that prison is plagued by mistreatment

by: Sarah Lazare

A social worker formerly employed at a for-profit family immigrant detention center in Texas blew the whistle this week on the prison’s inhumane conditions—from solitary confinement to medical neglect—that she said amount to child abuse and torture.

The Karnes County Residential Center is operated by GEO Group—the second largest private prison company in the country that has faced numerous accusations of atrocities and civil rights violations. It is also the site of recent—and repeated—hunger strikes led by mothers incarcerated with their children, in protest of their conditions, detentions, and in many cases, their looming deportations.

Social worker Oliva López corroborated the accounts of people on the inside when she conducted an exclusive interview with McClatchy DC, published Monday, in which she countered federal and local authorities’ narratives which cast the detention center as a safe and tolerable place for families to reside during asylum application processes. López said that, in fact, Karnes is a prison, and its atrocities include:

  • A five-year-old girl who survived sexual assault during her migration was falsely declared fit for discharge by a prison psychologist despite numerous warning signs, including the fact that she was suffering from nightmares, losing weight, and had reverted to wearing a diaper.
  • During hunger strikes earlier this year, the prison warden intentionally retaliated against leaders by placing them into solitary confinement. López’s account verifies charges from protest leaders and their supporters that they were punished for their nonviolent protest.
  • When mothers are determined to be suicide risks, their children are separated from them and “placed in another room under the care of guards who, Lopez said, had no training or licenses as child care providers,” writes McClatchy journalist Franco Ordoñez. “The children could be separated from their mothers for up to four days with only brief opportunities to see each other on the last two.”

“What is happening there is tantamount to torture,” declared López, who said she started in October 2015 and quit in April over ethical concerns.

People incarcerated at the facility have reported harrowing conditions beyond those López described, including being severely underpaid for their labor at $3 a day, forced to drink water contaminated by fracking waste, denial of their legal rights, and subjection of children to mentally and physical harm. Women have also alleged sexual abuse and assault from prison guards and staff, prompting community protests outside the facility.

President Barack Obama has overseen the explosion of family detention centers such as Karnes, which some call the “new internment camps,” with the government currently incarcerating roughly 1,700 parents and children at three prisons in Texas and Pennsylvania, including Karnes. Most, but not all of them, are privately run.

Cristina Parker of Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based organization that opposes prison profiteering, told Common Dreams that there are signs that the tide may be finally turning against these “wrong, immoral, and traumatizing” prisons.

A federal judge in California ruled Friday that the Obama administration’s policy of mass incarcerating children with their mothers on alleged immigration violations breaches a previous court settlement and those detained should be swiftly released. The judge, moreover, said that family detention centers violate protections requiring that minors not be incarcerated in prisons unlicensed to take care of children. The government has until early August to appeal the decision.

“I am hoping this is the beginning of the end,” said Parker, adding that the U.S. government’s injustices against immigrants go beyond family detention centers: “These family detention centers have gotten more attention but still  still haven’t gotten it right. Imagine the places not under a microscope, housing mostly adult single men. I can’t imagine how terrible those places must be.”

Source: Whistleblower Exposes Torture and Child Abuse at For-Profit Prison | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

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NSA to Destroy Phone Records, But ‘Devil May Be in the Details’ 

Spy agency promises to delete metadata collected under USA Patriot Act ‘as soon as possible,’ although lawsuits filed over surveillance program add ironic dynamic

by: Nadia Prupis

The National Security Agency (NSA) will destroy all the metadata it swept up from U.S. citizens while operating a secretive surveillance program first exposed in 2013 by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)announced on Monday.

That amounts to five years of phone records, which the ODNI said would be expunged “as soon as possible”—though it seems that will not be before the program’s official November 29 expiration date.

“These records were collected in a manner that violates the law, the Constitution, and basic human dignity, but they are just a tiny sliver of the surveillance records the government is illegally gathering on millions of people.” —Tiffiniy Cheng, Fight for the Future

In May, a federal appeals court ruled that the NSA’s bulk spying program was illegal. That decision paved the way for Congress to enact some small measure of surveillance reform by passing the USA Freedom Act and allowing the sunset of key provisions of the USA Patriot Act—particularly Section 215, which the NSA previously claimed gave it the right to conduct its metadata sweep.

Under the Patriot Act, the NSA was obligated to destroy all phone records after five years, but had free rein to conduct the dragnet which was first put into place after September 11, 2001. The USA Freedom Act requires the NSA to end its surveillance program within six months. Investigations have shown that the agency queried its metadata archives roughly 300 times a year to reference phone numbers allegedly tied to terrorism, even as the operation proved largely useless in detecting or thwarting terror plots.

As Tiffiniy Cheng, co-founder of the civil liberties group Fight for the Future, told Common Dreams: “These records were collected in a manner that violates the law, the Constitution, and basic human dignity, but they are just a tiny sliver of the surveillance records the government is illegally gathering on millions of people…. President [Barack] Obama should know better where the line between free speech and unchecked powers should be and know that he should immediately take executive action to curtail the twisted legal reasoning that the government uses as justification.”

ACLU staff attorney Alex Abdo, who argued the ultimately successful case against the dragnet in front of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, told The Intercept on Monday that although the organization is “pleased that the NSA intends to purge the call records it has collected illegally… the devil may be in the details.”

At least one of those details includes the NSA’s quiet admission that “technical personnel” will still be allowed to access the expunged data for three months after the grace period ends in November. The agency says that would be “solely for data integrity purposes to verify the records produced under the new targeted production authorized by the USA FREEDOM Act.”

But in the end, the NSA’s waffling may serve to strengthen the growing call to dismantle it.

In an ironic twist, what is now preventing that metadata from being erased are the numerous civil liberties lawsuits pending against the NSA.

That includes litigation brought by the ACLU. Even stranger, one of those cases is a request for the NSA to halt its phone records program before its six-month deadline.

The government “continues to claim that no one has standing to challenge the legality [of] these programs because no one can ‘prove’ that their telephone records were included,” Cindy Cohn, executive director of digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, toldCommon Dreams. That includes high-profile cases that helped shine a light on the program, including Jewel v. NSA and Klayman v. Obama. “This legal position is largely why this information must be preserved. If the government admitted that the plaintiffs in these cases had their telephone records collected, it might be possible for the government to destroy at least some of them.”

Source: NSA to Destroy Phone Records, But ‘Devil May Be in the Details’ | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

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Wall Street’s Solution to Puerto Rico Debt Crisis? Shutter Schools, Fire Workers

New report commissioned by bondholders and hedge fund managers calls for sweeping austerity measures

by: Sarah Lazare

Hedge fund managers and bondholders are pressing the government of Puerto Rico to drive through a series of punishing austerity measures, including dramatic cuts to public education and workers’ rights protections, to “solve” the crisis of debt and poverty gripping the Caribbean island.

A group representing $5.2 billion of debt held by 38 investment managers paid three former economists for the International Monetary Fund, who now are employed by the firm Centennial Group International, to devise policy recommendations in response to Governor Alejandro García Padilla’s claim last month that Puerto Rico’s $72 billion debt is “not payable.”

Entitled For Puerto Rico, There is a Better Way, the report urges the government to increase tax collection and then use this money to pay back creditors while at the same time severely slashing public programs—particularly education—and privatizing assets and industries. Needless to say, the billionaire bondholders who commissioned the study have a direct financial interest in its findings.

Specifically, the report’s authors call for the government to slash public education and health programs, including proposals to: “Reduce number of teachers to fit the size of the student population; Reduce subsidy to University of Puerto Rico; Cut excess Medicaid benefits.”

The recommendations come despite the fact that Puerto Rico’s government has already been rapidly defunding the education system, closing 100 schools in 2015 alone. Puerto Rico’s teachers’ unions have vigorously opposed attempts to drive through neoliberal education reforms and cuts, and in May, thousands of educators and students took to the streets and staged strikes to protest a proposed $166 million cut to the University of Puerto Rico’s budget.

The study also recommends “structural reforms” to regulations and worker protections, including calls to: “Amend local labor laws regarding overtime, vacation time, mandatory bonuses, and others;” and changes that would “[m]ake welfare benefits consistent with local labor market conditions.”

What’s more, the report calls for taxpayers’ money to be put towards “public private partnerships” to construct or operate buildings and ports.

Many argue that the logic of austerity and privatization represented in the report is actually much of what created Puerto Rico’s economic crisis in the first place – a U.S. territory in which over 13 percent of people are unemployed, 45 percent of people live below the poverty line, and residents are treated like second-class citizens of the United States.

The current situation has drawn comparisons to debt crises in places like Greece andDetroit, and prompted criticism of ongoing U.S. colonial domination on the island.

“According to the neoliberal narrative, the rapidly intensifying economic crisis is an open and shut case: Puerto Rico, legally an unincorporated territory of the US, is caught in a debtor’s trap of borrowing to pay for essential operations,” wrote journalist Ed Morales forJacobin last month.

“But the real story is more complicated, and more connected to Puerto Rico’s colonial relationship with the US,” Morales continued. “Over the years, the U.S. has treated Puerto Rico as a laboratory for population control, conducted naval war games on the island nation for possible Middle East interventions, and used it as a pre-NAFTA staging ground for corporate megastores to develop consumer bases and exploit low-wage labor.”

Activist and scholar Vijay Prashad recently argued that the commonwealth’s elite government also has a hand in the island’s ongoing hardship through its embrace of an IMF agenda of privatization and cutbacks: “Garcia Padilla continues to use the word ‘sacrifice’ in his speeches. The question asked by Puerto Ricans is why such a word is only used against ordinary people and never against the bankers.”

Source: Wall Street’s Solution to Puerto Rico Debt Crisis? Shutter Schools, Fire Workers | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

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