Every once in a while I wonder if this administration has hit the bottom in its maltreatment of people who are seeking a new life in the United States. Family separation? Can’t go much lower than that, right? A few months later Trump is forcing refugees into camps in Mexico, where they become targets of gangs, to await an opportunity to make asylum requests? This must be it. I mean come on! Then the administration is expelling unaccompanied children and others with no due process of any kind under the guise of a public health response to COVID 19. 90% of these people, the administration proudly claims, are expelled within 2 hours of being encountered. For those not expelled immediately, things aren’t great. As you’ve read, some of the kids are held in hotels, out of the reach of attorneys who might support them. Absolutely horrifying, right? Yeah, but then….
The news this week sinks the administration’s practices to a whole other ring of hell. I hesitate to say it can’t get much worse….
First came the news that the Trump administration transferred people from detention sites with high rates of coronavirus infections to sites in Virginia simply because it wanted to fly federal agents to D.C. to monitor Black Lives Matter protests. Yes, the administration wanted to fly in extra agents, and federal procurement laws do not allow them to use charter planes. So, the work around this policy was to have the agents “accompany” people being transferred between ICE facilities – even if there was no other reason to transfer them.
The result of this experiment in absolute carelessness was a massive outbreak at the ICE detention facility in Farmville, Virginia, where basically everyone at one point was testing positive for coronavirus. From the Washington Post:
The Trump administration flew immigrant detainees to Virginia this summer to facilitate the rapid deployment of Homeland Security tactical teams to quell protests in Washington, circumventing restrictions on the use of charter flights for employee travel, according to a current and a former U.S. official.
After the transfer, dozens of the new arrivals tested positive for the novel coronavirus, fueling an outbreak at the Farmville, Va., immigration jail that infected more than 300 inmates, one of whom died.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency moved the detainees on “ICE Air” charter flights to avoid overcrowding at detention facilities in Arizona and Florida, a precaution they said was taken because of the pandemic.
But a Department of Homeland Security official with direct knowledge of the operation, and a former ICE official who learned about it from other personnel, said the primary reason for the June 2 transfers was to skirt rules that bar ICE employees from traveling on the charter flights unless detainees are also aboard.
This news was followed by a whistleblower’s report about medical neglect at an ICE facility in Irwin, Georgia, operated by LaSalle South Corrections. The failure to take appropriate precautions against coronavirus was bad enough – a problem well documented in many facilities in ICE’s network. However, the real shocker in the report was testimony that a large number of women had received medically unnecessary hysterectomies while in custody. I mean….
The complaint, filed on behalf of several detained immigrants and a nurse named Dawn Wooten, details several accounts of recent “jarring medical neglect” at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, which is run by the private prison company LaSalle South Corrections and houses people incarcerated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In interviews with Project South, a Georgia nonprofit, multiple women said that hysterectomies were stunningly frequent among immigrants detained at the facility.
“When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp,” said one woman, who said she’d met five women who’d had hysterectomies after being detained between October and December 2019. The woman said that immigrants at Irwin are often sent to see one particular gynecologist outside of the facility. “It was like they’re experimenting with their bodies.”
In one case, Wooten said, a woman who ended up with a hysterectomy was not properly anesthetized and overhead the doctor say that he’d taken out the wrong ovary. That woman had to go back and get her other ovary removed as well, Wooten said.
The Associated Press did a follow up investigation after these reports surfaced. They were not able to confirm Dawn Wooten’s accusations, but did find a pattern of issues concerning lack of consent concerning surgeries and medical procedures performed by Dr. Mahendra Amin:
An Associated Press review of medical records for four women and interviews with lawyers revealed growing allegations that Amin performed surgeries and other procedures on detained immigrants that they never sought or didn’t fully understand. Although some procedures could be justified based on problems documented in the records, the women’s lack of consent or knowledge raises severe legal and ethical issues, lawyers and medical experts said.
Receiving less attention is a lawsuit involving another whistle-blower, Brian Murphy, who detailed a number of incidences of administration officials intentionally lying to Congress. The whistle-blower knows this because he is an intelligence official who briefed Kristin Nielsen and others on the content of their congressional testimony, only to have corrections ignored because they did not fit the narrative. A particularly damning part of the legal brief is Murphy’s contention that he was ordered to seek out and fire “deep state” intelligence analysts by Cucinelli, because depictions of conditions in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were making it too easy for people to get asylum! Yeah. From the brief…
Mr. Murphy made a protected disclosure to Mr. Glawe in December 2019, regarding an attempted abuse of authority and improper administration of an intelligence program by Mr. Cuccinelli. In December 2019, Mr. Murphy attended a meeting with Messrs. Cuccinelli and Glawe to discuss intelligence reports regarding conditions in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The intelligence reports were designed to help asylum officers render better determinations regarding their legal standards. Mr. Murphy’s team at DHS I&A completed the intelligence reports and he presented them to Mr. Cuccinelli in the meeting. Mr. Murphy defended the work in the reports, but Mr. Cuccinelli stated he wanted changes to the information outlining high levels of corruption, violence, and poor economic conditions in the three respective countries. Mr. Cuccinelli expressed frustration with the intelligence reports, and he accused unknown “deep state intelligence analysts” of compiling the intelligence information to undermine President Donald J. Trump’s (“President Trump”) policy objectives with respect to asylum. Notwithstanding Mr. Murphy’s response that the intelligence reports’ assessments were consistent with past assessments made for several years, Mr. Cuccinelli ordered Messrs. Murphy and Glawe to identify the names of the “deep state” individuals who compiled the intelligence reports and to either fire or reassign them immediately.
After the meeting, Mr. Murphy informed Mr. Glawe that Mr. Cuccinelli’s instructions were illegal, as well as constituted an abuse of authority and improper administration of an intelligence program. Mr. Murphy also informed Mr. Glawe he would not comply with the instruction to fire or reassign the alleged “deep state” officials based on nothing more than perceived political differences, and that Mr. Murphy would report the matter to DHS OIG if 10 improper actions were taken to do so. Mr. Glawe concurred with Mr. Murphy’s assessment and Mr. Cuccinelli’s instructions were never implemented.
You can read the full brief here.
Of course, if one was going to round out the bad news this week, you’d have to include the 9th Circuit Court’s decision to green light Trump’s efforts to dismantle Temporary Protected Status for people from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Haiti and Sudan. The ruling likely also impacts TPS for Honduras. If there is an upside at all it is that implementation will be pushed back past the election. So, the final determination of TPS’ future will be decided as a result of the presidential election. Should he win, Biden has stated his commitment to reinstate TPS for these countries (no guarantee). Another upside, is that for people from Haiti, this ruling will in essence be set aside pending the outcome of a separate case also before the courts (Saget v Trump), and thus the validity of current TPS holder work permits for people from Haiti will almost certainly be extended to September 2021 – no matter what happens in November of this year.
Are we capable of rediscovering that each of us belongs to the same species, that we have an indivisible bond with all life? Perhaps that is the question – the very last – before we draw our last dying breath. Achille Mtembe, The Universal Right to Breathe (translated Caroline Shread)
Masak is a small village that straddles the border of the Northwest and Artibonite departments in northern Haiti. Over the years the division of Masak and surrounding areas across departments has underscored an intra-communal conflict going back generations. Young people today have no idea how it started, but from time to time, fighting will break out, and they get drawn in. Today, however, the intensity of the violence is magnified by the availability of high-powered weapons, and the general environment of insecurity driven by armed groups who operate in a space of impunity – often protected by political actors, or facing a police force ill equipped and unwilling to help.
The latest round of violence was kicked off when a young woman from the north was robbed on one of the mountain trails that connect Masak to La Pierre and Mayombe in the communal section of Pendus. This was in March, and over the next several months, fighting led to the burning of nearly 50 homes in the area. In mid-August, during a particularly intense weekend, 22 houses were burned and at least five people were killed. One estimate of the total number of people killed in the recent fighting is 21. People have died from gunshot wounds and smoke inhalation. Some show signs of having been beaten. The armed groups have also stolen livestock, leaving displaced families with nothing.
As a result of the violence, people have fled the mountain area near Masak for nearby La Pierre, the main population base of Pendus. The refugees in La Pierre report preparing “go bags” so they can leave immediately with some basic items if the gangs come out of the mountain to attack. Father Sylvio opened St. Joseph’s Church to young people to use as a school over the summer, and has invited students to join with others at the parish grade school in La Pierre. As a result, the school has doubled the number of students in some grade levels. The school’s presence is taken as a positive sign, demonstrating Father Sylvio’s commitment to the area, and so the people are standing with Father Sylvio for now.
Three weeks ago Father Sylvio organized a conference on conflict resolution with community leaders from the mountain areas near Masak. Following the meeting, someone leaked the names of the attendees to gang leaders, and several were then attacked, including one who was shot. Many of the leaders are now ¨mawon¨ or hiding deeper in the mountains.
Meanwhile, in early September, Father Sylvio made an official report of the violence to the local police. Geri Lanham, who works with Father Sylvio through an education program, reports, “When he described the guns that the bandits are carrying, the local PNH [Haitian National Police] said that they can’t do anything because they already know that they are outgunned.” Father Sylvio also approached a military police unit stationed in Gonaives. They were aware of the conflict, but noted the last time they got engaged, one of their officers was shot. They are said to be investigating, including links to weapons being trafficked across the border with the Dominican Republic.
For now, the community waits. In Pendus, the sound of gunfire can be heard coming from the mountains most nights. The gangs seem to have plenty of ammunition. Meanwhile, in Pendus, as in much of Haiti, everyone else seems to be on their own. There is little expectation that the state will step-in, and, even if it did, no one is particularly excited about inviting a large scale police operation. The struggle in Pendus is now one for recognition. For the lives lost, and more so for those that remain. A friend working in the community writes, “they want to have a resolution so that they can return to their communities up in Massak and Mawotye and not be afraid that they might have to run from La Pierre in the middle of the night under a hail of bullets. They want to be able to plant in their gardens and send their children out to play without the background noise of gunshots reverberating from farther up the mountain.” Put another way, the struggle is simply to have the right to breathe freely, to live, recognized and protected.
In November of 2018, the Costs of War project at Brown University reported:
The United States has appropriated and is obligated to spend an estimated $5.9 trillion (in current dollars) on the war on terror through Fiscal Year 2019, including direct war and war-related spending and obligations for future spending on post 9/11 war veterans. This number differs substantially from the Pentagon’s estimates of the costs of the post-9/11 wars because it includes not only war appropriations made to the Department of Defense – spending in the war zones of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and in other places the government designates as sites of “overseas contingency operations,” – but also includes spending across the federal government that is a consequence of these wars. Specifically, this is war-related spending by the Department of State, past and obligated spending for war veterans’ care, interest on the debt incurred to pay for the wars, and the prevention of and response to terrorism by the Department of Homeland Security.
A year later, the estimate of direct costs stood at $6.4 trillion.
To put further perspective on this, the U.S. currently has counter-terrorism operations in 80 countries, including a global network of bases and training programs. The creators of the map shared above note, “Because we have been conservative in our selections, U.S. efforts to combat terrorism abroad are likely more extensive than this map shows. Even so, the vast reach evident here may prompt Americans to ask whether the war on terror has met its goals, and whether they are worth the human and financial costs.”
What of the human costs? Of the places where U.S. ground troops have been present in significant numbers — Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq — the total number of direct deaths from combat operations is estimated at between 480,000 and 507,000, including U.S. personnel. Half of those killed are civilians. Indirect deaths, or those who die as a result of collapsing infrastructure, lack of access to health case and so on, are harder to measure. The Geneva Secretariat has argued that the number of indirect deaths in global conflicts can be estimated at 4:1 the number of direct deaths. In just these three countries then, the total number of people who have died as a result of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and parallel fighting in Pakistan, is likely between 2 and 2.5 million.
With respect to the conflict in Syria, the invasion of Libya, and the ongoing counter-insurgency campaign in Yemen, each represents another tragic episode, with tens of thousands more direct deaths in conflict. Each of these wars has its own domestic roots to be sure, but the overflowing of these fights into regional, and even global, alliances at war is directly related to the collapse of the tenuous balance of power that existed in the Middle East prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. That balance of power was itself predicated on support for autocratic and murderous regimes by the U.S. government, and hardly something to be celebrated. But the collapse of Iraq set in motion a process of regional realignment that we are still witnessing, a process that became a bloodbath.
There are more than 79 million people displaced in the world today. At least 18 percent of those are from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Syria. As we have written about elsewhere, many of the rest are fleeing conflicts or other circumstances set in motion by the global war on terror. This is a snapshot of one year – and far from the whole story.
This week the Cost of War project published research that unpacked the number of people displaced by these wars overtime (see map above). The summary of their conclusions:
The U.S. post-9/11 wars have forcibly displaced at least 37 million people in and from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya, and Syria. This exceeds those displaced by every war since 1900, except World War II.
Millions more have been displaced by other post-9/11 conflicts involving U.S. troops in smaller combat operations, including in: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Niger, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia.
37 million is a very conservative estimate. The total displaced by the U.S. post-9/11 wars could be closer to 48–59 million.
25.3 million people have returned after being displaced, although return does not erase the trauma of displacement or mean that those displaced have returned to their original homes or to a secure life.
Any number is limited in what it can convey about displacement’s damage. The people behind the numbers can be difficult to see, and numbers cannot communicate how it might feel to lose one’s home, belongings, community, and much more. Displacement has caused incalculable harm to individuals, families, towns, cities, regions, and entire countries physically, socially, emotionally, and economically.
How does one measure the cost of this?
Just this week, in Greece, a fire broke out at the refugee camp in Moria – Europe’s largest refugee camp. The people living in Moria, are largely fleeing these 9/11 wars. In response to the fires, Greece’s government made clear that the refugees would be forced to stay on the island. And some of the people on the island made clear they did not want the camp there any more – going so far as to block the road so that emergency response teams could not reach the camp. Moria’s municipal community leader Yiannis Mastroyannis said, “We’ve reached our limits. We’re anxious, we feel insecure, we’re fed up, we don’t know how to act anymore.”
Surveying the damage, it is worth asking: was any of this worth it? This is often the question I hear asked – indeed there are polls that indicate 43 percent of U.S. Americans (41 percent of military service members) think we are less safe today than on September 12, 2001. Is that the appropriate measure? National Interest published an article from January 2019 that surveys impacts of the war on terror, and asks whether the war has been worth it. Without giving a direct answer, the author writes,
All of this begs the question: is Washington’s counterterrorism strategy having the desired effect of enhancing the security of Americans? Or is the strategy simply creating more terrorists than it is killing, throwing more taxpayer money down the toilet, and further straining the U.S. military’s limited resources?
We won’t know the answer until President Donald Trump orders his administration to conduct an honest, impartial, whole-of-government appraisal of the current policy. When he does, perhaps Trump will be more likely to overrule his conventional national security advisers who continue to argue for an unconditional and timeless American military commitment in Syria and Afghanistan.
It is certainly worth asking the question from the framework of impacts on the United States in terms of costs, casualties and reduction of civil liberties. This is, however, a very small part of the problem. So, I would ask the question differently: Is there ANY outcome, or benefit to the United States that is worth the death of close to 3 million people outside our border? The displacement of 38 million people or more? The violent backlash that has been exercised against these refugees? What security could ever result from such means? To ask whether “we” the United States are safer misses the whole point. The rest do the world is demonstrably less safe as a result of the 19 years of war we plummeted it in to – so, of course, that means we are less safe as well.
On September 12, 2001, the country’s leadership had a choice. They chose badly. Nationalism run rampant, fear and loathing of the “other” became the justification for an endless war, and a dramatic shifting of power to an “imperial” presidency to exercise that war.
Today the beat goes on. The Pentagon’s budget was $738 billion for Fiscal Year 2020. This year the request is $740 billion. China’s defense budget is, by comparison, $167 billion. It is worth thinking about how that money is turned into bombs and armaments that will be welded against people all over the planet. How many more will be displaced? How many more killed?
For most of the world, September 11 never ends.