An Open Letter to the Red Cross

To: Dr. Jakob Kellenberger, President

International Committee of the Red Cross

Cc: International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

Amnesty International

Genocide Watch

Human Rights Watch

Reporters Without Borders

Re: Inspecting America's new domestic detention camps

Dear Dr. Kellenberger,

I am writing in regards the $385 million contract for vast detention camps announced by Halliburton in a press release this past January. Major media outlets have had little to say about this ominous development, but given the American government's previous use of such camps to forcibly imprison over 110,000 Japanese-Americans (the majority of whom were U.S. citizens) during WWII, the possibility of such camps being used to illegally imprison Muslims, dissidents, citizens deemed 'enemy combatants,' and others in the coming months and years cannot be dismissed. It is also worth recalling the democide against Native Americans in the 19th Century, the theft of Native American land, and the herding of survivors into reservations.

Given the potential for abuse, I am wondering if the Red Cross, or any other organization, has plans to inspect these new detention camps on a regular basis. For that matter, I wonder if any non-government organization will even be allowed to know when or if the camps go into operation, or their locations.

My hope is that by aggressively and publicly pursuing an inspection program for these camps, organizations like the Red Cross might influence the federal government to rethink their use. If your organization currently has no plan to inspect and monitor the camps, I ask you to consider one.

It would be wonderful if, for perhaps the first time in history, people took note of a possible impending democide or tyranny and prevented it, rather than allowing it to unfold. Bringing perpetrators to justice afterwards (when that can even be done) is a poor substitute for prevention of such epic crime. Your organization may be the deciding factor in preventing unjust imprisonment (or worse) for thousands of Americans in their own country.

Of course, the camps may have a more benign purpose. (What, then? Summer outings for disadvantaged youth?) But when has a large system of detention camps ever not been the start of a nightmare?

Here is what Halliburton's press release has to say on the topic: 'The contract, which is effective immediately, provides for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing ICE Detention and Removal Operations (DRO) Program facilities in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs.'

That vague statement is unsettling at best given our government's recent pattern of behavior. For example, consider the passage of blatantly unconstitutional laws including the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act of 2006, both of which illegally strip Americans of rights enshrined in the Constitution and in common law (although the second of those Acts is aimed primarily at non-citizens, Americans are also jeopardized by the Act directly, as almost any citizen can be declared an 'enemy combatant' – and then that person has almost no rights at all). Consider the widely-discussed and illegal use of torture by the United States against detainees in the War on Terror. Consider the John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 which deals a blow to the protections of the Posse Comitatus Act, paving the way for Bush (or any future president) to simply declare an emergency and use American troops against American citizens.

Consider also the long history of violent American interference in the affairs of foreign nations, including regime change by means of invasion or by support for coups against elected governments; training foreign agents in torture at the infamous School of the Americas (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in 2001); incinerating entire cities full of non-combatants at Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Tokyo, Dresden, and other locations in WWII; illegally using depleted uranium munitions (poisonous as well as radioactive – with a radioactive half life of 4.5 billion years) in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans; and otherwise violating or encouraging the violation of human rights in dozens of nations around the globe. Our government's concern for human life may be judged by its dismissive response to the recent estimate (in a study published by the respected British medical journal The Lancet) of 655,000 civilian deaths caused by our invasion and occupation of Iraq – a nation with fewer than 27,000,000 people, substantially fewer than live in California.

All of those actions by our federal government cast a Kafkaesque pall over this new gulag of domestic detention camps. There is little reason to believe such camps will be run humanely, or even that they will not become (or are not actually designed to be) death camps for dissenters and others who the government would rather have disappear.

It would be foolish to dismiss such concerns out of hand (as even most Jews did in the early years of the Holocaust, despite the demented anti-Semitic vitriol that Hitler published in Mein Kampf and despite the worsening situation for Jews after Hitler's rise to Chancellor several years later, in 1933). It is understandable that no one wants to believe anything so horrible, especially when one's own nation is involved. Even academics in related fields have trouble facing the reality, frequency, and scale of government murder. Professor R. J. Rummel, perhaps the world's foremost authority on government murder and the author of Death by Government (Transaction Publishers, 1994), describes the situation this way:

"I think the ignorance of the incredible murder by government is a moral, intellectual, and academic scandal. It is the biggest and most significant black hole in our educational system and literature." [1]

Rummel recently updated his estimate of government murder in the Twentieth Century – in addition to war deaths – to two hundred sixty-two million (262,000,000) victims. That is one hundred and eleven million more than the total population of the United States in 1950. It is more than two and a half million murders per year, during an entire century. For more detail, Rummel maintains a website with several thousand pages of documentation on this topic. [2]

Once again, please recall that the U.S. has previously committed a large, long-running democide (against Native Americans), in addition to sanctioning human slavery until 1865, incarcerating Japanese-Americans during WWII – and now America has become infamous around the world for torture. Abuse of human rights in America is nothing new.

Furthermore, America already imprisons more people than any other nation on Earth. The rate of incarceration in the U.S. is 726 per 100,000, more than 12 times that of Japan, nearly 8 times that of France, and roughly 10 times that of Switzerland . [3] Most of America 's prisoners are not violent criminals; well over half (more than a million) are people who broke a politically-created rule (often drug-related) rather than committing any crime against a person. We should be reducing our prison population, not building camps to house even more prisoners.

America already has its own Gulag Archipelago, in other words.

Is there any reason we should not be concerned about the creation of a vast new network of 'detention camps' on American soil?

I realize you are a busy person, but I ask you to take a moment to let me know what plans your organization has, if any, to monitor this situation and, if indeed these camps are built and become operational, to inspect the facilities and report to the public on the treatment of prisoners.

Sincerely, and with much appreciation for the human rights work you have already done,

Glen Allport

- - - - -

Notes, including additional commentary:

[1] Personal communication

[2] Other sources of information on democide – as Rummel calls government murder of innocents, by any means and for any reason – include:

Death Tolls for the Man-made Megadeaths of the Twentieth Century

Alphabetical Index (A-J)

Alphabetical Index (K-Z)

The Holocaust Encyclopedia at (ironically) The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington , D.C. [It wasn't only Jews who were sent to the camps. An excerpt from the site's main page on the topic: '. . . the Nazi regime built a series of detention facilities to imprison and eliminate so-called 'enemies of the state.' Most prisoners in the early concentration camps were German Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Roma (Gypsies), Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and persons accused of 'asocial' or socially deviant behavior. These facilities were called 'concentration camps' because those imprisoned there were physically 'concentrated' in one location.']

Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya by Caroline Elkins, Owl Books, 2005. [I've always been fond of the British, so Elkin's well-written and staggeringly well-researched book was surprising as well as distressing to read. The famous British sense of 'fair play' was no match for the corrupting influence of having power over others in Kenya . This is fairly recent history; the period is from 1952 to 1960, and the Brits' murderous behavior shows them to have been no improvement over someone like Idi Amin in Uganda . While reading about the savage treatment of prisoners in the British camps, I kept wondering how inmates will be treated in our own new KBR/Halliburton camps.]

The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression by St'phane Courtois, et. al., Harvard University Press, 1999. [The authors of this famous and well-researched book estimate 85 million to 100 million murders by Communist governments in the Twentieth Century. The often nightmarish photos are at least as shocking and unforgettable as the text – also true of Chang's book below.]

The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang, Penguin Books, 1997. [Chang documents Japanese torture, rape, and mass murder of unarmed Chinese citizens, with over a quarter-million killed in a single city in the space of only a few months. Nanking was just the beginning of widespread atrocity committed by Japanese soldiers throughout Asia during the war.]

[3] Sidebar from 'US prison rate soars even higher', BBC News [2004 data]:

INCARCERATION RATES

US: 726 people per 100,000

UK : 142

China : 118

France : 91

Japan : 58

Nigeria : 31

Source: Justice Policy Institute

See also 'World Prison Population List' [PDF] for more detail; 2003 data with, of course, slightly different numbers.

Original material copyright 2006 by Glen Allport. Permission granted to reprint in any medium with this message intact.

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Glen Allport co-authored The User's Guide to OS/2 from Compute! Books and is the author of The Paradise Paradigm: On Creating a World of Compassion, Freedom, and Prosperity. He maintains paradise-paradigm.net. This is one in a series of columns on the human condition.