Thursday, May 27, 2004

Bringing "Maximum Security" to Iraq

One of the most astonishing remarks that George W. Bush made in his Army War College speech laying out a five-step plan to re-engineer the occupation is his declaration that "America will fund the construction of a modern maximum security prison. When that prison is completed detainees at Abu Ghraib will be relocated. Then with the approval of the Iraqi government we will demolish the Abu Ghraib prison as a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning" ("Transcript of Bush Speech on US Strategy in Iraq," Financial Times, May 25 2004). Then again, it is quite fitting that an empire built by a prison state -- "a nation that incarcerates 2.2 million people -- one-quarter of all the world's prisoners" (Alan Elsner, "If US Plays Global Prison Ratings Game, It Ought to Play by Its Own Rules," Christian Science Monitor, March 4, 2004) -- will be a prison empire: "The Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where a unit of U.S. soldiers abused prisoners, is just the largest and suddenly most notorious in a worldwide constellation of detention centers -- many of them secret and all off-limits to public scrutiny -- that the U.S. military and CIA have operated in the name of counterterrorism or counterinsurgency operations since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks" (Dana Priest and Joe Stephens, "Secret World of U.S. Interrogation: Long History of Tactics in Overseas Prisons Is Coming to Light," Washington Post, May 11, 2004, p. A01).

The Iraqis are unimpressed by Bush's pledge to "demolish the Abu Ghraib prison" ("Iraqis Dismiss Bush's Abu Ghraib Plan," Aljazeera, May 25th, 2004), but no matter -- the President is not in the habit of letting such small details stand in his way. As Washington globalizes its prison-industrial complex, privatizing as many prisons as it can, what corporation might it employ to manage "a modern maximum security prison" in Iraq? A likely candidate, I think, is Wackenhut -- renamed the GEO Group in December 2003 -- given its transnational operation ("So far, outside of the US, it has won contracts in Australia, the UK, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, and the Netherlands Antilles" [Stephen Nathan, "The Prison Industry Goes Global," Fall 2000]) and participation in detention at Guantanamo:
It was not press released and it is not listed on the company’s website. But a small classified advertisement in the employment section of Gazette, 26 September 2003, “the authorised publication for members of the military services stationed at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay” states: “WCC [Wackenhut Corrections Corporation] has been awarded a contract by the Department of Homeland Security Bureau of Immigration and Custom Enforcement for the security operation of the Migrant Operations Center at Guantanamo Bay. Wackenhut Corrections is now hiring approx. 20 positions, including: custody officers; supervisory custody officer; recreational activities coordinator and administrative clerk. Full and part time positions available.” According to WCC’s in-house publication All Points Bulletin, Third Quarter 2003, the company will be providing custodial services for some 100 detainees. (The Public Services International Research Unit [PSIRU], University of Greenwich, London, "Cuba: Wackenhut at Guantanamo Bay," Prison Privatisation Report International 58, October 2003)
Wackenhut's corporate history, too, is appropriate for a building block in the prison empire:
Named after its founder, former FBI agent George Wackenhut, the firm is a subsidiary of Wackenhut's private security service, which made it big more than forty years ago by scooping up contracts to guard America's nuclear waste dumps and testing installations. Wackenhut also did some freelance spooking. By the late sixties the corporation had dossiers on three million American "potential subversives." This was the largest collection of private surveillance files in American history and was later handed over to the FBI. By the 1970s and 1980s the company had expanded into strikebreaking and guarding US embassies. George Wackenhut still runs the business from his castle-like mansion in Florida and from the deck of his yacht, Top Secret. (Christian Parenti, "The Prison Industrial Complex: Crisis and Control," CorpWatch, September 1, 1999)
See, also, Greg Palast's article on "the privatization of spookery" -- "Fear for Sale," In These Times, May 12, 2004; and the SEIU's website about many problems of the Wackenhut Corporation, "the second largest private security company in the US" -- Eye on Wackenhut.

Now, two action alerts: "Support Suspended Wackenhut Workers" (concerning "two Wackenhut security officers leading an effort to form a union with SEIU at the offices of the International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC" who got "suspended indefinitely from their jobs"); and "Prevent a Security Meltdown: Urge Review of Wackenhut Contracts at US Nuclear Facilities" (urging "government oversight agencies to conduct an immediate and comprehensive review of all of Wackenhut’s security contracts at nuclear power plants and weapons facilities," given the revelation of its security lapses).

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