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Immigrant Guantanamo

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The Times with a great front-page report that just doesn’t go far enough. The article, about the official cover-up of immigrant deaths during detention, gives some fantastic reporting on the cover-up itself, but fails to emphasize how these poor immigrants actually died.

The meat of the article states that:

The documents show how officials — some still in key positions — used their role as overseers to cover up evidence of mistreatment, deflect scrutiny by the news media or prepare exculpatory public statements after gathering facts that pointed to substandard care or abuse.

As one man lay dying of head injuries suffered in a New Jersey immigration jail in 2007, for example, a spokesman for the federal agency told The Times that he could learn nothing about the case from government authorities. In fact, the records show, the spokesman had alerted those officials to the reporter’s inquiry, and they conferred at length about sending the man back to Africa to avoid embarrassing publicity.

Okay. So The Times revealed how immigrant officials tried to cover up this guy’s death. Pretty shocking. But how did he receive those “head injuries” in the first place? To me, it seems like that should be the crux of the article – not the cover-up. Unless this guy was somehow captured with pre-existing fatal head injuries, he must have been injured while in detention. Then who injured him? Shouldn’t we be trying to find the culprit? I mean, that guy is basically a murderer. Right?

The article also mentions that “unbearable, untreated pain had been a significant factor in the suicide of a 22-year-old detainee at the Bergen County Jail in New Jersey”.

Why was this 22-year-old in “unbearable, untreated pain”? Did he have some condition that causes constant pain? Was he tortured? Nobody knows!

The article suggests later that the detention facility tried various means of getting rid of Mr. Bah (the man with the mysterious head injury), including sending him back to his native Africa, but he died before they could.

Eventually, faced with paying $10,000 a month for nursing home care, officials settled on a third course: “humanitarian release” to cousins in New York who had protested that they had no way to care for him. But days before the planned release, Mr. Bah died.

If it’s true that Mr. Bah was tortured and murdered while in detention, this lends a whole new cynicism to our treatment of “immigrant detainees”. I can imagine their dialogue: “We cracked this guy’s skull, and now they want us to pay $10,000 for a nursing home?” “You know, forget it – let’s just send him back to Africa and call it even.” That, I would think, is the true outrage – not the subsequent cover-up.

And come to think of it, The Times never once tells us why Mr. Bah was in jail. Was he some sort of lunatic? A violent sociopath? A petty thief? Was he innocent? The article doesn’t say! But to judge from The Nation’s (vastly superior) article on this matter, “illegal” immigrants often end up in detention for no reason at all.

As James Pendergraph, the director of our immigrant detention facilities once remarked, “If you don’t have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he’s illegal, we can make him disappear.” Wouldn’t that be important for The Times to mention?

Nevertheless, this is a nice bit of muckraking from the generally orthodox Times. The article strongly hints that all these injuries were sustained while in detention, and I guess it expects us to connect the dots and conclude that many US prison guards are also brutal murderers. But by leaving the cause of these detainee’s deaths totally ambiguous (save for one reference to ‘abuses’) and by focusing instead on the subsequent cover-up, The Times does more than its part in condoning this sort of behavior.

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Written by pavanvan

January 10, 2010 at 8:33 pm

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