Immigrant Children Stripped, Tortured by ‘Malicious and Sadistic’ Racist Guards at Defacto Prison
LIKE ABU GHRAIB – FOR KIDS
These horrors happened to children, singled out because of their race, and immigration status. If it seems familiar to you, it should, because it’s pretty similar to the war crimes of the Bush Administration, such as those which infamously happened at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Except the people subjected to this abuse aren’t in a war zone, aren’t terrorism suspects, and aren’t even adults. They’re children, right here in America. And the violence done to them is part of the machinery of our own government.
According to sworn statements given by half a dozen immigrant children held in a defacto prison in Virginia, immigrant kids as young as 14 were assaulted and harrassed by guards who frequently addressed them using racial slurs, beaten while in handcuffs, forcibly stripped nude, locked nude, in concrete cells, in solitary confinement, for long periods. It should be noted, that this meets the definition of torture as outlined in the Geneva Convention, Article 1.1, which reads:
“For the purpose of this Convention, the term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions.”
It is also a violation of Article 16 of the convention’s prohibition against “other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article 1”. And in addition, because of the immigration status of many of these children and the unstable political realities of their nations of origin, it risks violating Article 3 of the convention, which bans extradition to nations where a person may be tortured.
So to be clear, we’re talking about the detention and torture of children, by the American government, on American soil.
Malicious and Sadistic
“If you are behaving bad,” the boy told the Associated Press, “resisting the staff when they try to remove you from the program, they will take everything in your room away — your mattress, blanket, everything.” Adding, “They will also take your clothes. Then they will leave you locked in there for a while. This has happened to me, and I know it has happened to other kids, too.”
Such simple privileges as being able to attend an art class, too, were withheld.
A boy from Honduras who was sent to the detention center at just 15 gave the AP more details. “Whenever they used to restrain me and put me in the chair, they would handcuff me. Strapped me down all the way, from your feet all the way to your chest, you couldn’t really move. … They have total control over you. They also put a bag over your head. It has little holes; you can see through it. But you feel suffocated with the bag on.”
According to the sworn statements, the children reported being locked most of the days alone in their cells, being let out only for a few hours of class, recreation, and small, often cold meals that left them hungry, though there were occasional American fast food meals given as well — raising questions about how the $82,000 records the AP reviewed show allocated for meals for the children by the USDA was spent. Some reported that while US born children held over criminal complaints were afforded a spacious yard to play in, the immigrant children were never let outside.
The children were subjected to frequent physical searches and verbal abuse, the complaint alleges, which would frequently escalate if the child acted out, or denied accusations, resulting in guards responding, as the complaint alleges, “by physically assaulting the youth, applying an excessive amount of force that goes far beyond what is needed to establish or regain control.”
In an example given in the complaint, when a staff member wrongly suspected a 17 year old of possessing contraband, the staff member threw the student to the ground and violently ripped his clothes off for a forcible, spontaneous strip search. When the search failed to turn up anything forbidden, exonerating the teen, he was punished anyhow, by being sent to the “Alpha Pod”, which was reserved for kids who misbehaved.
“When they couldn’t get one of the kids to calm down, the guards would put us in a chair — a safety chair, I don’t know what they call it,” one teen who was 14 at the time reported in a sworn statement, “but they would just put us in there all day. This happened to me, and I saw it happen to others, too. It was excessive.” Other children also reported the use of such chairs, saying they were frequently punished by being shackled in the chairs for hours, often receiving beatings from staff while helplessly bound.
This kind of “malicious and sadistic applications of force”, the complaint asserts, has resulted in “sustained significant injuries, both physical and psychological” to the children. In filings, lawyers for the center deny all allegations of physical abuse.
Unconstitutional Conditions That Shock The Conscience
The facility was originally built by seven nearby towns, in cooperation, to hold local juvenile delinquents accused of serious crimes. It is one of three in the the United States known to have contracts with the federal government for “secure placement” of immigrant juveniles, and in it’s 58 beds houses male and female kids as young as 12, cycling through an average of 92 kids per year, mostly from Mexico and Central America. And while they are held in a defacto prison, those held on immigration charges have not been convicted of any crime, and may indeed qualify as refugees under international law.
A lawsuit filed against the facility, the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center outside Staunton, Virginia, by the nonprofit Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs alleges that the latino children imprisoned there “are subjected to unconstitutional conditions that shock the conscience, including violence by staff, abusive and excessive use of seclusion and restraints, and the denial of necessary mental health care.”
These disturbing reports appear to be confirmed by the findings of a former child development specialist who worked at the facility, who told the AP that she witnessed kids with broken bones and bruises which the children said were inflicted by the guards.
Worse Under Trump
It is unclear if any of the children now imprisoned at the Shenandoah juvenile detention center are among the thousands of children who were separated from their parents under the Trump Administration policy just reversed Wednesday by an executive order. The order comes after several days of intense public pressure, during which time the President and administration officials repeatedly insisted, dishonestly, that the policy was the fault of Democrats, and that he had no power to halt it by executive action.
But it is known that the Shenandoah center has been housing immigrant children who crossed the border fleeing danger or searching for family since 2007. But under Trump, who has been fear mongering with demagoguery and rhetoric that insists that waves of MS-13 gang members amount to an invasion of America, many of the children report that they’ve been sent to the facility accused of being members of violent gangs, including MS-13. But the truth is that these children are often victims of those same gangs, fleeing violence and subjugation in their home country.
In an April 26th hearing before Congress, Kelsey Wong, a program director at the Shenandoah facility testified that the children did not appear to be gang members, but instead were suffering from mental health issues resulting from trauma they suffered in their home countries — evidence that the children indeed qualify for refugee status.
“The youth were being screened as gang-involved individuals. And then when they came into our care, and they were assessed by our clinical and case management staff” Wong told a Senate subcommittee reviewing the treatment of children taken prisoner by the Department of Homeland Security. “They weren’t necessarily identified as gang-involved individuals.”
But instead of being granted refugee status, these children as young as 12 are being imprisoned in facilities ill equipped to care for them, often at the mercy of sadistic and racist adults, and being tortured as if they were terrorists – all for having been born south of the Rio Grande. Here in America, supposed to be the land of the free, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, calling for the huddled masses, yearning to be free.