Jerri-Lynn here. The Department of Justice received considerable plaudits in August when it announced a decision not to renew contracts with private prison companies. At the time, a Marshall Project analysis made it clear that significance of that decision was overstated, as it only affected about 15% of inmates held in private prisons. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) holds roughly 50% more prisoners in private facilities than does the DoJ, and the combined figure for states is about three times the DHS figure.
The DoJ’s decision followed a report by its Inspector General to examine how the DoJ’s Bureau of Prisons monitors the facilities. Warning: the report’s analysis of the appalling conditions in prisons operated by private companies does not make for easy reading.
The DoS’s decision has led some states, and now the DHS, to respond. The DHS on Monday announced the launch of a review of its use of for-profit immigrant detention enters. Despite its polemical tone, this AlterNet piece is well-supported and provides considerable raw material for assessing just one example of the conflicts of interest that have became the norm in the making of American public policy– and calls into question just how objective this review will be.
I particularly applaud the author’s decision to include in her piece the full membership of the Advisory Council that will decide whether the DHS should follow the DoJ and various states and phase-out its reliance on private operators. Members of the defense, security, and police establishments are well-represented on this body, but there is not a single individual or organization included that advocates for the people who might find themselves in these detention facilities. I would not have believed how one-sided the membership was without seeing for myself the list of the council’s membership.
By Sarah Lazare, who is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare. Cross posted from Alternet.
The DHS declared on Monday that it will review its widespread use of for-profit immigrant detention centers, in what amounts to an implied acknowledgment that human rights abuses plague its prisons, some of which house mothers with their children.
If the announcement translates into meaningful action, it could help chip away at the political power of a private prison industry that has aggressively lobbied for harsh immigration policies, including the congressional immigrant detention quota, which today directs Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold an average of 34,000 people in detention on a daily basis. Meanwhile, the announcement left many wondering whether the federal agency will also revisit mass detentions and deportations of refugees, immigrants and migrants, which have soared to record levels under the administration of President Barack Obama.
However, a critical aspect of the DHS announcement has gone overlooked. The federal agency’s plan is contingent on a review process initiated by the so-called “Homeland Security Advisory Council.” Here is what DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said that process will look like:
On Friday, I directed our Homeland Security Advisory Council, chaired by Judge William Webster, to evaluate whether the immigration detention operations conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement should move in the same direction. Specifically, I have asked that Judge Webster establish a Subcommittee of the Council to review our current policy and practices concerning the use of private immigration detention and evaluate whether this practice should be eliminated. I asked that the Subcommittee consider all factors concerning ICE’s detention policy and practice, including fiscal considerations.
The Advisory Council that will steer this process is a roll call of war profiteers, torture defenders, human rights abusers and private sector heavyweights. Meanwhile, as Bob Libal, the executive director of the advocacy organization Grassroots Leadership, noted in an interview with AlterNet, “There is a severe lack of any immigrant or immigrant advocacy representation on the committee. I don’t think there is anyone who has been impacted by detention, let alone private detention.”
Webster, the only person to have served as the director of both the FBI and the CIA, played a critical role during the late 1980s in covering up the Iran Contra scandal. He later founded the mercenary company Diligence, which provided security for corporations that profited off of the U.S. occupation of Iraq post-2003, before retiring as a partner of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, LLP.
The vice chair of the council is NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton, a nationally influential architect of draconian “broken windows” policing who recently warned of unspecified terror threats to wrangle large purchases of military-style gear for his department. Bratton’s career includes extensive ties with corporate surveillance firms that have sparked accusations of conflicts of interest. Bratton recently announced that, in September, he will step down in September from his position at the helm of the NYPD and will be taking a lucrative private security with the Teneo Holdings firm.
Retired Marine General John Kelly is also included on the council. As chief of U.S. Southern Command, he vigorously defended U.S. torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, including advocating force feeding of prisoners on hunger strike as recently as 2014. Before that position, he served in high-ranking posts overseeing the occupation of Iraq. Kelly is not the only council member to serve as a general who enforced U.S. occupation. Retired Marine general John Allen, also included on the council, oversaw the occupation of Afghanistan and, more recently, the nebulous U.S. war against ISIS.
The council also includes many who have built their careers and fortunes off of profits from U.S. wars and conflicts. Thad Allen is the current executive vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, a mercenary and private intelligence contracting company that, notably, has won lucrative contracts from DHS. Norman Augustine is the retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp, the largest weapons company in the world.
The council even includes Chuck Canterbury, the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police who has emerged as a prominent advocate of a change in federal law to make attacks on police hate crimes. Michael Nutter, the former mayor of Philadelphia who oversaw the gutting and privatization of the city’s public school system, is also included among the council’s members.
It is too soon to determine what the subcommittee, to be appointed by the advisory council, will find during its review process, and human rights campaigners like Libal are still holding out hope that the body will strike a blow against the power of the private prison industry. But at the very least, Johnson’s announcement sheds light on the revolving door between the DHS and powerful players in the mercenary sector, law enforcement and military.
According to Johnson, “a subcommittee of the HSAC will undertake this review, and the full HSAC will provide to me and the Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement its written report of its evaluation no later than November 30, 2016.”
The statement indicates that, once the review takes place, key decision-making power will rest with Johnson, who has overseen an escalation in raids and deportations this summer targeting refugees fleeing Central America, including teenagers on their way to school and children as young as four.
The full membership of the Advisory Council is as follows:
William Webster (Chair)- Retired Partner, Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, LLP
Commissioner William Bratton (Vice Chair) – Police Commissioner, City of New York
Art Acevedo – Chief of Police, Austin Police Department, Texas
Steve Adegbite – Chief Information Security Officer, E*TRADE Financial Corp.
John R. Allen – General, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)
Thad W. Allen- Executive Vice President, Booz|Allen|Hamilton
Norman Augustine- Retired Chairman and CEO, Lockheed Martin Corp.
Ron Barber- Consultant for Government Relations, Policy Analysis, Legislative Advocacy and Customer Relations, Public and Private entities
Chuck Canterbury- National President, The Fraternal Order of Police
Richard Danzig- Senior Advisor, John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory
Elaine C. Duke- Principal, Elaine Duke & Associates, LLC
Marshall Fitz- Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
Paul Goldenberg- President and CEO, Cardinal Point Strategies, LLC
Lee H. Hamilton- Director, Center on Congress, Indiana University
Jane Harman, President and CEO, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Elizabeth Holtzman- Co-chair, Herrick’s Government Relations Group,
Jim Jones, Chairman- ManattJones Global Strategies
Juliette Kayyem- Founder of Juliette Kayyem Solutions, LLC
Gary Kelly- President and CEO, Southwest Airlines
John Kelly- General, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)
Carie A. Lemack- Cofounder and CEO of DreamUp
Wilson Livingood- President and Partner, Livingood Advisors, LLC
Jane Holl Lute- Special Coordinator on Improving United Nations Response to sexual exploitation and abuse
John Magaw- Consultant, Domestic and International
Christian Marrone- CoS to the CEO, VP of Government Relations, CSRA Inc.
David Martin- Professor of International Law- University of Virginia School of Law
Jeffrey Miller- Senior Vice President, MSA Security
Jeff Moss- Founder of Black Hat and DEF CON Conferences
Dr. Ned Norris Jr.- Former Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation
Michael Nutter- Former Mayor of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Mathew Olsen- President of Consulting and Co-Founder, IronNet Cybersecurity
Farah Pandith- Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
Annise Danette Parker- Former Mayor, City of Houston, Texas
John S. Pistole- President, Anderson University
Robert Rose- Senior Advisor to the CEO, Securonix
Harold A. Schaitberger- General President, International Association of Firefighters
Ali H. Soufan- Chairman and CEO, The Soufan Group LLC
Paul Stockton- Managing Director, Sonecon LLC
Karen Tandy- Administrator (Ret.), Drug Enforcement Administration
Lydia W. Thomas- Retired President and CEO, Noblis, Inc.