American Concentration CampsA typical American reaction to footage of the Third Reich's concentration camps is to shudder and say "But that could never happen here." At which point, an interior monologue voice is compelled to come back in an ominous tone with, "Or could it?"
The answer to that question, of course, is "yes, of course it could," followed by "in fact, it already has," in addition to "and it still is," with the added stipulation that "it's possibly much worse than you imagined."
Now granted, even the most paranoid theories regarding the American use of concentration camps falls far short of the atrocities perpetrated by the Germans. No one is claiming that mad scientists are dissecting live prisoners for warped experiments here... Well, OK, the point is only a very few people are claiming that.
But the reality of U.S. concentration camps, both historically and in modern use, can't be denied. They've been used in the Civil War and WWII, and they are currently being used in the War on Terror, and they might be in use on U.S. soil under an insane Federal Emergency Management Agency plan called REX-84, which was drafted by none other than Oliver North at the order of Ronald Reagan (a nutty-sounding conspiracy theory which is unfortunately 100% true).
Speculation only enters into it when you try to estimate just how big the iceberg under that tip really is.
The Past Is PrologueThe U.S. has employed prison camps of one sort or another since the Revolutionary War, when British soldiers were interned in locations like a York, Pa., camp which held about 1,500 prisoners and their families. Revolutionary era camps were relatively benign compared to what the term invokes today, at least for the British, and Native Americans were more often driven West than imprisoned in this period.
Through the first century of U.S. history, the major internment issue affecting Americans was slavery, which for all intents and purposes created a series of forced labor camps across the country, but without the centralized location, i.e., the "concentration" of prisoners.
The first major prison camp operations in the U.S. came during the Civil War. Starting in 1863, both the North and the South began holding large numbers of prisoners. Before 1864, there had been some provisions for the exchange and release of captured soldiers, but these talks broke down when the Confederates refused to treat black soldiers they had captured on an equal footing with white prisoners. The Confederacy wanted to treat former slaves, who has been enlisted by Union forces, as escapees rather than prisoners of war, which the Union found unacceptable, or at least that was the story.
When the Confederates finally agreed to a color-blind prisoner exchange, General Ulysses S. Grant still declined, this time citing his actual reason for refusing, not so much a matter of the race equality principal as the viewpoint (not entirely unreasonable) that exchanged prisoners would become active soldiers again, prolonging the war perhaps indefinitely and escalating the number of casualties.
A final attempt to pull off a prisoner exchange again ran aground on the pretext of race, with General Robert E. Lee informing Grant that "Negroes belonging to our citizens are not considered subjects of exchange." His moral superiority intact, Grant broke off negotiations, and both sides set about dealing with the actual question of what to do with all the prisoners they'd been accumulating.
The South took the brunt of public outrage over prison camp conditions, but both sides ran some pretty appalling operations. The most notorious camp was run by the Confederates in Andersonville, Ga. More than 45,000 Union soldiers were imprisoned there during little more than a year of the war. Almost 13,000 died from gangrene, dysentery and diarrhea. A second camp in Macon, designed to hold 10,000 prisoners, was crammed with more than 32,000 by the end of the war. Prisoners were dressed in rags, or nothing at all when the rags became unwearable, and they lived in their own sewage, due to insufficient latrine capacity.
In Union camps, prisoners were also dressed in rags or naked, and contemporaneous news reports described Confederate inmates eating rats and dogs to survive. In Elmira, N.Y., a concentration camp meant for 5,000 prisoners held nearly 10,000. Union soldiers sold tickets to local gawkers, who apparently enjoyed the site of dying men dressed in tatters. Union camps were also infested with smallpox and a host of other deadly diseases.
Welcome to Amerika! But it didn't end there...
World War IIIt's fairly well-known that during World War II, Americans of Japanese descent were shipped off to internment camps. In the late 1930s, as World War II raged around the globe, U.S. authorities began compiling lists of "suspicious" U.S. nationals and citizens, much as John Ashcroft is doing today.
By 1941, the focus had shifted to Japanese-Americans. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered a list of all first and second generation Japanese in the country, including naturalized citizens and American-born citizens. On Dec. 7, 1941, more than 700 American citizens who happened to be ethnically Japanese were observing the day that would live in infamy from a prison cell.
By year-end, more than 2,000 Japanese-Americans were in detention. Several states began indiscriminate round-ups of Japanese and other "enemy aliens." At the beginning of 1942, American soldiers of Japanese descent were discharged or ordered into menial positions. San Francisco waterfronts were declared verboten to enemy aliens, including Japanese, Germans and Italians. Curfews were established, but that wasn't enough to satisfy the slavering hordes of angry racists running federal, state and local governments.
Nine years to the day after Adolf Hitler seized the authority to revoke civil rights in Germany and create the first Nazi concentration camps, the House Committee on Unamerican Activities issues a list of charges against Americans of Japanese descent. Truman ordered the enforcement of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the president to order the "removal" of any citizen for any reason.
In March, the Federal Reserve began seizing the property and assets of Japanese-descended citizens, and the War Relocation Authority was formed to "assist" the Japanese-Americans who were being driven out of several states. By summer, well over 100,000 Japanese-Americans had been "evacuated" from the West Coast to other states and military prison camps.
Thousands of these prisoners were exploited for farm labor in the heartland, and thousands more were moved into internment camps. Ten camps were set up in all, holding around 10,000 people each. Riots and protests struck occasionally. While the inmates of these camps were, at least, spared from being made into lampshades, they were forced into labor and some were actually drafted into the military (a practice which resulted in a sharp rebuke from a federal judge when the government tried to prosecute resisters).
As the war ended, the prisoners were eventually allowed to return to their "homes," or rather their hometowns, since most of them had lost all their possessions in the process of being interned. In 1948, the federal government, realizing the error of its ways, generously offered to recompense internees for their property losses — to the tune of 10 cents on the dollar, and then only if they could show proof of their loss.
Welcome to Amerika! But it didn't end there...
The Reagan EraWe must now dip into the truly creepy conspiracy arena for a while, to claims and conspiracies so extraordinary that they defy belief, to the shadowy corners of the unknown and unproven... except that (uh-oh) they're true, known and proven. Damn.
The year, oh-so-appropriately, is 1984. Sounds bad already? It gets soooooo much worse. Then-President Ronald Reagan issues an executive order for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to start running "Readiness Exercises" for national emergencies, such as a massive terrorist attack.
The simulations, known as REX-84 and Night Train 84, were drafted and run by FEMA's contact person with the National Security Agency, one Lt. Col. Oliver North. No, really. This is actually, honest-to-God true.
North worked with FEMA from 1982 to 1984, drafting a variety of emergency contingency plans for declared national emergencies (the U.S. has been in a continuously declared state of National Emergency since 1933 and is currently under several new ones in the wake of the 9/11 al Qaeda attack on America).
Among the REX-84 simulations devised with North's assistance was a plan to declare martial law and "temporarily" suspend constitutional protections such as freedom of speech and due process in criminal prosecutions.
A draft executive order based on North's fantasy scheme gave the president and FEMA the power to institute these plans on the president's say-so. The draft order was presented by the White House to then-Attorney General William French Smith, who was appalled and said so. The White House then "dropped" the plan, at least as far as Smith and the public were concerned.
The plans called for the assumption of emergency powers and granted the president to power to enact emergency legislation and judicial functions, essentially destroying the entire fundamental structure of the U.S. Constitution.
As part of REX-84 and the related executive orders, provisions were made for the detention of aliens, enemy aliens and citizens, and restricting the movements of the population. A draft executive order was given to Reagan which would have activated the provisions of Rex-84 according to presidential whim, according to the Miami Herald, which reported that it could not confirm whether or not the order was actually signed.
Finally, we may for a moment flee the unrelenting and horrific true and verifiable portion of our story to venture into the unproven and merely rumored. According to various sources with less credibility (on the face of it) than the Miami Herald, Rex-84 was in fact activated.
According to these stories, FEMA set up detention camps all around the U.S. for use in case of that so-called "emergency" scenario. Some claim that these camps have in fact been built and are fully staffed, just waiting for the day they will be put into use.
Even better, some claim that these concentration camps are already in use, possibly as many as hundreds of them! The FEMA goon who drafted the plans based his blueprint on a scheme he concocted for mass arrests and detentions of black militants during the 1970s. Grant Morrison's epic comic-book paen to paranoia The Invisibles suggests the camps are already being used for exactly that — the detention and "disappearance" of black radicals. Others have floated this idea, as well as its opposite, that the camps are currently being used to secretly incarcerate white supremacists and members of right-wing militia groups.
Welcome to Amerika! But it doesn't end there...
Permanent EmergenciesBack to the cold, hard reality. When al Qaeda bombed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with hijacked commercial jets, President George W Bush finally got the chance to start throwing some of these nifty, non-Constitutionally-sanctioned powers around.
On September 11, 2001, the FAA grounded the entire domestic air travel industry. The White House and every major federal facility were evacuated. The president himself was swept into the air and tossed about from secret location to secret location like a hot potato. Part of lower Manhattan was evacuated, U.S. financial markets were crippled and shut completely down, and states of emergency were declared in New York and Washington, D.C. And the emergency powers hit parade began.
Within hours of the attacks, long before the smoke had stopped rising from the rubble, the White House had authorized Attorney General John Ashcroft to begin massive roundups of Arab-Americans and foreign nationals of Arabic descent. Whole families were arrested and detained without charges.
No formal accounting of the detentions has ever been offered, so it's impossible to know just how many were taken, but even low estimates run into the thousands. Their locations were kept secret. Without knowing who was taken, it is also impossible to know how many were deported and how many are still being held.
While many of these detentions were shrouded in secrecy, the war on Afghanistan yielded a bumper crop of prisoners who had to be accounted for. Many were transferred to Camp X-Ray, a heavily fortified compound located in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in order to circumvent any efforts to apply the U.S. judicial process on behalf of those being held. Prisoners included citizens of several countries, including some U.S. citizens. Detention at Camp X-Ray is an indefinite sentence — releases happen only at the whim of the U.S. military, and that whim is rare. Camp X-Ray, presumably the most humanitiarian of the detention facilities in use, is a harsh but apparently semi-humane set-up, with Orwellian propaganda posters in abundance and tiny razor-wire cells sized just large enough to allow prisoners to lie down.
Other high-security prisoners are being kept in unknown locations around the world, under unknown conditions. According to various media reports, prisoners at military compounds in Afghanistan and elsewhere are kept under duress in order to encourage "cooperation." Some prisoners, such as accused dirty bomber Jose Padilla are kept in mainland military brigs. Others, like al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, have completely disappeared from any documented location for "special" treatment.
Shortly after 9/11, crazy apocalyptic Attorney General John Ashcroft called for the creation of detention camps to hold anyone designated as an "enemy combatant" in the War on Terrorism. As seen in Padilla's case, this can include noncombatants arrested by domestic law enforcement on U.S. soil. The White House is arguing in court that the president has the sole authority to designate an enemy combatant for any reason the president sees fit, and the Justice Department has further argued that U.S. courts have no jurisdiction to challenge such a designation.
After a flurry of public protest, the "detention camp" discussion went sub rosa. But under existing presidential authorities and executive orders issued both before and after 9/11, there is no need for public discussion. The camps could (under the sketchy legal justifications drafted by current and previous administrations) be open for business without a word ever being spoken in public.
Furthermore, it's been explicitly stated by various federal, state and local officials that if the U.S. terror alert status ever rises to Code Red, anything goes — and that includes martial law, tanks on city streets, enforced curfews, restricted travel, unlimited secret arrests and unlimited mass detentions... Sky's the limit, Oliver North-style!
Welcome to Amerika! Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Hell, who wants to?
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