Posts Tagged ‘the age of the camps’

“IN 1940, even before the United States joined the war against the Axis powers, policymakers began to warn of imminent threats to the south. Numerous politicians and political scientists claimed that German and Japanese agents had organized an infiltration of Peru, Guatemala, and other Latin American countries. These enemy agents, it was said, were plotting coups and conspiring to launch an invasion of the United States. Franklin Roosevelt warned in repeated radio addresses that the Third Reich and the Japanese empire were erecting “beach heads” across South America. These anxieties were so pervasive that, in the same year, the White House contemplated dispatching hundreds of thousands of troops to Brazil in a preemptive strike against what it feared was a looming invasion.

Once the war reached the Western Hemisphere in December 1941, these fears started to shape formal policy. American officials were determined to suppress any potential subversion in Latin America, preferably with the cooperation of local governments. For this purpose, in January 1942, the United States helped found a new organ, the Emergency Advisory Committee for Political Defense, or CPD. Joined by twenty-one countries, from Canada in the north to Chile and Argentina in the south, the CPD would combat any activities that government officials deemed subversive, such as commerce with Axis countries or the publication of “questionable” newspapers. The CPD helped coordinate the sharing of intelligence and relevant legal procedures. A team of US legal experts, for example, helped Mexican and Brazilian officials draft regulations that curtailed the political activities of “dangerous” individuals and limited their right to travel.

But the United States wouldn’t stop at censorship and espionage. Within a few months of the CPD’s formation, its agents decided the enemy’s subversion was so dangerous that it could only be prevented through “preemptive” arrest. In the winter of 1942, American officials began to encourage and help local governments in numerous Latin American countries raid the houses of suspicious civilians. US intelligence agents provided police officials with names and logistical support, while State Department personnel helped skeptical politicians get over their opposition, mostly through generous economic loans. The thousands who were detained as a result were mostly sent to local military bases and denied access to legal representation or due process. Like the Japanese Americans whose arrest was unfolding at the same time, the detainees were targeted not so much based on anything they’d done (only a tiny minority was politically active), but due to their ethnic backgrounds: The vast majority were members of immigrant communities from Germany, Japan, and Italy.

CPD officials were well aware that many of these detainees did not pose a risk to security. They also knew that the officials in charge of the arrests were often motivated by racism or greed. (Internal reports mentioned policemen’s plans to take over the prisoners’ houses.) In one of the most grotesque consequences of this operation, the “dangerous aliens” arrested in Guatemala in 1942 included German-Jewish refugees who had recently fled the Third Reich. But in their eagerness to take action against foreign threats, American policymakers were unmoved by such tragedies. They accepted these incidents as collateral damage and sought, time and again, to enlarge the number of preemptive arrests.

The CPD’s campaign culminated in the creation of multiple concentration camps in the United States itself. American officials were convinced that they were better equipped to supervise and handle the Latin American detainees than their southern neighbors, some of whom had begun to complain about the high costs involved in holding them. In 1943, the CPD coordinated the deportation of eight thousand people from several Latin American countries to the United States. Forced onto crowded navy warships by Marine troops, they were shipped to San Francisco and New Orleans, where they were detained and processed by immigration officials. Most of the detainees were then sent to military bases in Texas, including Camp Seagoville, located a few dozen miles to the north of the Trump Administration’s proposed camps. They spent the war’s final years detained indefinitely without any charges brought against them, mostly working in local farms and factories. Unlike the asylum seekers held by CBP, these detainees enjoyed some modicum of decency. Camp authorities largely kept families together, provided basic schooling for children, and even allowed inmates to elect their own representatives, who organized cultural events. Still, because they were deemed enemy agents, most were deported at the war’s end alongside Axis POWs to Asia and Europe. Many of them would never see their homes again.

It was no accident that all these cruelties took place in the context of prolonged and brutal war. The pervasive fears over existential threats, the belief that foreign enemies were supported by internal subversion, and the sense that victory required the total destruction of our foes all fueled the conviction that “foreigners” were enemies and thus had no rights. The American concentration camps of the 1940s exemplified the logic of such war. Foreigners were guilty until proven otherwise.

THIS LOGIC HAD A LINEAGE and a name: “militant democracy,” a term first coined in 1935 by the political theorist Karl Loewenstein. A German-Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, Loewenstein arrived in the United States convinced that totalitarian and democratic regimes could not coexist. It was the nature of fascists and communists, he wrote in widely read academic essays, to infiltrate democratic regimes, exploit their freedoms of the press and speech, and destroy them from within. Long before the first shots of World War II were fired, Loewenstein claimed that an existential struggle between democracy and its enemies was already engulfing the entire globe. To win, democracies had to reform themselves. They had to become “militant.”

The heart of militant democracy was the suspension of laws and rights. Because totalitarianism operated especially through subversion, Loewenstein wrote, democrats had to get over their “legalistic blindness” and recognize that “the mechanism of democracy is the Trojan horse by which the enemy enters the city.” Governments had to move aggressively to limit rights—preemptively—to those deemed dangerous. Freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion would all be suspended, and the crackdown enforced through the creation of new, anti-totalitarian secret police forces. For Loewenstein, loyalty to the state preceded any discussion of rights. Anyone who questioned political norms found themselves outside the sphere of the law. “Fire should be fought with fire,” he wrote in 1935.

Throughout the 1930s, Loewenstein’s ideas were largely confined to academia. But World War II propelled an otherwise fringe concept like militant democracy to the maintenance of American power. To anxious government officials, the writings of Loewenstein and scholars like him captured new wartime exigencies. They clarified why curbing—and even abolishing—rights did not undermine democratic freedom, but actually enhanced it. Theories like Loewenstein’s also linked external and internal threats and rendered them indistinguishable. Japanese American or Latin American communities were thus the same—no matter where their members were born, they were both emissaries of global danger and thus not entitled to legal status. As his way of thinking spread, Loewenstein took on a more active role in America’s militant democracy. In 1943, he was recruited as legal advisor to the Justice Department, a position from which he joined the CPD and helped coordinate its campaign of surveillance, arrests, and deportations.

While Loewenstein ultimately returned to academic life, militant democracy outlived World War II. In the cold war’s harsh early years, some politicians and scholars continued to insist that international conflicts required the suspension of some rights at home. (The West German supreme court, for example, relied on militant democracy to outlaw the Communist Party in 1957.) Yet it wasn’t until the attacks on September 11 and the beginning of the war on terror that these notions reasserted themselves in the United States as forcefully as they did during World War II. The revival of militant democracy in the first decade of the 21st century helped prepare the ground for the tragedy unfolding in Texas.”

– Udi Greenburg, “The Logic of Militant Democracy: From domestic concentration camps to the war on terror.N+1, July 6, 2018.

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“It is important not to forget that the first concentration camps in Germany were the work not of the Nazi regime but of the Social Democratic governments, which interned thousands of communist militants in 1923 on the basis of Schutzhaft and also created the Konzentrationslager für Ausländer at Cottbus-Sielow, which housed mainly Eastern European refugees and which may, therefore, be considered the first camp for Jews in this century (even if it was, obviously, not an extermination camp). 

The juridical foundation for Schutzhaft was the proclamation of the state of siege or of exception and the corresponding suspension of the articles of the German constitution that guaranteed personal liberties. Article 48 of the Weimar constitution read as follows: “The president of the Reich may, in the case of a grave disturbance or threat to public security and order, make the decisions necessary to reestablish public security, if necessary with the aid of the armed forces. To this end he may provisionally suspend [ausser Kraft setzen] the fundamental rights contained in articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153.” 

From 1919 to 1924, the Weimar governments declared the state of exception many times, sometimes prolonging it for up to five months (for example, from September 1923 to February 1924). In this sense, when the Nazis took power and proclaimed the “decree for the protection of the people and State” (Verordnung zum Schutz von Volk und Staat) on February 28, 1933, indefinitely suspending the articles of the constitution concerning personal liberty, the freedom of expression and of assembly, and the inviolability of the home and of postal and telephone privacy, they merely followed a practice consolidated by previous governments.“

– Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Homo Sacer Omnibus. Stanford University Press, 2017. p. 138

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“Canada has come under fire for a lack of transparency in its immigration detention system and its practice of detaining vulnerable groups, including children and those with mental health conditions.

“The lack of independent national and international oversight bodies significantly contributes to the culture of secrecy surrounding the Canadian immigration detention system,” said a report by the Geneva-based Global Detention Project, an international research group that promotes the human rights of migrants in detention.

“There remain critical gaps in public information, including concerning which prisons are in use at any given time for immigration-related reasons.”

Immigration detention in Canada has been in the spotlight over the last two years with a series of deaths of migrants held in facilities for immigration violations. As of last November, the report said at least 16 people have died in immigration detention while in the custody of the Canada Border Services Agency since 2000.

On Wednesday, more than 2,000 Canadian health-care organizations and health-care providers, including doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists and midwives, signed an open letter calling on Ottawa to stop detaining children and end the Canada-United States bilateral agreement that restricts refugees to seeking asylum in the first country of their arrival.”

– Nicholas Keung, “Canada slammed for ‘culture of secrecy’ over immigration detention.” Toronto Star, June 27, 2018.

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“Escaped Prisoner Recaptured,” Toronto Globe. May 10, 1918. Page 09.

Austrian From Burwash Camp Taken at Niagara-on-the-Lake.

(Special Despatch to The Globe.)
Niagara Falls, Ont., May 9. – John Roze, an Austrian, who escaped from the internment camp at Burwash, Ont., has been arrested at Niagara-on-the-Lake, and will be sent back to Burwash. He escaped from Burwash some months ago, and a Province-wide search for him failed to locate him.

Roze managed to get over the Niagara River, and was subsequently arrested and given a forty days’ sentence in the County Jail at Lockport, his real identity not being suspected. After being released from Lockport Jail he crossed the river at Niagara-on-the-Lake to visit his parents. He was walking along the road when Pte. Leonard of the Military Police saw him, and thinking he looked suspicious questioned him. Roza’s broken English convinced the soldier that he had better take the man to headquarters. His description was sent broadcast, and Provincial Police identified the man as the escaped prisoner.

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“And like nearly every other detainee held at Guantánamo since 9/11, Gul had never been charged with a crime. The U.S. government was justifying his detainment under the law of war. In a secret government dossier on Gul released by Wikileaks, Gul (also known as Haroon al-Afghani) is described as “high risk” and of “high intelligence value.” The dossier alleges that he was an explosives expert and a high-ranking military strategist that had executed attacks on the Northern Alliance on behalf of Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin, or HIG, a party affiliated with al Qaeda in the 2000s. U.S. intel also indicates that, in 2001, Gul attempted to help Osama bin Laden escape from Tora Bora.

Gul was too polite to put it this way, but he was effectively saying that it was all, all of it, bullshit. His affiliation with HIG was the same as that of millions of other Afghans: The group ran the refugee camps he needed to survive. He said he supported his family by selling small goods, like used books and jars of honey. He said the reason he was in that guesthouse that night was because he was on the road, selling, trying to scrape together some money. He said the Afghans had grabbed the wrong person.

The government’s allegations were built on secret interrogations and unidentified sources named things like IZ-10026. Sullivan-Bennis came to believe that Gul was innocent. It had happened before: An alleged al Qaeda agent named Mustafa al-Aziz al-Shamiri was detained for 13 years before his release; during his PRB hearing, the government admitted it may have had the wrong man.

The PRB process, though, is not about guilt or innocence. It’s akin to a parole hearing: Are you ready to repent? One of Sullivan-Bennis’s supervising attorneys had called it “having to roll over and show them your tummy.” Gul believed he had committed no crimes for which to repent. But he wouldn’t be the first to be granted freedom through the review board by expressing remorse for things he’d never done.

Thomas Wilner is one of the lawyers who won the two landmark Supreme Court cases that established habeas corpus rights for Guantánamo detainees. The PRB process “is not based on evidence,” he told me. “You have to be contrite. What do you tell a client who wants to go, ‘Fuck you! I’m innocent!’”

That first meeting between Gul and Sullivan-Bennis would come just four days before the PRB convened. Then came the hearing.

“So he sits in this white room with oddly comfortable chairs that the detainees have never been allowed to sit in before,” Sullivan-Bennis recalled. “They prop him up at the head of the table, and he sinks into this enormous beige puffy chair and he faces this enormous screen.” On the giant screen were the floating heads of a six-member board representing the Department of Justice and the other federal agencies that weigh in on the clearance process for Guantánamo. “And then, essentially, it’s an interrogation.”

Later, Sullivan-Bennis would identify all manner of reasons why the hearing didn’t break their way. But in her view it all came down to prep—they just didn’t have enough time.

“In making this determination,” the official ruling read, “the Board considered the detainee’s … failure to acknowledge or accept responsibility for past activities. The Board welcomes seeing the detainee’s file in six months with greater candor.”

So Gul was not recommended for transfer. But it was OK. Much higher profile Guantánamo detainees had been released through the PRB. That included Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who’d been implicated both in recruiting three of the 9/11 hijackers and in planning the foiled “Millennium Plot” to detonate explosives at LAX. In all, 36 detainees have been cleared and released through the review board. At least seven of those had not been granted a transfer after their first hearing before eventually winning their freedom.

Toward the end of President Obama’s second term, he had greatly accelerated the process of clearing out Guantánamo. By the end of the Bush administration the detainee population was 245; by the end of the Obama administration, it was 41. As president, Hillary Clinton would likely have been as eager to cut these last men loose: Before leaving her post as secretary of state, in January 2013, Clinton had sent Obama a forceful and detailed memo urging him to shutter the prison for good.

The detainees refer to securing a transfer as “getting your paper.” In the late summer of 2016, there was real reason to hope that Gul would get his. He’d be prepared, properly prepared, for the next PRB hearing. Gul finally, finally, had a lawyer.”

– Amos Barshad, “Guantánamo, Forever.” The Marshall Project, February 28, 2018.

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Japanese Internment in Canada during World War II.

I had always known about Japanese internment in the United States, having studied World War II as a child and having taught lessons on it when I was a teacher. Today it’s a topic that’s becoming more and more common in the popular consciousness of America. However a topic I recently learned about is quite surprising, something I had never known before. Canada also interned people of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

The road to Japanese internment in Canada began only one day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. On December 8th, 1941 the Canadian government ordered the impounding of 1200 Japanese Canadian owned fishing vessels, a move that was seen as a defense measure. From here a number of measures were passed which served as stepping stones to internment. On December 17th, 1941 all persons of Japanese descent were required to register with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. On the 29th of February, 1942 the Defense of Canada Regulations were amended to forbid Japanese Canadians from owning land or growing crops. On the 26th of February, curfews were instituted, and Japanese Canadians were forbidden from owning motor vehicles, cameras, radios, firearms, ammunition, and explosives. Finally, on March 4th, the War Measures Act was amended to evacuate Japanese Canadians from the Pacific Coast. 

Altogether around 27,000 people, 14,000 of which were native born Canadians and some of which were veterans of World War I, were forcibly removed from the Pacific Coast. Most were interred in hastily built camps in the interior of British Columbia. Around 2,000 were forced to work in road camps, basically mobile camps that performed maintenance on roads, railways, or other transportation infrastructure. Another 2,000 were forced to work on beet farms in the prairies. All property that couldn’t be carried was seized and sold off for pennies on the dollar. This included land, houses, businesses, boats, vehicles, various valuables and personal items. Financial items were also seized such as stocks and bonds, while bank accounts were frozen and seized. The money raised by liquidating seized property was used to fund the internment program. 

Living conditions in the camps were rough. Many of the camps consisted of hastily built shacks and shanties,some were tent cities, some were ghost towns left over from long abandoned logging operations, while some were nothing more than farm buildings and animal stalls. The only item the government provided for internees was a potbellied stove. Everything else, including food, clothing, and toiletries had to be bought from special government commissaries. Since the internees had all of their property and assets seized, they often had no choice but to take part in menial work projects in order to feed and clothe themselves and their families. The Red Cross even had to bring in food shipments so that those who couldn’t work, such as the elderly or infirm, wouldn’t starve.

The war ended with Japan’s official surrender on September 2nd, 1945. However, newly freed internees found that they couldn’t return home. In August of 1944 Prime Minister Mackenzie King announced that Japanese Canadians who were to be repatriated after the war were forbidden from living west of the Rocky Mountains. This was actually a part of government policy to resettle Japanese Canadians, and drew popular support from Canadian voters. Parliamentarian Ian Mackenzie stated,

“It is the government’s plan to get these people out of B.C. as fast as possible. It is my personal intention, as long as I remain in public life, to see they never come back here. Let our slogan be for British Columbia: ‘No Japs from the Rockies to the seas.’”

 Newly freed internees found that they were legally forbidden from returning home but had to move east to new homes in eastern part of the country. Some refused to move east and were deported as a result. Most internees were unable to move east, having no money, means of transportation, or personal possessions, and likewise were forcibly deported. Altogether 


Japanese Canadians were deported after the war. Even the 200 Japanese Canadians who served in the Canadian Army during World War II returned to find that they had no rights, could not return home, and risked deportation. The policy of forbidding Japanese Canadians west of the Rockies remained in place until 1949.

In 1988 Prime Minister Brian Mulroney made an official apology for the internment program. All Japanese Canadians affect were awarded a $21,000 compensation package.

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“Austrian Loses Life In Internment Fire,” Toronto Globe. January 1, 1917. Page 08.

Eighty-four Other Alien Enemies Escape Death

Blaze At Laura Camp

Powell Kioitory Got Out, But Went Back Into Burning Building to Secure Some Personal Effects and Met His Death.

Fire destroyed the Laura internment camp building at the Sudbury district industrial farm near Farmlands, on the C.N.R. at an early hour on Saturday morning. One prisoner, Powell Kioitory, an Austrian, was burned to death. Eighty-four other prisoners escaped death, and Kloitory’s death is ascribed to the fact that he persisted in returning to the blazing dormitory, presumably to accure something in his bed.

Mr. S. A. Armstrong, Deputy Provincial Secretary, received the following official report by wire yesterday from the Superintendent:

Laura Camp, at Farmlands, C.N.R. station, was burned at 2.30 a.m. on December 30. The administration cottage, store and all outbuildings were saved. One man, an Austrian interned prisoner, Powell Kloitory, about forty years old, was burned to death. There were eight-four prisoners, and all but the one man were safely removed. The evidence shows that Kloitory had fully dressed, and had gone out of or down to the entrance of the dormitory, and had then returned back into the building, where he was met by another prisoner, who had returned to secure bed clothes, and was coming out.

Caught in Flames.
‘This prisoners took Kloitory by the arm and tried to get him to come out, but he jerked away, plunged back into the smoke, and was overcome. It is supposed that there was something in his bed that he desired to secure.

‘The fire started in the bakery from some unknown source. The night guard blew the fire signal and unlocked the double fire escape door provided, and in three minutes the prisoners were all out.

‘The District Coroner of Sudbury was promptly notified and held an inquest the same afternoon. He expressed himself as being satisfied with the action of the officers in charge.’ 

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