Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The return of concentration camps on US soil

Remember The Siege? The 1998 Denzel Washington/Annette Bening flick about the US government rounding up all Arab-Americans in the wake of a series of bombings seemed like heavy-handed paranoia at the time. Then came Sept 11, and the FBI began rounding up and detaining thousands of Arab-Americans for questioning. It was WWII all over again, when Japanese-Americans were pulled from their homes and held without charge in POW-style concentration camps. All that was missing was the concentration camps.

Guess what?

According to this rather undernoticed article, Halliburton has been awarded yet another no-bid contract, this one to build detention centers within the US. (Halliburton also built the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, camp where thousands of "enemy combatants" are being held incommunicado.)

There seem to be contradicting stories about exactly what branch of the government has contracted for the camps, or precisely what their use will be for. The prevelant story is that the camps will be used in the event of an "immigration emergency", which is vague. Regardless of label, once built the camps could be used for almost any purpose the Bush administration desires.

Following the Supreme Court's ruling that the president has the power to detain American citizens outside the judicial system, and given this administration's dismal civil rights track record, I wouldn't be surprised if that purpose involved American citizens of Middle Eastern descent becoming "disappeared".

Since articles older than 14 days get archived by the Press-Telegram, here is the full text, with apology.

Halliburton subsidiary nets contract amid suspicion

By Mason Stockstill, Staff writer

A Houston-based construction firm with ties to the White House has been awarded an open-ended contract to build immigration detention centers that could total $385 million a move some critics called questionable.

The contract calls for KBR, a subsidiary of oil engineering and construction giant Halliburton, to build temporary detention facilities in the event of an "immigration emergency," according to U.S. officials.

"If, for example, there were some sort of upheaval in another country that would cause mass migration, that's the type of situation that this contract would address," said Jamie Zuieback of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"Essentially, this is a contingency contract."

Under the contract, which was awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, KBR could also be tasked to operate one or more temporary detention facilities, and to develop a plan for responding to a natural disaster in which ICE personnel participate in relief efforts.

The contract is good for one year, with the option for four one-year extensions.

The open-ended nature of the contract raises concerns about overcharging and other potential abuse, said Charlie Cray, director of the Washington-based Center for Corporate Policy and a frequent Halliburton critic.

The Government Accounting Office has criticized both Halliburton and KBR for cost overruns and inappropriately obtaining government projects under a similar contingency-based program connected to reconstruction work in Iraq, Cray said. Halliburton's billions of dollars in revenue from federal contracts, many of them awarded without competitive bidding, have made it a frequent target of critics who accuse the Bush administration of cronyism.

Vice President Dick Cheney is Halliburton's former CEO.

KBR also has faced allegations that, through subcontractors, it hired numerous illegal immigrants to perform rebuilding work in the Gulf Coast region following Hurricane Katrina, and paid them sub-minimum wages. The company's hiring practices in Iraq have come under scrutiny for the alleged exploitation of foreign workers.

But KBR officials said the contract for detention facilities is well-deserved, because of the firm's experience in building infrastructure and support networks for U.S. military and law enforcement.

KBR's revenues totaled $3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2005, according to company figures released Friday, and Halliburton plans to sell part of the subsidiary in the coming months.

"We are especially gratified to be awarded this contract because it builds on our extremely strong track record in the arena of emergency operations support," said Bruce Stanski, KBR's vice president of government and infrastructure, in a statement.

There's no guarantee that any work will be performed under the contract; if no immigration emergency or natural disaster occurs, there won't be anything for KBR to do, said company spokeswoman Cathy Mann.


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