In 2003, during the genocidal and criminal U.S. war against Iraq, the term “shock and awe” was propagated.
The British Telegraph wrote 10 years later on March 19, 2013: “One expression above all others has become associated with the invasion of Iraq: ‘shock and awe.’ Developed at the Pentagon, ‘shock and awe’ was a doctrine designed to leave the enemy so demoralized and disoriented that its will to resist crumbled. … It has come to mean the application of overwhelming force, the effective obliteration of the enemy, and for many the term ‘shock and awe’ has come to epitomize the crudeness of the … [U.S.] assault on Iraq.” (tinyurl.com/y3vmfqgo)
The Trump war against migrants — as well as the historic war against incarcerated people of color — employs the “shock and awe” tactic. No bombs are being dropped as they were in Iraq — a crime that Washington must be forced to account for. Although nothing can replace the people who were massacred or the culture that was destroyed, the U.S. nonetheless must be forced to pay reparations to the people of Iraq.
It is a different kind of war, but the attacks against migrants and the incarcerated are a war nevertheless. Despite the overwhelming assault, migrants and the imprisoned continue to organize and fight back, just as the people of Iraq did.
There may be no bombs, but prison cell bars have come to symbolize tremendous shock and awe.
Organized solidarity is urgently needed.
Detained, depressed and dying
On May 21, NBC news issued a damning report of conditions for migrants detained in for-profit centers. Just like U.S. prisons that incarcerate more people than any other country in the world, these centers amount to dehumanizing criminal chambers of horror. Willingly or not, administrators of these jails and detention centers are torturing the detained.
Scholars and social scientists have amply documented how segregation has no social relevance; it amounts to torture. Incarcerated people enter detention already traumatized. Whether they are undocumented or accused of alleged robbery, the scales of justice are already tipped to crush, not rehabilitate or assist, them.
NBC writes that thousands of detained migrants “were outlined in a trove of government documents that shed new light on the widespread use of solitary confinement for immigrant detainees in ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] custody under both the Obama and Trump administrations.” (tinyurl.com/yy8zng7w)
The documentation paints “a disturbing portrait of a system where detainees are sometimes forced into extended periods of isolation for reasons that have nothing to do with violating any rules.”
Who is being detained and why? If disabled migrants are in need of a wheelchair, a cane or have a prosthetic, they are put into isolation. If they say they are gay or transgender, they are put into isolation. If they complain against abuse from the guards, they are rushed into isolation.
If they are so depressed — as was one trans woman, 36-year-old Dulce Rivera, described by NBC as being from Central America — and they try to commit suicide like so many detainees do, they are put in isolation.
This amounts to the government pouring gas on a fire.
The New York Times reported on Oct. 2, 2018, that migrants detained in the country’s largest immigration detention facility in Adelanto, Calif., regularly constructed nooses out of bed sheets in an attempt to commit suicide. The newspaper cited a government report which stated that 15 out of 20 cells contained these nooses. (tinyurl.com/yyle5mll) Did the government then assign psychological services to prevent suicide? Of course not.
Solitary confinement is torture
Conditions are horrible at migrant detention centers, but they are far worse in regular prisons. A 2012 American Psychological Association report documented the impact of the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. It quoted Craig Haney, a psychologist and professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who was appointed that year to a National Academy of Sciences committee which studied high rates of incarceration in the U.S.
Haney toured and inspected dozens of U.S. prisons and interviewed hundreds of prison staff and inmates. According to him, the approximately 80,000 inmates in solitary confinement are “at grave risk of psychological harm” and “the conditions of confinement are far too severe to serve any kind of penological purpose.”
The APA stated: “At a June 19 hearing, Haney showed pictures to illustrate solitary confinement’s harsh conditions, including filthy cells that are ‘scarcely larger than a king-sized bed,’ he said. As a result of the endless monotony and lack of human contact, ‘for some prisoners … solitary confinement precipitates a descent into madness. Many inmates experience panic attacks, depression and paranoia, and some suffer hallucinations,’ he said.”
The report continues: “Former inmate Anthony Graves, who spent 18 years on death row, including 10 in solitary confinement for a murder he didn’t commit, drove home Hanley’s points. ‘I would watch guys come to prison totally sane, and in three years they don’t live in the real world anymore,’ he said. One fellow inmate, Graves said, ‘would go out into the recreation yard, get naked, lie down and urinate all over himself. He would take his feces and smear it all over his face.’” (tinyurl.com/y3psc5am)
Graves represents a heroic resister. He managed to survive U.S. prisons. But the countless unknown people, U.S. or foreign-born, who are jailed, shackled, tortured, made fun of, taunted and criminalized for being poor or a person of color — and who continue to be tortured — must be defended.
The use of shock and awe in prisons is an inhumane tactic applied to workers who merely want to survive — and to live their lives.
It is time to open up the jails and lock up the Trumps of the world.