As I've pointed out before, Romney's credentials as a social and fiscal conservative are as counterfeit as Pamela Anderson's mammalian anatomy (and just as beguiling to the weak-minded).
His only selling point to the Evangelical Nationalist voting bloc -- apart from his forgettably photogenic looks -- is his commitment to the doctrine of presidential omnipotence, particularly with respect to the detention and torture of suspected terrorists and "enemy combatants."
The applause that rewarded Romney's endorsement of Gitmo-plus indicates that for the central core of True Believers within the GOP, nothing is more important than preserving the president's power to detain and torture people at whim.
For several months I have been warning that behind Romney's public image -- he looks and acts like preternaturally well-preserved Osmond Brother -- we can find something very close to absolute evil: A variety of authoritarian "conservatism" that endorses the torture and sexual mistreatment of children. Those warnings have been vindicated by a lawsuit filed against Robert Lichfield, co-chairman of Romney's Utah Finance Committee.
We know what's behind the smiles: Mitt Romney and Pat Robertson strike a pose during Regent University's 2007 Commencement Ceremony.
Lichfield has helped raise $2.7 million for Romney in Utah, including $300,000 at a February event in St. George. Over the past decade, Lichfield has been co-chairman of the Utah-based World-Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS), a corporation that makes $70 million per year running an archipelago of torture camps – many of them located off-shore – in which troubled American youngsters have been subjected to torture as a means of behavior modification (BM).
WWASPS is a major player in the "tough love" industry, which runs camps, retreats, and other private reform institutions for teenagers deemed to be incorrigible. The WWASPS approach is an outgrowth of methods pioneered by Straight, Inc., which operated a similar chain of BM facilities until being overwhelmed by lawsuits. Mel Sembler, the Flordia-based shopping mall magnate who operated Straight, Inc. with his wife Betty, is another key fundraiser for the Romney campaign.
The polluted fountainhead of these programs was a federally funded program called The Seed, which was exposed by a 1974 Senate Judiciary Committee investigation as employing the same “highly refined `brainwashing' techniques employed by the North Koreans” against American POWs. And all of this was an outgrowth of the cynical, murderous fraud called the War on Drugs.
In her indispensable book Help at Any Cost, Maia Szalavitz documented how WWASPS and kindred programs “utilize punishments banned for use on criminals and by the Geneva Convention. Beatings, extended isolation and restraint, public humiliation, food deprivation, sleep deprivation, forced exercise to the point of exhaustion, sensory deprivation, and lengthy maintenance of stress positions are common.”
Some teenagers selected for forced enrollment in BM programs have been treated exactly like terrorist suspects, suffered “extraordinary rendition” at the hands of rented thugs. Many have been kidnapped from their beds (with the consent of parents who had succumbed to a “hard sell” by a BM program pitchman) and taken to an offshore detention facility in the Cayman Islands, Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, American Samoa, Australia, France, or even the Czech Republic; yes, the BM industry, like the CIA's torture gulag, made use of assets in a former Iron Curtain nation.
The methods used by WWASPS personnel are likewise uncannily like the "enhanced interrogation techniques" referred to by Romney. (That phrase, as used by Bush and his minions, is a direct translation of the German expression used by the Nazi Gestapo to describe exactly the same methods.)
At one BM facility in Puerto Rico, “teens were found bound and gagged with nooses around their necks,” observes Szalavitz. At "High Impact," a WWASPS detention center in Mexico, teenage victims were locked in dog cages. (See the photo at left.) One survivor of that facility described how he was nearly drowned to death by a group of older kids who -- made feral through prolonged mistreatment -- hoped that the murder would shut the program down. Amberly Knight, former director of the WWASPS-affiliated Dundee Ranch in Costa Rica, testifies that food deprivation was commonly used to punish inmates, and particularly rebellious kids were taken to a tiny isolation room and forced to kneel on concrete for up to 14 hours a day.
We don't need no stinkin'... well, you get the point: A bathroom facility at the WWASPS "High Impact" gulag in Mexico.
Inmates at a WWASPS program in Samoa were sometimes confined for long periods in an "ISO Box," a three-foot by three-foot box akin to a North Vietnamese “tiger cage.” Others were hog-tied with duct tape or beaten by staffers. When the Samoan government began a child abuse inquiry, WWASPS hastily shut down the facility.
More like something from Gollum's diseased mind: This tiny torture cubicle at Spring Creek Lodge, a WWASPS camp in Montana, was called "The Hobbit."
WWASPS's Spring Creek Lodge in Montana featured a tiny disciplinary cubicle called "The Hobbit" in which some inmates were confined for weeks or months at a time and fed nothing but beans and bananas. One counselor at Spring Creek was charged with sexually molesting two boys who had been imprisoned in The Hobbit.
Mark Runkle, who spent two and a half years on the staff at the Spring Creek facility, has described how detainees would be rousted in the middle of the night and taken into the nearby woods for "tests of will."
"They take kids down to the Vermilion Bridge at night, blindfold them, and push them off into the river," Runkle recalled. "They take them off into the woods, and they come back hurt. They claim it's a mind-increaser. I think it breaks the kids down -- breaks their will down. Mentally, they do damage. Emotionally, too."
Last December, 133 plaintiffs – survivors of WWASP facilities, along with parents and other loved ones – filed a lawsuit (.pdf) against Richfield in the US District Court for Utah, claiming that inmates of the residential programs were “subjected to physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse.”
The parents suing Lichfield, notes The Hill, “sent their kids to WWASPS-affiliated schools such as Cross Creek Center for Boys in LaVerkin, Utah; Majestic Ranch Academy in Randolph, Utah; and The Academy at Ivy Ridge in Ogdensburg after they got in trouble for insubordination, drug use or petty theft. The parents learned of the boarding schools through Teen Help, a business owned by Lichfield that matched parents and their children with boarding schools around the country and [abroad] ... Plaintiffs have alleged that Lichfield made millions from the schools.”
Among the allegations of abuse outlined in the lawsuit are the following:
*Placement in isolation for long periods of time, and at times, including being locked in small boxes and cages, and locked up in basements, and forced to assume distorted and painful physical positions for long periods of time;*Exposure to extreme (hot and cold) temperatures for long periods of time;
*[Being] kicked, beaten, thrown and slammed to the ground;
*[Being] bound and tied by hands and/or feet;
*[Being] chained and locked in dog cages;
*[Being] forced to lie in, or wear, urine and feces as one method of punishment;
*[Being] forced to clean and scrub toilets and floors with their toothbrush and then use the toothbrush afterwards; [...]
*Sexual abuse, which included forced sexual relations and acts of fondling and masturbation performed on them; [...]
*[Being] Threatened with severe punishment, including death, if they told anyone of their abuses and poor living conditions; [...]
*[Being] subjected to [a] buddy system where older students were allowed to physically, mentally, and sexually abuse younger students and manage them as part of a `cleansing' process....
This institutionalized perversion thrived in a program that Lichfield said was intended to combat the "breakdown of the family."
"When the family is not functioning, society suffers," he explained in a 1993 telephone interview. It's not obvious to rational people how officially sanctioned sadism can help fix what's been broken by the family's decline, but Lichfield has found sadism and sanctimony to be a profitable combination.
And there is something utterly horrifying about the fact that Romney tapped not one, but two key people in the Teen Torture Industry to raise money for his presidential campaign. This obviously raises questions about where and how those funds have been raised. But the more serious issue is this: Romney himself has embraced the use of torture, however euphemistically described, as a central function of the presidency.
Why should we doubt the seriousness of Romney's desire to "double Guantanamo," when some of his closest allies have been running a global detention and torture network for troubled American teenagers?
Point of personal privilege....
I first wrote about this subject for The New American magazine in March of last year. Last September, shortly before I was fired by the, ahem, heroes running that magazine's sponsoring organization, I touched upon the subject again in a piece about Mel Sembler published in the JBS News Feed.
Just before I was fired, I published a three-part series describing how the GOP's leadership and much of its rank and file -- the self-anointed Champions Of All That Is Decent -- had embraced torture, both at home (via Sembler's Behavior Modification programs and related efforts) and abroad (at Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, and elsewhere). See here, here, and here for that three-part series, as well as here for an essay -- clearly identifiable as a satire, albeit one inspired by a sense of mortal disgust over the repellent spectacle of bullying arrogance the GOP had become -- that serves as a sort of postscript.
Those essays, published on my own time and in a blog for which I alone was liable, figure prominently in the rationalizations used to justify my firing in letters to TNA subscribers. I say "rationalizations" -- plural -- because the people responsible for that decision have never settled on one clear reason for firing me.
The individual who took the initiative in having me fired has said on more than one occasion that the essays referred to above were hampering the organization's fund-raising and recruiting efforts, which prompts me to wonder why he was trawling for money and volunteers in that badly polluted authoritarian pond, rather than doing what Ron Paul has done: Offering an appeal to freedom-focused people irrespective of party label.
Surely, an organization devoted to "Less Government, More Responsibility, and - with God's Help - a Better World" shouldn't be inordinately concerned about offending the kind of people who can countenance child torture. You might want to ask that fellow about this, but only if you're not particular about being told the truth.
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