Friday, June 22, 2007

Mitt Romney and the Teen Torture Industry

George Romney's presidential ambitions were scuttled by his infamous remark that he had been "brainwashed" about Vietnam. It is to be hoped that Mitt Romney's statement that he wants to "double Guantanamo" will prove similarly fatal to his presidential bid:

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.

Please be sure to drop by The Right Source.


Anonymous said...

When the JBS fired you, it was immediately noticed by this former member. Your blog was pretty much the only reason why I would visit their website. At the same time that I realized ( by stumbling across the Welch report on the net) you had been fired, I was receiving letters from the JBS saying everything is A-OK. They also urged the faithful to stand with them during the Vance Smith crisis. Well needless to say I didn't. Since that time both my subscription to the New American and my membership have lapsed. My rationalization was that if, under the pretext of cleaning house, they were also ridding the organization of talented help, they are probably not an organization that deserves my hard earned cash. In summary thanks to your firing - Will Grigg - I am no longer a card carrying member of the JBS.

Anonymous said...

A large percentage of the population are involved in pedophilia. It is widespread. It is condoned/practiced by "nice, respectable" people. I stumbled across this sick revelation when I lived in Leesburg VA in Loudoun County which, by the way, has been the playground the well-to-do and well connected from Washington DC for generations. I lived in Leesburg for 10 years. It became painfully obvious that the neighborhood was an organized crime ring involved in, of course, illegal drugs, but also the child sex trade. I was naive and ignorant and reported the activities to "law enforcement", social services and school guidance counselors. Nothing was done, except that harassment of me and vandalism of my property escalated and still continues even after moving away. The child sex trade is national and international. It is protected by the "authorities". The town and county "law enforcement" in Leesburg/Loudoun were in the protection racket. The two local governments were as corrupt and perverted as the federal government. It is mind-numbingly terrifying that psycopaths of such magnitude are in control of government.

Unknown said...

You ROCK! Keep the truth coming. It's only a matter of time!
My Brother's Story

And be aware in 2 weeks at this very large education conference in DC. Mel Riddile, Principal of the YEAR in 2006 is speaking along with many other highly respected people. only problem is Mel, has a secret and he's done a good job of keeping it quiet while being rewarded. He was director of Straight VA for years. While my family was there. Expose him we must. You can get a bunch of info on him here.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

When my disabilities ended my military career, I came home to find myself courted by a couple of juvenile programs. They started well, I suppose, but fell apart for the usual reasons. While I can't deny there's a huge number of pedophiles among the power elite, as the second anonymous post indicates, I know of a certainty there are plenty of ordinary men and women who aren't.

I did have a chance to review, as a prospective employee, several youth correction programs before it became painfully obvious I was physically incapable of the work. From that limited experience, and my Christian youth work background, I wrote some comments on on my private blog for today. I quote:

As I understand it, the wilderness models were dropped, or perverted, largely because of whining from the staffers. Far too many venal idiots are hired. We simply don't have a strong pool of candidates for the job who can pass bureaucratic muster, largely because our society has struggled hard to destroy that sort of human development. Real people are labeled "trouble" by bureaucrats. Our ruling elites carry an acid fear and hatred for independent thinking and strong commitment to root human values. It tends to make people rise up in armed revolt when the government gets stupid -- as all governments inevitably do.

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent job of blogging on these issues. Very well done.

Bloggers, spread this info far and wide please. These maniacs like Sembler, Riddel and their kind must be exposed.

Anonymous said...

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You! May God's peace, and awsome might, surround and protect you, and yours, and your message.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for blogging about this all important, and all too often ignored subject. I was an inmate at spring creek lodge and spent almost 30 days in that small room pictured in your article called "the hobbit" and know full well everything you have stated in this article is true, and then some. It is horrible that any candidate would take the money used to torture teens and lure and fool parents into a cult like "program" which includes multiple three day seminars for parents.

I cannot thank you enough for writing such an articulate and well researched article, if only there were more journalists like yourself maybe this industry would be brought to it's knees once and for all.

If anyone wants to read my story click on my username and check out either one of my blogs.

Thanks again, for bringing light to this very dark subject.

Unknown said...

Having read all the remarks made and having followed the links suggested, seeing that Mel Riddile is a parasite at many taxpayer financed "education" venues is just so typical. People need to admit they can find these types of sadists working in most government schools. And various brainwashing programs are part of all schools. The scandals involved in these "wilderness" programs are just the tip of the iceberg. Wake up, people. Your government schools, that you are being bled dry to support, are destroying your kids, your country and your way of life.

JTL said...

I never knew anything like this existed, and wouldn't have believed except that you wrote it, Will. Incredible.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

This is a very important, but very disturbing, post. I'll bet that even the Marquis de Sade would be sickened by this.

nhforester said...

The blogs of Will Grigg, under the paternalistic view of the JBS were analogous to studio recordings of your favorite musical artist. The Will Grigg - on his own is mcuh closer to Will Grigg Live or Will Grigg unplugged. Belting out the Truth with no restraint - Yeah!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. My son is in one of these facilities currently (Cross Creek) and I am desperate to get him out. I have been fighting for weeks to get someone to hear my cause. Noone will listen to me about the abuse he has suffered and witnessed. Not the local authorities, not Utah authorities.. not the legal system in my own state, Arizona. I am heartbroken and it seems noone has cared or believed mee.. so thank you for showing me that someone does care. I hope somewhere out there the right person hears your plea, and mine... and the countless other victims whos voices have gone unheard .. and puts an end to these places for once and for all.
Thank you thank you thank you

William N. Grigg said...

Dear Anonymous --

Please contact me directly at WNGrigg (at)

I am sorry beyond expression to hear of your family's plight. God bless -- and please get in touch.

BrougarBlogger said...

Your link between these allegations of torture and Mitt Romney are so tenuous that it is almost laughable. Why are you so intent on linking Romney with something that he has no direct affiliation with? If you were to judge every candidate running for president based on the actions of people who support their campaign there wouldn't be enough crosses to support the crucifixions.

William N. Grigg said...

First of all, Ryan, you need to modulate your mock outrage.

Denying someone political support is hardly punitive, much less a crucifixion, and I can't think of a political candidate whose viewpoint and character are so transcendently pure that he deserves to be free-associated with the One who perished on the cross.

Secondly, if the links between Romney and the teen torture industry are so trivial, why doesn't Romney simply cut Sembler and Lichfield loose?

The answer is obvious: They're key members of his fundraising apparatus. In Sembler's case, the connection is pretty clear, because Romney reached out to him specifically. And Sembler is the godfather of the teen torture racket.

In politics, money creates a bond far stronger than love or kinship. That is not a tenuous connection.

The Edwards campaign had to jettison a blogger who had written some very offensive things about Catholics. Giuliani has his hands full with obscure campaign officials, as well.

Why should Romney be exempt from the same scrutiny, particularly when 1) we're discussing an ongoing enterprise of torture, and 2) Romney has made torture (albeit cloaked in euphemism) one of the policy touchstones of his campaign?

Anonymous said...

Did anonymous ever contact you about her son at Cross Creek? I know her... she might not have read your response after posting. She's been doing research, trying to find a way to help her son get out of there. If not, and you still want to talk to her, I can tell her to e-mail you...

Christian Prophet said...

I am also a Libertarian, as all Christians should be, however I have learned from Jesus to not judge by surface appearances or surface issues.

Looking deeper, Romney's heroism and heroic outlook are apparent. He deserves a deeper look.
An American Hero: Mitt Romney

Anonymous said...

Military school for teens is providing many beneficial educational programs; they also offer many other additional innovative programs to train them towards many useful activities. The school provides education with proper discipline and manners.

jones said...

I never expect that there are military school for boys treating them like a terrorist their quarters looks like not a home it's a prison war in the middle east.

Kaira said...

I found the post very interesting.

troubled teen said...

Troubled parents need to be very cautious in choosing an option for teenagers, as there are various types of troubled teens options choosing a specialized teen option with the help of professional educational consultant guidance is helpful.

Charlene said...

With this information, parents should take more time in choosing the best treatment center and program to help for troubled teens. This step is very critical in the recovery of your troubled teens.

Unknown said...

Thank you for trying to shine some light on this dark subject. It seems still very few are aware of this. How a modern civilized country can allow the torture of it's children like this is just beyond me.