Saturday, February 11, 2006

Architects of Nebulous Detention

[Image: The New Frontier, a special report by TIME Magazine, 2001]

It was announced last week, that Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton (long time purveyors of a certain brand of 'military urbanism', and, of course, the makers of Guantanamo Bay Detention Center), have secured a $385 million dollar contract by the Department of Homeland Security to allegedly construct detention and processing facilities here in the U.S. in the event of a national emergency. The driving strategy behind the agreement implies that such centers would mainly be used to detain illegal immigrants and border-crossers from Mexico, as a needed supplement to the perpetual burden of current lacking holding facilities, and for which the number of border-crossers arriving in this country could continue to rise at alarming rates. The New York Times pointed out in this article, that the centers would only be built in the case of an emergency, such as the time when thousands of Cubans braved the oceans on makeshift rafts to reach the shores of Florida. The article mentions that such centers might never actually get built unless new similar emergencies arise.

[Image: New York's Pier 57 Detention Center, Halliburton Detention Camps For Political Subversives, Paul Joseph Watson/Prison | February 1 2006]

My first question is, how would waiting for an emergency to occur before building accommodations serve as planning for 'better preparedness'? And, given that thousands of Katrina victims still remain un-housed around the country today, some of which were even recently evicted from their FEMA-sponsored hotels, then why is this money not going towards immediate assistance, like replacement housing, or even more affordable housing stock in general?

[Image: Baxter Immigration Detention Facility, Photo: Bryan Charlton in The Australian Financial Review]

Of course, the most frightening thing about this news, (aside from the obvious), is that the contract seems to keep a certain ambiguity around how these facilities would play into larger plans for responding to any type of unforeseeable national emergency, should one emerge. The resulting urbanism could resemble something of a cross between an immigration shelter facility, temporary housing structures for disaster victims, a military prison, an urban refugee camp, or, perhaps even something more secretive as it has not yet been defined. Again, large contracts are granted to Halliburton long before there is even a specific use for the money, which seems to be held in a potentially dubious semantic escrow, until this undisclosed definition of need presents itself. Halliburton is the ideal contractor waiting for attack. Doin' Rummy's flexible urbanism proud.

[Image: Newly arrived illegal immigrants join others in the compound in Arizona run by the U.S. Border Patrol.]

So, what do you get when you combine the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, DHS, and Halliburton? Ambiguous contracts for ambiguous national crisis emergency centers. Throw in the fact that anyone can be deemed an 'enemy combatant' and held indefinitely without trial; that border crossers may soon become felons under the Patriot Act for being in the U.S. illegally; that humanitarian volunteers aiding dying immigrants could also be punishable by law; that free speech protestors crossing security barriers may be automatically jailed under Patriot Act law; that the country's latest approach to the border has been to focus on building a militarized wall and extra detention facilities instead of more sustainable economic development ties with our southern continental neighbors; and, that the homeless in this country are becoming increasingly criminalized and jailed over and over again, whilst 385 million dollars is now held in limbo waiting to fund a new source of militarized urbanism projects which, so far, appears as fuzzy financial blueprints for a nebulous range of internment camps, where any one of the people from the scenarios described above could end up.
Needless to say, it's the kind of contract that doesn't leave the best of feelings in your stomach.