Friday, February 03, 2006

Bush donor exports kids to Jamaican torture camp

I had a brief exchange with John Gorenfeld the other day, and he mentioned his new article for AlterNet about the "teen rehab industry" and its financial ties to the GOP. He was apparently "having the damndest time getting anyone to pay attention to the fact that GOP pols help export kids to gulags for profit. Literally."

Even though he should have expected the reaction it got from the increasingly stupefied American sheeple, "yawn, who's on (insert 'reality' show name here) this week," it's still hard to believe when the story goes like this:

As a teen at Tranquility Bay, you can't call home and are escorted between rooms by Jamaican "chaperones." Talk out of turn and your punishment might be that a trio of guards wrestles you to the ground. "They start twisting and pulling your limbs, grinding your ankles," a student told the British newspaper The Guardian. Not knowing when you'll go home, you might take cold showers and watch "emotional growth" videos. The promise is that you will return a respectful, happy teen. But many WWASPS alumni who've banded together at online survivor websites like Tranquility Bay Fight and Fornits say their lives haven't been saved, they've been devastated.

Several WWASPS schools have been shut down after abuse claims. Tranquility Bay's counterpart, High Impact, a WWASP affiliate in Mexico, closed in 2002 after dark stories emerged. Teens said they were kept in dog cages. Two parents, Chris Goodwin and Stephanie Hecker, told the Rocky Mountain News their children were made to lie in their underwear for three nights with fire ants roaming over them and were threatened with a cattle prod if they scratched.

In December, Rep. Miller asked Congress's nonpartisan General Accounting Office (GAO) to launch a fact-finding probe into similar schools, claiming the $1.2 billion teen rehabilitation clinic industry is shrouded in secrecy. Miller's office is awaiting word from the GAO on the investigation request. After a call to the GAO, AlterNet was told no decision had been made yet as to whether to launch the study, which would look into whether the industry was receiving special tax treatment or using fraudulent marketing techniques. Asked why he requested the probe, Rep. Miller explained, "Far too little is known about the so-called 'behavior modification' industry, even as it has surged in size since the 1990s, and that is why I have asked the GAO to review it… There is no excuse for allowing children to be placed in unlicensed programs where their physical or emotional health is jeopardized."

But company president Kay told AlterNet he questioned the congressman's motives. "I think that he must just want to be powerful, or seen as, 'oh, the guy that saved all these children from abuse,'" says Kay. "My fear is that he has a vendetta."

The WWASPS schools rake in about $80 million a year. Claiming to enlist about 1,250 students (the official number has dropped from 2,500 in 2003), the company schools are part of a wider industry, estimated to hold 10,000 teenagers, that is rarely covered by the news media.

Miller, senior Democrat on the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, is pushing for a bill, H.R. 1738, to increase state licensing of the teen control trade and hold Americans who run foreign discipline schools accountable to U.S. laws. Company president Kay, however, suggested Miller may also have a partisan, anti-Republican motive against WWASPS.

It's true that WWASPS is generous to the GOP. The schools and "teen transport" company are run by a web of cell-like corporate entities that deny their interconnectedness — but share family members, billing addresses and other obvious signs of affiliation. At the top is founder Bob Lichfield, who lives in Utah on a posh ranch, his lifestyle and political presence fueled by tuition payments. According to the Salt Lake City Tribune Bob Lichfield and his family and business associates have given given [sic] over $1 million to GOP politics at the local and national level. (More…)

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