Donald Trump’s extra-judicial facilities at the southern border are concentration camps. You can’t make them less ugly by changing their name.
A year ago, America learned Donald Trump’s ICE was separating children from parents – in our name. The Trump administration put babies and children in cages. The Secretary of Homeland Security tried to deny they were cages during congressional testimony. But no matter how she tried to deny or change the name, everyone knew those children were put in cages.
The Trump administration preferred different wording for the cages and preferred to call babies tender-aged children. That didn’t change the fact they were putting babies in cages.
Using words with the intent to make something look better than it is, is just as deceptive as using words to make something look worse than it is.
It’s with that in mind that I turn to the discussion about our concentration camps. It’s the same problem as with the tender-aged children in cages.
When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used the term “concentration camps” to describe these facilities, the reaction was predictable. Trump’s enablers and supporters did everything they could to smear AOC and anyone who agreed with her on this point. But words matter. When something is obviously wrong, the words used to describe it should cause outrage. To minimize or sanitize it would be to normalize it.
I fear if or when genocide or ethnic cleansing happens, we’ll be debating if we want to use such loaded terms because it might hurt the feelings of the enablers and enforcers, or that if we use words that are charged, then they are automatically hyperbolic.
I get the dangers of indulging in hyperbole. Calling Trump’s camps “concentration camps” is not such an indulgence.
When hand-wringing about hurt feelings and hyperbole fails, defenders of Trump’s camps will turn to suggest that calling them by their proper name insults the memories of Holocaust victims.
As the daughter of someone who survived the Holocaust, I can say with certainty one way to insult the memory of Holocaust victims and Holocaust survivors is to sanitize similar and comparable policies.
A year ago, Ben Ferencz, who prosecuted Nazis in Nuremberg, described Donald J. Trump’s policies of separating children from their parents and putting those children in cages as “crimes against humanity.”
Forcing desperate young parents to surrender custody of their weeping children because they were unable to comply with restrictive immigration rules is a disgrace to our great country. Such cruelty should be condemned as a crime against humanity.
— Benjamin Ferencz (@BenFerencz) June 20, 2018
That is significant.
I’ll respectfully suggest that when the media first reported on family separation and we saw those images of toddlers and children in cages, we knew that policy offended our sensitivities. In our minds, our hearts and our souls we know that what Donald Trump is doing in our name is wrong.
We don’t need Ben Ferencz to tell us that. The value of his observations lies in the fact that people were prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned or executed for committing crimes similar in character if not in scale.
I’d venture that Ferencz would agree that if separating families is a crime against humanity, and if putting children in cages is a crime against humanity, adding subhuman conditions to the equation would also qualify as a crime against humanity.
When I talk of subhuman conditions, I mean ICE won’t give children soap or tooth brushes. Children are denied education, play, or anything resembling affection and security.
The Twitter hashtag #DontLookAway documents the conditions that human beings in all stages of life are enduring. There are pictures of children sleeping on the ground. You see moldy showers, rotten food and generally unsanitary conditions. The Guardian reported on the conditions in these camps.
“Locking up children and then denying them legal aid, education, and even playtime is all part of this administration’s cruel efforts to dehumanize people who have come to the US seeking safety,”
There have been multiple deaths in a short period, and classic to countries that engage in crimes against humanity, ICE is no longer publishing the deaths on their website.
Under a change in policy, ICE is publishing what it calls a Death Detainee report
I’d venture that intentionally subjecting people to these conditions in the name of telling others your country “is full” is also a crime against humanity.
Whatever one may think about Ocasio-Cortez’s ideological preferences, she was right to call those facilities on the southern border concentration camps.
I came at this like most of us. The first impulse was to apply Godwin’s rule. When Chris Hayes tweeted that we should call Trump’s facilities at the southern border, “detention camps”, the guy who wrote Godwin’s law tweeted, “Chris, I think they are concentration camps. Keep in mind that one of their functions “by design” is to punish those individuals and families who are detained. So even the term is appropriate.
Chris, I think they’re concentration camps. Keep in mind that one of their functions *by design* is to punish those individuals and families who are detained. So even the “charged” term is appropriate.
— Mike Godwin (@sfmnemonic) June 18, 2019
By Godwin’s definition, these are concentration camps.
We know that Trump established several policies intended to punish and deter individuals and families daring to seek refuge in America. Putting people in subhuman conditions is a continuation of the same logic.
The phrase “concentration camp” conjures images of the Nazi death camps. Yet, as authorities on the history of concentration camps point out, such facilities were not exclusive to Nazi Germany.
During an interview with Christ Hayes, Andrea Pitzer, who wrote an authoritative book on the history of concentration camps said of the facilities on our southern border,
“What the U.S. is doing at the U.S.-Mexico border today by detaining hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants and children “fits very cleanly” inside the historical definition of concentration camps,”
Pitzer acknowledged it would also be accurate to call those facilities “irregular detention” or “extrajudicial detention”
When a leading authority on the history of concentration camps says Trump’s facilities are concentration camps, I believe them.
In a Tweet, Berin Szoka, sketched a history of concentration camps and the countries that used them.
🇪🇸 Cuba, 1895-98
🇬🇧 Boer War, 1900-02
🇺🇸 Philippines, 1901-02
🇬🇧🇩🇪🇫🇷🇺🇸 interning foreigners, WWI
🇺🇸🇬🇧🇯🇵🇩🇪 interning foreigners, WWII
🇷🇺 Gulag, 1919-53
🇺🇸 on 🇲🇽 border today
Actual DEATH camps:
WHY IS THIS HARD?
— Berin Szóka (@BerinSzoka) June 19, 2019
When experts who studied the history of concentration camps say what we have are concentration camps, I believe them.
When someone who has been in a concentration camp calls the facilities at the southern border, concentration camps, I believe them.
In this case, the person is George Takei, who tweeted.
“I know what concentration camps are. I was inside two of them, in America. And yes, we are operating such camps again.”
I know what concentration camps are. I was inside two of them, in America. And yes, we are operating such camps again.
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) June 19, 2019
Politicians who espouse such awful and inhumane policies are not going to present them as they are. They’ll make the policies sound honorable, or at least not as disgusting as they are. But whether you serve someone trash on a garbage can lid or on a bone china plate, it remains trash.
This is a no brainer. The conditions, character and intent of the facilities at the southern border are consistent with concentration camps, according to people with knowledge of concentration camps.
The policies from which that policy derive are crimes against humanity according, to a man who prosecuted people who committee crimes against humanity.
The only people who are offended by the fact that AOC called Trump’s camps concentration camps are Trumps defenders, enablers and supporters.
They seem more concerned about the phrase then they are about the fact that human beings are put in subhuman conditions solely because they sought asylum in America. It’s inevitable some of those people will die. It’s also inevitable that many of them will live with the trauma for the rest of their lives. Ask me how much I care if calling these facilities concentration camps hurts Trump’s feelings or anyone else who dares to justify them.
Ms. Woodbury has a graduate degree in political science, with a minor in law. She is a qualified expert on political theory with a specific interest in the nexus between political theories and models and human rights.
Based on her interest in human rights and the threats that authoritarian regimes are to them, Ms. Woodbury’s masters thesis examined the influence of politics on the enforcement of international criminal law was cited in several academic studies.
Published work includes case summaries for the War Crimes Research Office.
She has an extensive background doing legal research in international and domestic law.
Ms. Woodbury’s work for politicusUSA includes articles on voting rights, the right to asylum and other civil/human rights.