Paul Manafort’s violation of bail conditions while awaiting trial and his abrupt remand started me thinking about jails and such. The images of children being forcibly separated from their moms and being held in a former Walmart department store, now a detention center – I still calls it jail – kept me focused on detention and deprivation of liberty. After all, I have had more than a fleeting brush with jails over the years.
My first encounter with jail was pleasant. In July, 1946 led by a Slovenian “coyote” we walked through the night to escape communist Yugoslavia. At daybreak we turned ourselves in at an Austrian border checkpoint manned by British occupation troops seeking political refugee status. While my mom and grandmother were being interrogated, my brother and I drank sugar sweet tea – a war time luxury – with soldiers on the front steps. The men realized that my brother and I were dead on our feet. They opened one of the jail cells and covered us up with blankets for a welcome nap. All in all, a nice introduction to jail, not like what is now happening in Texas and Arizona.
My second jail experience during Christmas week in 1961 was the result of a street brawl in the parking lot of a Friendly’s restaurant. Forget the details, of who did what to whom, bottom line was that I was thrown into the back seat of a squad car and taken to Hartford’s Old Main Street jail, to a cell reeking of urine and vomit. The cacophony of sounds – shouts, yells, curses – was overwhelming. I was there for about four hours before being bailed out. But that experience made me promise to never, ever find myself in that position again.
Once I started practicing law it was more of the same. The Old Bronx Borough Courthouse, next to the old 3rd Avenue El, had a jail in the back. The guards treated inmates and the lawyers alike, except lawyers were exempt from the occasional shove, kick or punch. Rikers Island, the jail in the middle of the East River and Flushing Bay, was a dystopian nightmare. Access was by a steel grill encased bus over a bridge manned by armed guards. People were strip- searched in public with visitors shorn of privacy and decency. Rikers was “characterized by beatings, stabbings, and brutal treatment not only from the guards but also from inmates … deployed as ‘enforcers’ by the guards” – a place to avoid.
I visited a guy convicted of manslaughter at Sing Sing, the “correctional” facility at Ossining, New York made famous by Hollywood’s James Cagney flics. It was just a grimmer, older version of Rikers Island. This was true of all of the domestic jails that I visited.
In contrast was Allenwood, the Club Fed facility on Pennsylvania with a rolling green field and pasture campus. The split rail fences kept the cows off the premises, not the inmates in. You met your client or loved one in a park like setting at picnic tables in good weather. Inmates were given weekend passes usually spent at a nearby Marriott Hotel complete with a lush tropical garden and indoor swimming pool. For the “made guys” this option was for mistresses only, not wives.
My first brush with foreign jails was at Brazil’s notorious Women’s Penitentiary at Bangu, near Rio de Janeiro. I was representing two mules – two dumb, white, blond teenage girls from Trumbull, Connecticut who had been arrested transporting drugs. Housing was dormitory style, open to the weather fronting a large communal courtyard where everything, including safety was for sale. The two blond mules were dead in the water, facing a sure 10 years in that slammer. That was until the American Consul took pity, arranged for bail, two temporary passports and the next flight out of Brazil, proving that God’s law trumps Caesar’s.
Military jails are a different kettle of fish. The one I visited, Cárcel de Caseros in Buenos Aires, run by Argentina’s military Junta was originally an orphanage. During the “Dirty War” [1974-1982] it housed communists, Monteneros, Peronists, dissidents of both sexes and all persuasions. While 30,000 are believed to have died in that war, some 18,000 became “detenidos-desaparecidos” and were no more. The children of the “desaparecidos” were separated from parents and their whereabouts and identities are not known. It was later established that the Junta had 340 holding facilities – detention or concentration camps. Argentina’s separation of children from their parents, the numerous detention facilities for dissidents are a dark premonition of what can happen here on our southern border.
Which brings us back to Manafort, the separation of a child from a parent, the detention of that child and what, if anything, to do about it.
Manafort is a wealthy privileged white guy who ran with the rich and influential “one percenters” of this world. He amassed a fortune from domestic movers and shakers and Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs. When arrested he was able to put up a $10 million-dollar bond and remain in luxurious house arrest sporting an ankle bracelet, sipping a good vintage Bordeaux while awaiting trial. Only an additional crime – suborning perjury – while on bail really pissed off the judge and landed him in jail. But remember, there are some 485,000 people in the United States who are currently in jail awaiting trial.
You would think that the numbers alone would bring about bail reform. I regret that reasonable bail is only for the few able to afford it and not for those who are only cloaked with a presumption of innocence. I wonder if the moms and the kids separated at the border are given a chance for bail while awaiting a decision on their asylum application? I think not, they are not of the coddled, privileged Manafort class.
As to the ICE and Homeland Security agents manning the Southern border I would remind them that the mistreatment of prisoners – yes, that is what is being done to the detained moms and kids – is a crime under both international law and domestic law. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees everyone “the right to life, liberty and security of person” [Article 3], that no one shall be “subjected to torture or to cruel, or inhuman … treatment or punishment” [Article 5], that they shall be afforded protection from “violation of this Declaration” [Article 7] and that “no one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest … [and] … detention” [Article 9].
So, what should the ICE and Homeland Security agents do? Well my suggestion is to grow some balls and just refuse to separate and detain the moms and the kids. Federal law protects them: Title 5 United States Code § 2302 makes it illegal to fire or punish a civil servant “for refusing to obey an order that would require the individual to violate a law”.
If the National Guard or other military personnel is involved I remind that the mistreatment of prisoners is also a crime under Article 93 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and that it is a crime to obey and carry out an illegal order [Articles 90 – 92 UCMJ]. The “just following orders” defense ain’t going to work if charges are ultimately brought.
Jeff Sessions, the current Attorney General would have you believe that “if we build the wall, if we pass legislation to end the lawlessness” then “all’s well that ends well”. Me, I am singing “I was not a Nazi Polka” while looking at the photo of Birkenau, the Nazi concentration camp posted by Gen. Michael Hayden, the former head of the CIA who courageously told the world of “other governments have separated mothers and children” just like we are doing now.
Deyan Ranko Brashich is a contributor writing from New York. He is the author of Letters from America, Contrary Views and Dispatches. His contact and blog “Contrary Views” is at www.deyanbrashich.com