Cheney, Gonzalez Indicted in South Texas

By Frank Harper
Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez have been indicted by a state grand jury in Willacy
Aerial View of Raymondville Prison for Immigrants
Private Prison in Texas
County, Texas, on charges of engaging in organized criminal activity. The indictment also charges Cheney with
"profiteering from depriving human beings of their liberty". The charges stem from the involvement of Cheney and Gonzalez in a firm called the Vanguard Group, which has invested heavily in the "growth industry" of private prisons, and in particular in a prison for immigrants run privately on behalf of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) near Raymondville Texas. The indictments have yet to be signed by a presiding judge, and no action can be taken against either Cheney or Gonzalez until that happens.


Willacy County is an impoverished county of 20,000 people, one county north of the U.S./Mexico border. In recent years, as the use of privately owned and run prisons throughout the country has proliferated, Willacy county leaders encouraged federal and Texas officials to locate prisons in their remote locality.

Their efforts yielded results - and within a few years several prisons, federal and state, had gone up on the coastal plains near the Rio Grande. The blog "Texas Prison Bid"ness" recently writing of the prison in which Cheney and Gonzalez are alleged to have invested, said that "the 2,000 bed I.C.E. detention center " first drew headlines when it was announced that it would be built in only 90 days and would consist of a series of windowless Kevlar pods. The project then drew fire from Willacy County Attorney Juan Guerra who warned county officials that they couldn't spend excess project funds on other county projects, as they had planned. 

"The Processing Center (I.C.E. prison) is by no means the first private prison or prison scandal to engulf Raymondville (county seat of Willacy County). Already home to a 1,000-bed private state prison, a 500-bed private federal jail, and a 96-bed county jail, the county is known, even by county leaders, as "Prisonville".

A boom in the business of incarceration of immigrants began around the turn of the century - more or less coinciding with the beginning years of the Bush Regime.Under Bush the Department of Justice has taken a hard line by prosecuting immigrants simply for crossing the border, seeking work or to reunite with their families.  In the past most people were just deported, but under Bush many are charged with illegally crossing the border, sentenced to federal prison, and then deported. One result has been an explosion in the number of jailed immigrants who have committed no crime other than being in the U.S. Bush & Co. have also been charging immigrants with document fraud for having false Social security cards or other fake ID.  As a result huge numbers of people are going to these prisons, getting a criminal record, and then being deported.

A series of lucrative federal contracts were given to several corporations and, in the words of an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, this marked "a turning point in the way that immigrant detainees - illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, legal residents, residents appealing deportation and others - are held". By the year 2007, this had become a billion dollar gusher of federal money to private firms to build prisons that hold impoverished, job seeking immigrants. Professor Michele Deitch of the University of Texas said "
The private prison industry was on the verge of bankruptcy in the late 1990s, until the feds bailed them out with the immigration-detention contracts."

Whitewash and Cover Up

The major media in this country has either ignored or given scant attention to the South Texas indictments. The few articles written often focus on what the authors and editors consider to be the colorful and convoluted series of feuds they say that Juan Angel Guerra, District Attorney of Willacy County and the man who brought the indictments against Cheney and Gonzalez, is involved in with political rivals. This provides convenient cover for not digging into the substance of the charges Guerra has brought against Cheney and Gonzalez, and not doing any investigation into the constellation of privately run prisons that dot the Texas landscape and exist throughout the country - why are so many people in prison, when and how did imprisonment become a profit making, "bottom line" business, what are the conditions in these prisons, why are children held in many of them separated from their parents, and more.

One of the most hideous features of the Bush Regime has been the network of torture, rendition, and unjust imprisonment that spans the globe and has been exposed most infamously in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Cheney and Gonzalez are two of the foremost architects of this monstrous endeavor that has left countless bodies and minds broken and destroyed, countless people dead. Can anyone be surprised that Cheney and Gonzalez sought to profit personally from the human misery over which they preside, and to point in their own direction some of the gushing fountain of federal funds used to build still more prisons? Even less surprising is that a supine media and a complicit Democratic Party - whose leaders have ruled impeachment "off the table" - greet these developments with a collective yawn.

Protest, Exposure, and the Need for Much More

Privately run prisons in Texas, including some of those in Willacy County and some partially owned by Cheney and Gonzalez, have been the focus of sustained exposure and protest because of their brutal treatment of inmates, in particular immigrants. In an interview with the Washington Post last year, Jodi Goodwin, an attorney from Harlingen Texas said that immigrants "are confined 23 hours a day in windowless tents made of a Kevlar-like material, often with insufficient food, clothing, medical care and access to telephones. Many are transferred from the East Coast, 1,500 miles from relatives and lawyers, virtually cutting off access to counsel. ""I call it 'Ritmo' -- like Gitmo, but it's in Raymondville".

Federal officials consider the ultra modernistic facility in Willacy County to be a "centerpiece in the government's crackdown on illegal immigration", and consider it a model to be spread more broadly.

Last summer activists from throughout South Texas and local residents protested the abuse at the Willacy I.C.E. facility, and called for it to be shut down. Elizabeth Garcia of Brownsville, one of the protest organizers, said that, if there were no protest, "It's important for us to realize that we"re condoning this in our own backyard."  Jay Johnson Castro, who has been at the center of protests against the prisons, the heavily fortified and patrolled border wall along the Rio Grande, and the militarization of the entire South Texas region, called the detention center "a concentration camp - this is the battle front of America right here, this is the largest concentration camp on Planet Earth."

The fact that a District Attorney in Texas is trying to hold Cheney and Gonzalez accountable for a fraction of the crimes against humanity they have perpetrated is important in its own right, and could develop into a significant opening for further bringing to light the full extent of the crimes of the Bush Regime, and bringing to justice those responsible.