Why have the terms “Nazi Germany” and “Mengele” become trending topics on Twitter? The words dominated the social media platform on Monday after it was revealed that a whistleblower has alleged “high numbers” of immigrant women at a U.S. concentration camp in Georgia were sent to be given unnecessary hysterectomies. Many of the women reportedly didn’t know why they were being sent to have the surgery and were all sent to the same doctor, according to the complaint, with one woman describing the facility as an “experimental concentration camp.”
Twitter users made several analogies to various Nazi atrocities on Monday, like the sadistic medical experiments performed on Jews by Josef Mengele during the Holocaust in the 1930s and ‘40s. And while U.S. concentration camps aren’t currently operating as anything close to the European death camps of the Holocaust, there’s still reasonable concern about what the fuck is happening in the U.S. right now under the Trump regime.
The whistleblower, a nurse named Dawn Wooten, worked full time at a concentration camp run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement called the Irwin County Detention Center, until her work hours were cut in July, a result of alleged retaliation for speaking up internally about health and sanitary conditions in the prison. The facility is technically owned by a private company called LaSalle Corrections, much like several other ICE and CBP concentration camps across the U.S. that currently house tens of thousands of detainees under a for-profit model.
The complaint, which was submitted to the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security on September 14 by several human rights advocacy organizations like Project South, provides a disturbing peek behind the curtain of a highly secretive system. The American public has read about the psychological torture of children, the denial of basic necessities like soap and toothpaste, and the deaths of at least six immigrant children in U.S. custody since President Trump took power. But it’s apparently even worse than we previously imagined.
The conditions in the Georgia facility are abysmal, according to the complaint, citing several prisoners and unnamed medical staff. Detainees explained that the food provided was sometimes spoiled and that meals would even have ants and cockroaches.
“This is the dirtiest facility I have ever been in: everything is dirty; one shower for more than fifty people; one bathroom for all of us; I don’t even know how to give more details because it is all nasty, really nasty; only God is taking care of us here,” one immigrant told human rights workers, according to the complaint.
Many of the allegations involve specific shortcomings to combat the covid-19 pandemic, such as a lack of PPE, but the most shocking revelations involve many women who were sent to have hysterectomies—a medical procedure to remove the uterus, rendering the women unable to become pregnant and have children—without getting a clear answer on why they were having the surgeries done.
From the complaint to the OIG, which is available online:
One woman told Project South in 2019 that Irwin sends many women to see a particular gynecologist outside the facility but that some women did not trust him. She also stated that “a lot of women here go through a hysterectomy” at ICDC. More recently, a detained immigrant told Project South that she talked to five different women detained at ICDC between October and December 2019 who had a hysterectomy done. When she talked to them about the surgery, the women “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.” The woman told Project South that it was as though the women were “trying to tell themselves it’s going to be OK.” She further said: “When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.”
The whistleblower, nurse Wooten, explained in her own words how one unnamed doctor was allegedly carrying out this mass sterilization effort on immigrant women. Wooten even called the doctor a “uterus collector”:
Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy—just about everybody. He’s even taken out the wrong ovary on a young lady [detained immigrant woman]. She was supposed to get her left ovary removed because it had a cyst on the left ovary; he took out the right one. She was upset. She had to go back to take out the left and she wound up with a total hysterectomy. She still wanted children—so she has to go back home now and tell her husband that she can’t bear kids… she said she was not all the way out under anesthesia and heard him [doctor] tell the nurse that he took the wrong ovary.
We’ve questioned among ourselves like goodness he’s taking everybody’s stuff out…That’s his specialty, he’s the uterus collector. I know that’s ugly…is he collecting these things or something...Everybody he sees, he’s taking all their uteruses out or he’s taken their tubes out. What in the world.
The complaint also alleges that the women in custody aren’t getting clear communication about what procedure is about to be done on them, with some medical staff in the facility allegedly using Google to translate things from English to Spanish before surgery. Some women were told conflicting things about why they needed to have hysterectomies, like one woman who was given three very different reasons:
One detained immigrant reported to Project South that staff at ICDC and the doctor’s office did not properly explain to her what procedure she was going to have done. She reported feeling scared and frustrated, saying it “felt like they were trying to mess with my body.” When she asked what was being done to her body, she was given three different responses by three different individuals. She was originally told by the doctor that she had an ovarian cyst and was going to have a small twenty-minute procedure done drilling three small holes in her stomach to drain the cyst. The officer who was transporting her to the hospital told her that she was receiving a hysterectomy to have her womb removed. When the hospital refused to operate on her because her COVID-19 test came back positive for antibodies, she was transferred back to ICDC where the ICDC nurse said that the procedure she was going to have done entailed dilating her vagina and scraping tissue off. The nurse first told the detained immigrant she was going to get this procedure done because she had heavy bleeding, but then told her it was because she had a thick womb. The woman quickly responded that she never had heavy bleeding in her life and was never told by the doctor that she had a thick womb. Instead she stated that the doctor had described an entirely different procedure that did not involve scraping her vagina. She stated: “I tried to explain to her that something isn’t right; that procedure isn’t for me.” The nurse responded by getting angry and agitated and began yelling at her. She told Project South that seeing the nurse’s nervous and angry response confirmed “that something was not right.”
ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday morning, but sent out a statement to several news outlets insisting that, “in general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve.” Notably, that’s not a flat denial of the allegations. And DHS restricts access to the facilities to such a degree that journalists have previously tried to use drones just to get a look inside. Even members of Congress have struggled to get an unfiltered look at what’s happening in these facilities.
ICE and its parent agency, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, have a history of outright lies and running interference for objectively racist policies. The former head of DHS, Kirstjen Nielsen, lied to Congress on multiple occasions, claiming that the Trump regime did not have a policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border. That was flatly wrong and Nielsen has never been held accountable for the lies, let alone the atrocities she committed against countless asylum seekers. The current head of DHS, Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, has never been confirmed by the Senate and the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found last month that he was illegally appointed to his position in late 2019. Wolf is still the head of DHS.
The new allegations out of Georgia caused social media users on Monday to draw the most logical analogies to other crimes against humanity committed by people in recent history, such as the Nazis. The Nazis were obsessed with the “purity” of race and ran several eugenics programs to purge humanity of “undesirables.” But, again, based on all the available evidence, the U.S. is not currently running extermination camps that will kill millions of people within the country’s borders.
But saying “we’re not technically as bad as the Nazis” is a pretty low bar, and doesn’t excuse the current abuses being perpetrated against vulnerable communities by the Trump regime. The things we already know about are bad, but if the history of fascism is any guide, it’s almost always worse than you first believed.
Update, 10:40 a.m.: ICE sent Gizmodo an email, attributed to spokesperson Lindsay Williams, that was identical to the statement the agency sent to every other news outlet, mentioning “unproven allegations” that should be treated with “appropriate skepticism.”
The response from ICE ignored Gizmodo’s specific questions about whether the agency expects to be held accountable by courts, either through domestic legal proceedings or through the International Criminal Court at the Hague.