Romney’s Connections to Abusive “Boot Camps”
Maia Szalavitz has a disturbing article up at Reason about Mitt Romney’s ties to the folks who run camps for “troubled teens”.
As The Hill noted last week, 133 plaintiffs filed a civil suit against Romney’s Utah finance co-chair, Robert Lichfield, and his various business entities involved in residential treatment programs for adolescents. The umbrella group for his organization is the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS, sometimes known as WWASP) and Lichfield is its founder and is on its board of directors.
The suit alleges that teens were locked in outdoor dog cages, exercised to exhaustion, deprived of food and sleep, exposed to extreme temperatures without adequate clothing or water, severely beaten, emotionally brutalized, and sexually abused and humiliated. Some were even made to eat their own vomit.
But the link to teen abuse goes far higher up in the Romney campaign. Romney’s national finance co-chair is a man named Mel Sembler. A long time friend of the Bushes, Sembler was campaign finance chair for the Republican party during the first election of George W. Bush, and a major fundraiser for his father.
Like Lichfield, Sembler also founded a nationwide network of treatment programs for troubled youth. Known as Straight Inc., from 1976 to 1993, it variously operated nine programs in seven states. At all of Straight’s facilities, state investigators and/or civil lawsuits documented scores of abuses including teens being beaten, deprived of food and sleep for days, restrained by fellow youth for hours, bound, sexually humiliated, abused and spat upon.
According to the L.A. Times, California investigators said that at Straight teens were “subjected to unusual punishment, infliction of pain, humiliation, intimidation, ridicule, coercion, threats, mental abuse… and interference with daily living functions such as eating, sleeping and toileting.”
Read the whole thing–these are quite disturbing allegations, and one would think that a person running for President would think twice before hiring people who are accused of running organizations that abuse teenagers–especially in such prominent roles. Then again, Giuliani having an accused child molester on his consulting firm’s payroll doesn’t appear to have hurt him much, either.
While it’s certainly true that people should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and Romney’s associates named in Szalavitz’s article don’t appear to be facing any criminal charges, common sense would seem to dictate that a presidential candidate might refrain from hiring people accused of child abuse and molestation pending the outcome any criminal investigation or civil lawsuit. While I understand that there may be personal relationships involved (especially in the case of Giuliani), surely the first step in demonstrating seriousness about being President is putting ethical considerations ahead of friendships.