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Trump’s New Attorney General Nominee Once Held HIV-Positive Refugees in Prison Camps Editors' Picks

Trump’s New Attorney General Nominee Once Held HIV-Positive Refugees in Prison Camps

Written by Matt Baume on January 30, 2019
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Maybe you thought the Trump administration couldn’t possibly get any more virulently homophobic. Well, meet the man likely to be the new U.S. Attorney General, William Barr, who at one time oversaw a concentration camp for people with HIV. Nominated by Donald Trump to replace Jeff Sessions, Barr is a career-long homophobe with a horrifying history of human rights abuses.

Back in the early ’90s, a large wave of refugees arrived in the United States after fleeing a military coup and terrible violence in Haiti. Because the refugees escaped on boats, most were intercepted by the Coast Guard and imprisoned by the United States until they could either be allowed into the country, sent elsewhere or sent back to the violence they were trying to escape.

While they were jailed, many of the refugees were tested for HIV. This was at the height of the epidemic, before the use of drug cocktails that make HIV manageable over the long term. At the time, people with HIV were not allowed into the United States, and so the refugees found themselves held in an American prison camp with no legal options.

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William Barr with then-President George W. Bush

William Barr was attorney general under the first George Bush, and he oversaw the imprisonment of these Haitian refugees. He was also responsible for a Justice Department push to block people with HIV from entering the country, a policy that was only later lifted under President Obama.

While jailed, the refugees were forced to eat rotting, maggot-infested food. They had virtually no medical care, and had to live in falling-apart shacks and tents. They were denied legal representatives, with the Republican administration of the time arguing they didn’t have to provide these refugees due process because the camp was on military property — Guantanamo Bay, where the second Bush administration would later torture people abducted from war zones.

Eventually a judge ruled that William Barr’s concentration camp for these HIV-positive refugees was unconstitutional — even calling it an “HIV prison camp” — and his victims were released into the United States.

In addition to his cruel treatment of people fleeing violence abroad, William Barr has been a vocal opponent of LGBTQ equality. He opposed civil rights protections for trans people, saying nondiscrimination laws “seek to ratify, or put on an equal plane, conduct that was previously considered immoral.”

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William Barr in 2018 (Photo by Bill Clark / AP)

Barr referred to sexual education as encouraging “misconduct,” and he criticized schools for removing religious indoctrination — you know, as is required by the U.S. Constitution. And he has complained that in America queer people have more rights than Christians.

Beyond that, William Barr has a history of opinions that intersect with many causes important to queer people. He opposes reproductive freedom; he pushes for mass incarceration; and he wants telecom companies to be able to selectively censor or slow the sites you’re able to access online.

None of these alarming stances comes as much of a surprise to anyone with even a passing awareness of the Trump administration’s tolerance for extremism. But at a time when there’s already lots to worry about, Trump’s nomination of William Barr is one of the largest causes for alarm so far this year.

The nomination of William Barr to be U.S. Attorney General is currently pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Featured image by REX / Shutterstock

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