William Barr, US President Donald Trump’s pick for Attorney General, has defended his role setting up prison camps for asylum seekers with HIV during the AIDS crisis.
Barr is Trump’s pick to replace Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, having served in the same position between 1991 to 1993 under President George H. W. Bush.
However, the candidate has faced criticism after admitting responsibility for a Bush-era policy that saw HIV-positive asylum seekers from Haiti detained in a “squalid” detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after fleeing persecution in their own country.
The Trump nominee was pressed on the issue by Senator Richard Blumenthal during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday (January 15).
Blumenthal said: “[These people] were forced to live in camps, quote, surrounded by razor barbed wire, end quote, and compelled to, quote, tie plastic garbage bags to the sides of the building to keep the rain out, end quote.
“Do you have regrets about it now, and am I correct in saying that these asylum seekers first started coming to the United States it was your position that they should be kept there indefinitely?”
Barr responded: “HIV was an exclusion [from entry to the United States], you could not admit anyone with HIV… you cannot admit someone with HIV except by case-by-case waiver based on extreme circumstance.”
The nominee for Attorney General admitted he “moved some of” the asylum process to Guantanamo Bay, adding: “What we did with the HIV people is we first screened them for asylum… I started admitting them on a case by-by-case basis where cases could be made that there was a particular reason for doing it like pregnant women and people who had not yet developed full blown.”
Barr denied he had supported the indefinite detention of HIV-positive asylum seekers, blaming the “slowing down of the processing” on the 1992 presidential election and claiming: “People thought, well, why should we go through this process with Bush when Clinton is right around the corner?”
He added: “We were sort of in a catch-22 on the HIV… and I had staff members go down there to Guantanamo and they did not report, you know, inhumane conditions or anything like that.”
Around 300 HIV-positive asylum seekers were held at Camp Bulkely in Guantanamo Bay from 1991 until 1993, when a federal court declared the camp unconstitutional. The same year, new President Bill Clinton agreed a settlement that saw them relocated to the US.
The Daily Beast reports that conditions at the camp were squalid, with survivors reporting “inadequate access to medical care, maggot-ridden food, and cramped conditions.”
Guantanamo Bay is now best known for the terror detention facility at the site that was established in 2002.
Barr has also faced scrutiny over his poor record on LGBT+ rights.
William Barr has a poor LGBT rights record
In October 2017, Barr penned an article for The Catholic Lawyer in which he decried the attention shown to “the homosexual movement” and appeared to express opposition to LGBT+ anti-discrimination laws.
In the piece, Barr attacked the use of “District of Columbia law to compel Georgetown University to treat homosexual activist groups like any other student group.”
Barr wrote: “Secularists use law as a weapon [by passing] laws that affirmatively promote the moral relativist viewpoint.”
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Bringing up several examples, he added: “This kind of law declares, in effect, that people, either individually or collectively, may not make moral distinctions or say that certain conduct is good but another is bad.”
Elsewhere in the same article, Barr laments the lack of Catholic influence in society, saying: “It is no accident that the homosexual movement, at one or two percent of the population, gets treated with such solicitude while the Catholic population, which is over a quarter of the country, is given the back of the hand.
“How has that come to be? We need to go back to basics and reassemble the flock.”
Barr has also blamed the “sexual revolution” for the moral decline of the US.
LGBT activists: William Barr would continue to harm LGBT Americans
Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement to PinkNews: “William Barr, who has wrongfully suggested that LGBTQ people – not Trump and his destructive policies – have harmed the United States, is the latest in a long line of replacements who President Trump has appointed to his Cabinet who are just as anti-LGBTQ as their predecessors.
“If confirmed, there’s little doubt that William Barr would continue the Trump Administration’s objective of erasing LGBTQ Americans from the fabric of this nation.”
Faiz Shakir, American Civil Liberties Union national political director, said: “William Barr’s record suggests that he will follow Jeff Sessions’ legacy of hostility to civil rights and civil liberties.
“If confirmed, Trump will have a partner in one of the most powerful roles of the administration, and someone who defended the president’s decision to fire James Comey.
“The Senate must press Barr to adhere to the obligation of the Justice Department to defend the rights of all – immigrants, women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. Barr must commit to defending the rule of law and civil rights, not serving as a political arm of Trump’s anti-constitutional agenda.”