Omar Mateen’s employer, private security behemoth G4S, is taking a nosedive in the stock market after the 29-year-old suspect went on the deadliest shooting rampage in recent history, killing at least 49 and injuring 53 others in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
G4S is currently being thrust into the spotlight because it employed Mateen, but the firm’s murky reputation precedes it. Staffers have been caught beating and abusing detained immigrants, keeping children in solitary confinement, and torturing inmates all over the world.
But one particularly dark stain on the company’s record is its brief dalliance with the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, known for its use of torture and suspension of due process. And the horror stories out of Guantánamo have provided ideal fodder for the type of jihadist media and propaganda that may have spurred Mateen to open fire in the Orlando club.
Al-Qaeda’s English language recruitment magazine has run features on the torture regimes at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, declaring that the prisons “exposed the West for what it really is.” The Taliban’s media seized on the Guantánamo inmates’ hunger strike and urged human rights groups to call more attention to their plight. In publications and execution videos, ISIS repeatedly references Guantánamo and mocks President Obama for his inability to make good on his campaign promise to close the prison.
In the wake of the inmate hunger strike, G4S secured a contract to take over operations of the notorious prison for $117 million. The human rights organization Reprieve raised the alarm at the time that G4S may be participating in the prison’s abysmal treatment of inmates.
Reprieve’s formal complaint to Scotland Yard warned that it would be very difficult for G4S to avoid violating the captives’ rights. Running operations meant “the company would be involved (either directly or indirectly) with FCE [forcible cell extraction], force-feeding, and other unlawful and inhumane practices by the US military,” the report said. “Even temperature regulation at Guantánamo has been used as a way to torment detainees, therefore the potential extent of G4S GS’ effect on the detainees should be scrutinised carefully.”
Soon after the complaint was filed, G4S sold off the U.S. subsidiary that ran operations in Guantánamo. “We take our responsibilities on human rights very seriously. We announced our decision to sell G4S Government Solutions in March 2013 and stated at the time that a significant part of the rationale was due to our inability to have control or influence over the business as a non-US parent,” the company said at the time.
The company would be involved with FCE, force-feeding, and other unlawful and inhumane practices by the U.S. military
G4S got about $126 million from an undisclosed buyer to take the subsidiary off the firm’s hands.
G4S has also been criticized for its involvement with Israeli prisons in the West Bank, another major propaganda tool among extremists. Both al-Qaeda and ISIS have warred with Palestinian groups Hamas and Hezbollah, yet feature the Israeli-Palestinian conflict prominently in their rhetoric. While much of terrorist groups’ depictions of Jews and Israel rely on anti-Semitic myths, they have still exploited poor treatment of Palestinians as a way to position themselves as the sole refuge for Muslims from Western imperialism. Human rights groups reported that prisons supplied with G4S security systems were abusing children. The company ended its contract earlier this year under mounting pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS).
We don’t yet know what motivated Mateen to commit the massacre and dedicate it to the Islamic State (ISIS). His father, ex-wife, and coworkers have all suggested he did not seem particularly religious. FBI Director James Comey said that Mateen had made several calls affiliating himself with conflicting terrorist groups, but there’s no evidence he was being directed by any of them.
ISIS relies on social media to recruit people like Mateen, who may not have been directly coordinating with ISIS but was reportedly inspired by propaganda he read online to commit atrocities in the group’s name.
G4S has a whole other slew of scandals in Florida, where Mateen worked for the firm. The company runs 29 juvenile facilities in the state. A grand jury report on one such prison said it “should cease to exist” because the conditions children were living in were so inhumane.
G4S-run prisons are rife with violence and have faced multiple riots. Teenagers live in filthy, dilapidated buildings staffed by undertrained skeleton staffs. Some G4S employees have even been charged with sexual battery and sexual abuse. The grand jury report called the company’s operations “a disgrace to the state of Florida.”