16 January 2013

Letter from Former Teacher at Torture Center

Trigger Warning: Extremely detailed descriptions of abuse and torture of disabled people.

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Before reading this letter, please read the letter from an autistic survivor of the torture at the Judge Rotenberg Center first

The letter on this page was sent from Gregory J. Miller, a former teacher at the Judge Rotenberg Center who left after repeatedly witnessing the torture and abuse of disabled students. It was directed to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in response to the FDA's warning to the JRC about using un-approved devices -- the electric shock devices. This letter is published with Greg's permission.

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To:
Muthar S. Shamsi, FDA District Director
Karen Archdeacon, FDA Compliance Officer

From:
Gregory J. Miller, JRC Teacher’s Assistant, 2003 – 2006

Subject: From Former JRC Staff: Please do not approve any GED devices, and please DO investigate and prosecute false claims of FDA approval of GED-4 devices

Dear Captain Muthar Shamsi and Officer Karen Archdeacon,

I worked at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) as a Teacher’s Assistant from January, 2003, through March, 2006, when I quit and left on my own will.  I was absolutely shocked and deeply troubled this past summer in 2012 to learn from CNN news (Anderson Cooper 360) that the GED-4 was never FDA-approved.  I had always faithfully followed student plans at the JRC and I have shocked many students at the lower end of the autism spectrum many times with both the GED-1 and the GED-4 devices.  JRC intentionally misled me (and other staff) for years to believe that the GED-4 was FDA approved, and due to this great deception, I am guilty of carrying out some of the most terrible torturous crimes against helpless and nonverbal students.  The nonverbal students cannot speak of the horrors to which they are subjected at JRC by well-meaning staff like me, or tell of their nightmares from watching their classmates get shocked.

Please do NOT overlook the seriousness of JRC’s deception, because the difference between having FDA approval and not having FDA approval for the GED-4 matters greatly in determining whether the use of the devices is “torture” or a “treatment”, dangerous or harmful but justifiable, and whether staff are willing to participate in such inhumane acts and violations of human rights.  I would have NEVER used a GED device on my students had I not been told repeatedly that the devices were FDA approved!
Please do NOT approve the use of any of the GED devices on students, including my former students, at the JRC.  And PLEASE investigate to determine whether judges were also misled.  Were the judges who gave court orders for staff to shock students with the GED-4 devices told that the GED-4 instrument was FDA approved?  The JRC must be held accountable for misleading me and others for their false claims of FDA approval. 

I believe the JRC’s deception runs very deep, and that this deception is what has enabled the JRC to torture students for so many years.  Having worked as a staff at the JRC for over three years, I can expose many of JRC’s falsehoods. 

1. I can testify that I was told by the JRC during training and by administrative staff that the GED-4 devices were FDA approved.  I would not have shocked my students had I known that the GED-4 devices were not FDA approved.  Learning the truth has been traumatic for me as a former staff who diligently followed student programs under JRC’s false information, believing back then that I was saving these students’ lives by trusting JRC’s treatment plans and the FDA’s judgment of safety.

2. I can testify to seeing bloody and crusty scabs all over student arms, legs, and torso, on numerous students, caused mostly by the GED-4, which was most evident when helping certain nonverbal students to sponge-bathe at school, called “self-care”.  A number of the nonverbal students with whom I worked received 30 shocks in a day, including while tied to a restraint chair.  Recent videos aired on television show Andre Mc Collins getting shocked and restrained for refusing to take off his coat.  His Recording Sheets show that Andre was subsequently shocked 19 times while on the board for “full body tense up” and 8 times for yelling and screaming while tied to a restraint board. (I am attaching his Recording Sheets for that day, obtained from the Massachusetts authorities, and with permission from his mother.)   What happened to Andre Mc Collins was NOT an exception or more excessive than the manner in which a number of lower functioning students were treated.  I will attach photos of Andre Mc Collins’ injuries, which are characteristic of many of the injuries that I saw on my students.  Andre Mc Collin’s injuries that you can see were caused by the FDA approved GED-1 (weaker) device, as evident on his recording sheets. 

3. I can testify with a variety of examples about spontaneous firings of the GED devices thereby causing students to be shocked repeatedly and rapidly by the devices.  Staff at JRC must learn to quickly open backpacks to unplug devices when they spontaneously start firing.

4. I can testify that staff were required to keep a medical log of a student’s seizures who was diagnosed with epilepsy, and that two out of three times he was shocked his arms, legs, and full body would go stiff, his eyes would roll back, he would drool, we would have to hold him up or help him to the floor if he was standing, and then we were required to record the time of day and the length in seconds of the seizure.  The log did NOT ask us to record whether the seizure took place immediately after receiving a GED application.  We were told that the seizures were less harmful than the student’s behaviors, but I kept thinking of many other ways that we could have addressed the student’s behaviors if we were permitted to do so.  Employing other behavioral strategies or redirection other than shocking the student with the GED was called “avoiding student behaviors” and “failure to follow a student’s plan” which resulted in staff being suspended for days from work without pay the first time it happened, or fired.

5. I can testify that a student was shocked, as part of his behavioral plan, for “closing eyes for more than 15 seconds while sitting at (desk).”  I can offer much detail on this student, his Case Manager/Program Director, and his program.  Like so many of JRC’s false claims, JRC may likely deny that this happened.  The only way to get the truth out of the JRC is to put them on the witness stand under oath.

6. I can testify with many examples of new students being provoked to exhibit behaviors during the data-gathering stage prior to students getting GED approval.  Student behavioral charts show the number of behaviors students have within five major behavioral categories (Aggression, Health Dangerous Behaviors, Destruction, Major Disruptions, and Noncompliance) and two minor behavior categories (Educational and Social behaviors, and Inappropriate Verbal Behaviors), but the charts show very little to do with specific behaviors.  The charts do not show which behaviors were provoked.  That data is primarily what the judge is shown when deciding whether to approve students for GED shocks.

7. I can testify that student behavioral plans were sometimes altered three months prior to court-dates so that judges would not see many of the behaviors for which students were shocked.  I can name specific students and their Case Managers.  This may be an intentional and systematic misleading of the judge.  An investigation could look to see whether hard-copy samples were only kept of the three months leading up to court dates, or if samples of written recording sheets were destroyed altogether, especially for the lower functioning (nonverbal) students.

8. I can testify to witnessing a Case Manager break open a capsule of ammonia under the nose of a JRC student in 2003, years after these “treatments” were no longer legal in Massachusetts.  The student to whom this was done has since died of a urinary tract infection that had lasted for years.  I continue to wonder whether her health-dangerous behaviors, back when I worked with her, would have decreased and if her immunity would have improved, if she had more meaningful and purposeful experiences at JRC/BRI where she lived for most of her life.

9. I can testify of great crying, emotional distress, student behaviors stemming from anxiety, when students saw a teacher reach for the remote control devices that trigger the GED devices.  I can tell how it was very common for students to be shocked for behaviors that were reactions of fear while watching their classmates get shocked, or in reaction to a staff merely reaching for a pencil in an apron from which the remote control devices were hanging.

10. I can testify of the significant difference it makes in driving students temporarily crazy, while tied to the restraint board for receiving five shocks in a 10 minute or longer period of time, to have uneven time between each shock.  Students may tense up their bodies in anticipation of the next shock, because tensing muscles helps to reduce the pain shooting through the body.  Therefore some students were shocked for tensing up their muscles, because this diminished the pain while getting shocked.  Again, you can see on Andre Mc Collin’s Recording Sheet (attached to this email) that Andre was shocked 19 times for tensing his muscles and 8 times for screaming in one day while tied to the restraint board for hours. The videos as shown on television may be viewed on the internet.

11. I can testify to the absolute horror of Behavioral Rehearsal Lessons (BRLs) where a student, in front of his 40 classmates, was left in a restraint chair (including cuffs to his arms and legs and a strap to his waist), in a very hot and thick restraint jacket, and in a restraint helmet, altogether at the same time, all day long, so that he would be helpless to defend himself during BRL surprise-attacks that occurred three to five days per week.  A staff would rush in at various times during the school-day, yelling and screaming while entering the room and racing to the student, and place either a plastic knife or a metal spoon to the student’s mouth, and yell, “Do you want to swallow a knife?  Do you want to swallow a knife?”  The staff would hold the plastic knife to the student’s mouth in a life-threatening manner, the student would scream loudly as though it was his last breath, and another staff somewhere in the room would push a hidden remote control button to shock this student who was already physically helpless to move his body an inch in any direction while being attacked. 

Having worked extensively with this student, mostly at the school and also at the student’s residence, I can testify that a long time prior to the incident when this student swallowed a small X-acto knife blade, this student was very proud of his wooden models and knife kit that Dr. Matthew Israel had personally arranged for him to have.  This was after a long history of the student (like many other students with disabilities) swallowing sharp and inedible objects. 

I was the Teacher’s Assistant in the room, which was a large room containing 40 students, mostly nonverbal students who could not tell their parents what was happening.  Even though the GED used on the student getting attacked was an FDA-approved GED-1, there were students in the room who were receiving GED-4 shocks (not FDA approved, I learn now) for their reactions to observing the BRLs.  I can testify that as many as seven students at one time had reactions of fear to the violent BRL attacks in front of them against their classmate.  (As a staff, I personally felt sick during and after BRLs, went to my doctor with psycho-somatic symptoms, and continued to have nightmares for years over these BRLs, and I was not even wearing GED devices as were the mostly nonverbal students in the room.)  Students were shocked according to behaviors defined on their recording sheets such as dropping to the floor under the table (“out of seat without permission”, defined as Major Aggressive Behaviors), yelling or screaming (defined as Major Disruptive Behaviors), reactively throwing the tasks down onto the table in front of them (“throwing objects”, defined as Major Destructive Behaviors), holding the electrodes off their skin (shocked for “any attempt to defeat the device”), among other behaviors for which students were shocked, even though they were merely reacting to a classmate receiving the BRLs.  These students continued to react in fear and to get shocked at the sight and loud sounds of their classmate’s screams and violent attacks, day after day, and week after week, during the three months that I witnessed the BRLs.  I was moved out of the room, and the BRLs continued for a total of six months. 

I still believe that many parents did not know for what reasons their children were shocked with the GEDs, much less judges or lawmakers.  I doubt the judges ever witnessed a BRL prior to court-ordering them, and I believe that official investigation could reveal to what extent the judges gave an informed consent for BRLs.  In speaking with parents of former JRC students after quitting the JRC, I realized that the root of the deception was the assumption made by parents, judges, and lawmakers, that behaviors defined under “Major Aggression” would be major aggressive behaviors; that behaviors under “Major Disruption” would be majorly disruptive behaviors; and that behaviors that were listed under “Major Health Dangerous Behaviors” would be majorly health-dangerous.  Yet staff were told that the smallest behavior, such as tearing the edge of a used and empty paper cup or tearing a loose piece of thread was still “tearing objects”, which automatically classified the behavior as a Major Destructive Behavior for which the student had to be shocked consistently by all staff.  Dr. Israel called these smaller behaviors “antecedent behaviors”.

Finally, and very importantly, I would like to caution the FDA on the degree to which the JRC has been willing to be deceptive.  Dr. Matthew Israel has already been indicted for perjury.  In response to the New York State Education Department (NYSED) site visit and investigation in 2006, Dr. Israel wrote back a long and serious letter of flagrant misinformation to discredit the State of New York and to be used to threaten New York with lawsuit, entitled, “JRC RESPONSES TO ALLEGATIONS IN NYSED JUNE 9, 2006 REPORT.” On page 13, item 34, Dr. Israel writes:

“34. The June Report incorrectly describes the use of restraint in combination with GED as the definition of Behavior Rehearsal Lessons (BRL). (p. 9, par. 5) JRC does not restrain students when administering the BRL’s. There were no Behavioral Rehearsal Lessons conducted while the reviewers were present at JRC so they have no basis to make this false claim (p.13).”

I can name staff who directly administered the BRLs, JRC administrators directly involved, and name other staff who were present in the room at the time.  The student would arrive to school in a heavy restraint jacket, in restraint cuffs on his wrists and hands, and in a restraint helmet.  He was tied to a restraint chair with straps to his waist, wrists, and ankles, wearing also a restraint jacket and a restraint helmet, all day long.  The only exception was for (usually me) to take him to the bathroom twice in the morning, and once after lunch, and to take him to “self-care” where the grown adult male student was given a bath usually by me and another staff while the student was tied to a restraint board, laying naked, facing the camera, totally at the mercy of staff who were required to put our hands all over his body.  All the while, he was still strapped to the GED instrument.  On one day, the GED spontaneously fired during the student’s self-care, and I put my hand between the student’s arm and the electrode to take the brunt of the shock in my palm.  The student claimed that the arc of current going through my hand hurt even worse than if the electrode was directly on his skin.  There was no danger of the student swallowing another X-acto knife blade because the X-acto knife kit had been at the student’s residence and had been removed.  Other sharp objects had been removed from around school because other students at JRC, as elsewhere in special education schools, also swallow sharp objects.  So these restraints and self-care sponge baths were employed not to protect the student from swallowing another small X-acto knife blade, but to humiliate and degrade the student.  And directly tying the restraints to the student’s BRLs, directly disproving Dr. Israel’s false claim quoted above, every few weeks as part of the student’s plan the restraint straps on the restraint chair would be extended one-inch, starting after about the sixth week into the student’s BRLs.  For Dr. Israel to deny that the restraints were used in combination with the BRLs, despite all of the staff and students who can testify otherwise under oath, hopefully demonstrates to what degree there has been a very deliberate and elaborate sham and cover up of torture at the JRC.  The question remains – why would Dr. Israel be so openly dishonest about the restraints being combined with the electric shocks and BRLs?  Did JRC actually lack legal permission to leave the student in restraints all day long to surprise-attack him as part of the BRLs? And did Dr. Israel actually lack legal permission to use humiliation of the student in insisting that the fully grown male be even bathed while tied to the restraint board, naked and exposed to the camera?  Like Dr. Israel’s deceitful claims that the GED-4 was FDA approved, is Dr. Israel’s quote above is yet another example of how parents, state officials, politicians, JRC staff, and the tax-paying public, have all been duped into delivering an advanced system of heinous crimes against students with disabilities in the name of “help”, playing on the desperation of parents who are unaware that much better alternatives exist for their children?

JRC’s torturous sham has extended also into the Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation (DMR).   

I personally reported the abusive BRLs to the DMR, which was DPPC Case # 67309.  The outcome of the investigation concluded that “the allegations of abuse / mistreatment are not substantiated” because “there is insufficient evidence to conclude that (the student) was seriously injured as the result of an act by his caretaker…, therefore abuse … is not substantiated.”  Accusations of “mistreatment” were also “not substantiated” based on primarily the fact that “JRC implemented guardian approved and court authorized Behavioral Rehearsal Lessons consistent with his Behavior Modification Treatment Plan.”  The conclusion in the investigation by the DMR was, “Neither (JRC) nor its employees committed (inappropriately) intentional, reckless or negligent actions….  The injuries were incidental to the treatment.”

So then why did Dr. Israel make such a point to deny in the quote above that restraints were combined with the BRLs if they were a part of this student’s court-approved plan?  Furthermore the investigation does not address the many students who were shocked, including with GED-4 devices that (we learn now) were never FDA approved, and the trauma that they experienced.  Did the DMR ever investigate exactly what WAS approved by the judge, or whether JRC added restraints and humiliation to the student’s plan without permission from the judge?

I reported to the DMR that another student was shocked for closing his eyes for 10 seconds while sitting at his desk.  The DMR dismissed the complaint “because it did not meet the criteria of a reportable condition….  There is no indication (JRC) is in violation of the (student’s) court approved program.”  (Case # 67306).

I reported to the DMR (Case # 67307) that one student “gets shocks for standing up, raising his hand and asking politely to use the bathroom.”  This complaint was also screened out by the DPPC, “as the allegation ‘… is not abuse’,” therefore “the allegations of abuse / mistreatment are not substantiated.”

I also reported to the DMR the GED “burns” I had witnessed on one student (Case # 67308).  The DMR deferred the investigation to the Department of Social Services.  The investigating officer waited six weeks before even visiting the school.  The officer told me afterward that his investigation included visiting the school, meeting with JRC officials, and asking to see the student’s skin, period.  But I had explained to the officer that the student’s worst severe injuries and repeated “GED vacations” (where the student was taken off the GED-4 devices for five to six weeks each time to allow his bloody, crusty, scabby skin to partially heal) had occurred months before.  His severe behaviors occurred mostly while he was on GED, caused by what appeared to me to be a split personality where one part of the student wanted the other part of the student to get hurt.  The student had very few behaviors during his GED vacations.  I had written a Therapy Note for the student, which resulted in JRC making drastic changes, not to change the student’s plan (which would reveal that the GEDs had caused the student’s behaviors), but rather to NOT FOLLOW the student’s plan.  JRC stapled a note to the front of the student’s daily Recording Sheets (student plan that we carried around with us and used to tally the major behaviors) that told staff to only shock the student if he had a behavior while entering the classroom door on one day, or only if he had a behavior while he was walking down the hallway on another day, and so on.  So the student quit getting shocked for his behaviors, and his behaviors died down drastically, almost to no behaviors at all.  But what I had asked the DMR and the DPPC officer to investigate was the many unnecessary injuries and bloody scabs and abuse of this student who had been tied to a restraint chair and shocked with the GED-4 30 times within a two-hour period of time, day after day.  Compare that to the photo of Andre Mc Collins’s injuries after a single day of 30 shocks with the less powerful GED-1 device.  It usually took about two weeks for his thick, bloody and crusty scabs to accumulate to such severity that the school’s nurse would put him on another GED vacation for five to six weeks.  A true investigation would have looked at the paperwork showing how many times the student had been placed on GED vacation, and would have requested the student’s medical records, as well as speak to nursing staff and to staff working with the student to confirm the degree of injuries.  A true investigation would have exposed that the student’s behaviors indeed had increased while on the GED, and that the student’s injuries had been severe and unnecessary.  A true investigation would have revealed that JRC’s claim that the GED-4 device used on this student was FDA approved was FALSE and would have reported the injuries and false claims to the FDA!

Sadly, when I met with the DMR investigator in person, who told me that he had been the sole person investigating claims of abuse at JRC for fifteen years, he told me that my accusation of “burns” was discredited based on the fact that I was not a medical doctor to diagnose “burns”, and that they did not have funds to hire a doctor.  The DMR investigator told me that he was very well aware of the GED injuries, that these injuries were much preferable to student self-injurious behaviors (most behaviors my students exhibited were very mild), and that the GED injuries were a “new kind of injury,” not electrical burns.  This has been the position of the JRC for many years.  We can read Dr. Israel’s own words claiming that JRC’s GED devices have never burned any student.  (See page 12, item 31, and page 31, item 78, in “JRC RESPONSES TO ALLEGATIONS IN NYSED JUNE 9, 2006 REPORT.”)  Students from JRC have been diagnosed with GED “burns”, and thanks to Cheryl Mc Collins sharing photographs of her son Andre’s injuries, the public for the first time can see the GED injury for themselves. 

I have a large collection of accusations of abuse that various JRC staff have reported to the DMR over the years.  These reports represent staff who risked the many threats staff hear from JRC in order to help the students they love.  Clearly the DMR in the past has played a central role in allowing JRC to get away with torture of helpless students with disabilities.

PLEASE! Stop all abusive and torturous GED devices!  I have worked at another school with students who had equally severe behaviors who did better without the GEDs, and I have communicated with former JRC students who did much better once they got away from JRC, were treated humanely, and were taken off of the GED devices.  Clearly JRC has been dishonest with the public, with parents, and with its staff, for years, including its false claims that the GED-4 device had FDA approval.  I implore you to recognize JRC’s deep deception, that JRC cannot be trusted with the responsibility of using even the GED-1 device that the FDA has previously approved, and to discontinue the approval of the GED-1 device.  Parents who are campaigning to protect JRC have been misled, as I was misled, to believe that JRC is the only school that offers “treatment” that these students need.  But I did not see “treatment”.  I saw control through fear, torture, and humiliation.  No parents were present to watch their children shocked in response to their fear and terror while being forced to witness the Behavioral Rehearsal Lessons (BRLs).  While I have seen parents currently advocating for JRC say that what happened to Andre Mc Collins, viewed on television, “was excessive,” what these parents do not realize is how “excessive” JRC’s treatments have been to many students, especially the nonverbal students, who cannot tell their parents what happened to them.  JRC’s hell-hole has existed for far too long.  I beseech you to please remove FDA approval for the GED-1 devices, and please do investigate and prosecute JRC’s false claims of having FDA approval for non-approved devices.  Thank you.

Sincerely,
Gregory J. Miller
Former JRC Teacher's Assistant

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Dear Captain Muthar Shamsi and Officer Karen Archdeacon,

I have learned since emailing this testimony to you days ago that the "GED-1" devices that we used on students during the time I was an employee at the JRC were in fact "GED-3A" devices, as evident in that the serial numbers on the GED-1 devices all started with "3A-". You can see the five serial numbers on the top of Andre Mc Collin's Recording Sheets (that I sent you, obtained from the DPPC) on the day that he was shocked multiple times, viewed on television, all started with "3A-". I can send you additional photos of Andre's GED injuries, the photos taken by the DPPC of Andre while he was in the hospital.

The significance is that ALL shocks used on students during my time at the JRC were from devices that have NOT been approved by the FDA, including both what we were told were "GED-1" devices (actually were GED-3A devices), and the "GED-4" devices. The injuries on Andre and on many other students were from non-approved GED-3A devices.

In my testimony below, I also mention Behavioral Rehearsal Lessons in front of 40 students, that included significant restraints together with shocks and violent attacks with a plastic knife or metal spoon, contrary to the quote from Dr. Israel saying otherwise to the New York State Education Department. I said below that the student was wearing GED-1 devices, and that these were FDA approved. Not so. They were non-approved GED-3A instruments. All instrument serial numbers (that we meticulously wrote down on student Recording Sheets every day) started with "3A-", except for the more rare GED-4 instruments whose serial numbers started with "4-". I remember asking back then why GED-1 instruments had serial numbers that started with "3A-", and being told, "Don't ask!"

It's sickening to think that not even one instrument that I used on my former students at JRC were FDA approved, contrary to JRC's repeatedly telling us and advertising that the devices were "safe" because they were "FDA approved".

Please be certain to launch an investigation through appropriate authorities to determine whether Massachusetts judges who court-ordered these GED "treatments" were informed that the instruments were not FDA approved, and whether JRC misled the judges (perjury). Thank you.

Sincerely,

Gregory Miller

7 comments:

  1. I think I saw the TV spot that showed a young autistic person being estrained and shocked. He knew what was coming. I heard his cries of "No! No! No!" all the time he was being tied down to the board. I have an autistic grandson who is non-verbal, but can say "no!" When I heard the boy on TV, I 'heard' my grandson. I was shaking in horror at the prospect of ANYONE beong subjected to such a thing. How in the world can anyone in their right mind DO such a thing? Common sense tells me that if a person has to be shocked all the time for every little supposed infraction, something is NOT working. This makes me sick that these so called "treatments" are allowed to go on. And now to hear how they have been misued and abused makes me even sicker. Please put a stop to it!

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  2. So torture is okay as long as its FDA approved?

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  3. Is there no one else left that can do such deed like this to the students of JRC? What if this would cause such defamation (I believe it already did!) for the school and despite having classifieds in manila, no parent would even try to call you and enroll their children?

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  4. I suppose even a single west palm beach court reporter would have known about this news. Well, anon already said there was a TV spot about this issue but it seems like there are no actions made for the students. Where's the mercy here?

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  5. I just signed the petition on change.org for the school to stop these electric shocks, but it's been up there for a while. Im just wondering if anyone knows the status? Has there been more investigation? I'd love to see this place shut down and everyone involved electrified with their own devices. Who do we petition do get that done??
    I'm going to link the petition here and on my autism page... I don't know what else to do. I feel so helpless.
    http://www.change.org/petitions/judge-rotenberg-educational-center-please-stop-painful-electric-shocks-on-your-students#share

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  6. I really would like to know why no one has been criminally prosecuted. Perhaps the ones responsible should be brought to Nurenberg for a trial for crimes against humanity.

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  7. Those responsible should be criminally prosecuted. They should even be prosecuted by the international court in Nurenberg, germany

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