Thursday, May 15, 2008

Is this America?

I know, I know. . . in year eight of the Bush-Cheney regime, we all know: things are not how they should be. They break our laws, take our money, and kill our children—and lie, lie, lie—it’s like breathing to them, and nothing should surprise us anymore. At this point, our cynical meters have pinned in the red zone; we console ourselves—or try to—with the knowledge that come next January, these criminals will be ushered into the dustbin of history. We’d like a little more accountability, but we’ll start with just getting these imperious, greedy cowards the fuck out of our White House.

And, yet, with all that scumbag fatigue, two stories from Wednesday’s news were still enough to spike my blood pressure, and dilate the pupils in my half-open/half-shut eyes.

First was the fourth part of a series called Careless Detention running in the Washington Post. The headline on page A1:

Some Detainees Are Drugged For Deportation
Immigrants Sedated Without Medical Reason

The carefully researched piece by Amy Goldstein and Dana Priest describes how the US government injected powerful psychotropic drugs into hundreds of people awaiting deportation—injected them with high doses of Haldol, Ativan, and Cogentin for reasons that could best be described as lazy, vengeful, and venal.

In a Chicago holding cell early one evening in February 2006, five guards piled on top of a 49-year-old man who was angry he was going back to Ecuador, according to a nurse's account in his deportation file. As they pinned him down so the nurse could punch a needle through his coveralls into his right buttock, one officer stood over him menacingly and taunted, "Nighty-night."

Involuntary chemical restraint—that’s what it is called—and it is a violation of several international human rights treaties, not to mention our own government’s rules:

Federal officials have seldom acknowledged publicly that they sedate people for deportation. The few times officials have spoken of the practice, they have understated it, portraying sedation as rare and "an act of last resort." Neither is true, records and interviews indicate.

Records show that the government has routinely ignored its own rules, which allow deportees to be sedated only if they have a mental illness requiring the drugs, or if they are so aggressive that they imperil themselves or people around them.

Stung by lawsuits over two sedation cases, the agency changed its policy in June to require a court order before drugging any deportee for behavioral rather than psychiatric reasons. In at least one instance identified by The Post, the agency appears not to have followed those rules.

That body, the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), didn’t follow the rules some 250 times in the last five years. At least that’s what the Post team was able to document. (I urge you to click over and read that documentation—the article gives several graphic example—though I warn you, it is extremely disturbing.)

Equally as disturbing was a press release I got yesterday from the American Civil Liberties Union. That story summarized what the ACLU learned from Department of Defense documents it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act:

"These documents provide further evidence that the torture of prisoners in U.S. custody abroad was not aberrational, but was widespread and systemic," said Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the ACLU. "They only underscore the need for an independent investigation into high-level responsibility for prisoner abuse."

The papers contain the stories of several men that died in US custody after some degree of Bush Administration-directed “enhanced interrogation” (what decent people call “torture”), the objections raised by Army and Navy investigators, previously withheld DoD criminal investigation files, and communications from the Departments of Justice and State.

The documents have only just been released (after a legal battle), so it is pretty sure that there is more unsettling news to come.

Common to both stories is how our civil machinery has been harnessed by Bush and Cheney to do harm to other human beings. Unjustified, unconscionable, and yet carefully orchestrated harm. Cabinet-level government agencies, staffed with living, breathing Americans—vetted, no doubt, to insure their ideological solidarity with the administration—organized to break our laws, inflict pain, and destroy lives.

It left me with the voice of Fannie Lou Hamer echoing in my head: Is this America?

That voice, that question—is this America?—tells me that these stories are not something that I can just put on a shelf. And they are not something that we—as a country—can just put aside while we wait for our next president to “fix it.”

In fact, I don’t even know what “fix it” means.

The Bush-Cheney crew brought with them a sickness, and it has thoroughly infected almost every organ of our government. Justice Department lawyers categorize and catalog the torture; trained medical professionals administer the illegal injections. Bush’s wars (on terror, truth, science, political opposition) are malign pathogens that have wormed their way into the very tissue of our society.

I don’t know of any one thing that cures us of this sickness, but I do know that we need to start treatment—or at least start looking for a treatment—stat.

Congressional investigations into each of the travesties discussed here need to start this summer. Indeed, we have to commit ourselves to a complete workup, a stem-to-stern examination of what went wrong, how it went wrong, and what happened as a result. We should start it now, and we should be prepared to keep the inquiries going well past the end of the Bush regime.

And, right now, we should demand something very simple from our presidential candidates—a commitment to the investigations and a promise to stop the practices.

Upon swearing in, our next president could sign executive orders prohibiting the involuntary chemical restraint of ICE detainees and the torture of anyone in our custody or under our control—why not commit to it now? Why not tell us voters—and the entire world—that because this is America, this will not happen. . . at least not anymore.

So, Senators, are you up to it? Tell me right now that you will not tolerate unnecessary sedation or unconscionable torture—tell me that you won’t allow it, tell me that you will hold accountable those that do it—because a country that does permit such behavior isn’t, as you see it, America.

(cross-posted on The Seminal)

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