'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, May 18, 2008

UPDATE: The Horrors of ICE 

According to psychologist Stephen Soldz:

In Soviet Russia, psychiatrists sometimes collaborated with the repressive regime by locking up dissidents in mental hospitals and injecting them with powerful psychotropic drugs, "antipsychotics" designed to treat schizophrenia. The Soviet psychiatrists were rightly condemned for their misuse of medicine for the un-therapeutic purpose of social control.

American health personnel are not immune from cooperating with efforts to misuse psychiatric drugs for social control purposes having no connection with those drugs' intended uses. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) has been systematically administering psychotropic drugs to immigrants in the process of being deported as the Washington Post reported this week. Deportees who in the past had resisted deportation were injected with drugs, often a three drug "cocktail," in order to keep them pliant during deportation. These drugs included the powerful antipsychotic drug Haldol, as well as the antianxiety drug Ativan, and Cogentin, a drug used to treat the often severe Parkinsons illness like side effects of Haldol.

These drugs were prescribed by psychiatrists and administered by specially selected nurse "medical escorts." The drugs were administered in extremely high doses, sometimes rendering the deportees unable to speak. It sometimes took deportees days or even weeks to get the drugs out of their system. Thus Michael Shango was injected with 32.5 milligrams (mg) of Haldol, as well as 8.5 mg of Ativan and some Cogentin over 11 hours. His initial Haldol dose was 10 mg. Compare this with a usual Haldol dose of 2 to 5 mg repeated in 4 to 6 hours for "control of the acutely agitated schizophrenic patient with moderately severe to very severe symptoms" and 2 to 6 mg of Ativan daily for patients whose bodies have already adapted to the medication; lower doses of these drugs are recommended for new patients as people need time to adjust to them.

These drugs, especially Haldol are extremely powerful and are almost never utilized in individuals not diagnosed as actively psychotic. They can be extremely uncomfortable, especially if first administered in high doses and can disorient an individual for days. When Shango was imprisoned upon his return to the Congo, he was so disoriented that he didn't know where he was fortunately, friends helped him escape. It was weeks before he fully recovered from the drugs.

Soldz rightly places the responsibility for these abuses upon the medical professionals themselves:

In 35 years of practice, I have never had to give such high doses of antipsychotics to any person with any mental illness as is described in this story.

Again, we have an utter breakdown of the accountability of health professionals. As with the behavior of nurses and doctors in the war on terror prisons and the use of drugs for the CIA-State Department's rendition flights, we have a failure of understanding of professional ethics and complete passivity of the AMA and the American Nurses Association.

It is time for both Congress and the health professions themselves to investigate. Recently Senators Levin, Biden and Hagel wrote the Defense Department Inspector General requesting an investigation of the reports of involuntary detainee drugging. This new report of involuntary drugging may be investigated as well.

We need a mechanism, however, for a detailed examination of the perversions of the health professions by the current administration. I have previously called for a Truth and Reconciliation process to deal with the shameful cowardice of the health professions in actively and/or passively aiding the administrations' detention and interrogation abuses. Perhaps this process needs to be expanded to confront the broad range of health profession failures to actively oppose their professions' perversion by the forces of the state.

Or, as I more generally explained in regard to the involvement of psychologists in the tortures inflicted at Guantanamo:

One of the common features of an increasingly violent, unaccountable society is the degradation of its professional classes. Now, to some extent, they always invariably serve as functionairies for their masters, only the most independent minded align themselves with movements for radical social change, but, even so, they perform within a complex network of ethical limitations and analytical standards that legitimize their outward appearance of objectivity

Indeed, such limitations are essential to their effectiveness. After all, how else could Blackstone have permanently established the principles of larceny within Anglo-American jurisprudence in the 18th Century, thus criminalizing perquisites, an opaque, informal means of shared property rights in the production process by laborers, entrepreneurs and merchants in England, leading to the enshrinement of new, substituted system of wage labor? How else could Lombroso have persuaded so many that people reveal an inherent criminality through purported physiological deformities, deformities that, not coincidentally, matched the common perception of what was then known as the lower orders? . . .

Accordingly, instead of the education, ethics and methodology of the psychology profession legitimizing the abuse of detainees at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, quite the opposite has occurred. The abuse and the transparent rationalizations for them are delegitimizing the profession, exposing some of its participants, and its primary organization of governance, the American Psychological Association, as willing facilitators of these sadomasochistic practices. A similar phenomenon has occurred in the legal profession in regard to the judicial defense of these indefinite detentions and the conditions of confinement associated with them. One can only assume that the increased freedom to act violently and abusively more than compensates for the loss of institutional credibility and the potential domestic risk associated with it.

A similar tension between delegitimization and the benefits associated with the unencumbered use of violence and physical abuse is now repeating itself in relation to the deportation of detainees by ICE. One wonders, will any profession in the US, and its publicly pronounced ethical values, values frequently displayed to the rest of the world as a model to be emulated, escape being discredited by the purported war on terror? Of course, I can't avoid exposing my own cynicism by saying that Soldz's exhortation for Congress to take action strikes me as extraordinarily naive. Something more direct, more confrontational is necessary to reverse this perverse process.

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