Thursday, 3 May 2012

Throwing away the key from Abu Ghraib to San Diego

With the steady shredding of our remaining protections against arbitrary actions by agents of the state, no one can be too shocked at the behavior of the Drug Enforcement Agency in the Daniel Chong case. The DEA seized Chong during a raid on a home where illicit drugs were allegedly in use and put him in a windowless, toilet-less holding cell, but then forgot he was in there. The 23-year-old college student was without food or water for five days and almost died.

Not that the DEA meant to force Chong to drink his own urine and attempt suicide, but the first statement issued by the San Diego office’s spokeswoman, Amy Roderick, tells us something about the mindset at work in the brave new Security State that Bush and Obama have arranged for us. Roderick’s early comments are hard to find on the Internet now, meaning that the rolling PR disaster was quickly perceived up the food chain by someone with a working brain. But when news of the abuse first broke, Roderick immediately went into Keep Us Safe mode by referring to Chong’s guilt, saying the arrest occurred because Chong ‘was at the house, by his own admission, to get high with his friends’.

So there we have it: if you are doing Bad Things, anything goes. Corollary: a detainee’s guilt and thus treatment will be determined by the arresting police agent. What better summary of the Abu Ghraib/Guantánamo spirit to which our society is acclimating itself? If we DEA/ Homeland Security/ Anybody Else agents determine that you are a criminal or a terrorist, tough titties to everything that happens after that.

The new official line is that the DEA is very, very sorry—no, like really, really sorry—about what happened, erm, hmmm, [cough], ‘rare occurrence’, [mumble], ‘does not reflect DEA values’, [throat clearing], ‘will be investigated promptly’, etc., etc. The so-sorry part I can totally believe given that the lawsuit Chong’s lawyer is now typing up carries a price tag of $12 million. If I were sitting on that jury, I’d add a zero to it before the lawyers have stood up for opening arguments.

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