Thursday, May 3, 2012

The War on Drugs Sinks To A New Low

This story below from NBC San Diego is simply so horrifying in what it reveals as to just how far America has declined as a nation that I feel I have to post it in its entirety:
Daniel Chong, the UC San Diego student who was left in a Drug Enforcement Agency holding cell for nearly five days, said the time spent in his cell was a life-altering experience.

Before holding a press conference Tuesday afternoon, the 23-year-old spoke with NBCSanDiego and said he was increasingly worried throughout the days he spent in a 5 ft. by 10 ft. cell, where he could not spread his arms out wide.

“They never came back, ignored all my cries and I still don’t know what happened,” he said. “I’m not sure how they could forget me.”

Chong and his lawyer spoke to the media on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the claim they will file with the federal court system on Wednesday.

“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” said his lawyer Gene Iredale, who compared Chong’s experience to Abu Ghraib.

Chong said he was at a friend’s house in University City celebrating 4/20, a day many marijuana users set aside to smoke, when agents came inside and raided the residence. Chong was then taken to the DEA office in Kearny Mesa.

He said agents questioned him, and then told him he could go home. One agent even offered him a ride, Chong said. No criminal charges were filed against him.

But Chong did not go home that night. Instead, he was placed in a cell for five days without any human contact and was not given food or drink. In his desperation, he said he was forced to drink his own urine.

“I had to do what I had to do to survive….I hallucinated by the third day,” Chong said. “I was completely insane.”

Chong said he lost roughly 15 pounds during the time he was alone. His lawyer confirmed that Chong ingested a powdery substance found inside the cell. Later testing revealed the substance was methamphetamine.

After days of being ignored, Chong said he tried to take his own life by breaking the glass from his spectacles with his teeth and then carving “Sorry mom,” on his wrists. He said nurses also found pieces of glass in his throat, which led him to believe he ingested the pieces purposefully.

Chong said he could hear DEA employees and people in neighboring cells. He screamed to let them know he was there, but no one replied. He kicked the door, but no one came to get him.
By the time DEA officers found Chong in his cell Wednesday morning Chong was completely incoherent, said Iredale.

“I didn’t think I would come out,” Chong said.

He said when employees discovered him in the cell that they looked confused and nervous. A DEA employee rode with him to the hospital, where they paid for Chong’s visit.

He spent three days in the intensive care unit at Sharp Hospital and his kidneys were close to failing.

The DEA has not apologized to Chong, said Iredale.

The incident also caused Chong to miss his midterms at UCSD. He said he does not know if he will return to school, as his perspective on life has changed since his isolation.

San Diego defense attorney Gretchen Von Helms said the victim could get millions if he files a lawsuit.

"In all my years of practice I've never heard of the DEA or any Federal government employee simply forgetting about someone that they have in their care," she said.

"There has to be repercussions if people do not follow the safety and the care when they have a human being in their custody."
Before I continue, I just wanted to point out that the only reason this story is getting a lot of media coverage is because the victim of this gross governmental abuse of power was a middle class college student. Does anyone really believe that this is the first time anything like this has happened in the DEA’s detention cells? If so, I’ll take that bet. The agency’s “bad luck” in this case was that Chong wasn’t some poor, black kid from the projects.

There are so many levels of Fail in this story that I hardly know where to begin. Let’s start with the DEA busting into a private residence trying to defeat the “deadly scourge” of college students smoking pot. Really? In this day and age in which governmental resources are being stretched to the breaking point and vital agencies like the National Weather Service and the Department of Agriculture are undergoing cutbacks—not to mention that none of the criminals on Wall Street who crashed the economy back in 2008 have been arrested or punished?

Then there is the issue of Chong’s five day confinement, which was so profoundly negligent as to beg the question of whether it was done intentionally. As far as we can determine from the story, Chong was arrested for mere possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor offense at best. Given how, as I have documented numerous times before on this blog, the court system, including the federal courts, are also facing steep cutbacks in budgets and personnel, it seems highly possible that Chong’s case would have eventually been simply dismissed—and don’t think for a minute that those who locked him in that cell and then “forgot” about him didn’t know that.

Does it seem incredible to you that the DEA might have made an example out of Chong in order to send a chilling message to the other potheads at his school? If so, then you need to read some to the articles Exiled reporter Yasha Levine wrote about the treatment that he and other Occupy LA protesters received at the hands of the police after their encampment was raided. There is a cold, Machiavellian logic to the idea of sending a message that since the courts cannot be counted on to hand out stiff punishments to the young miscreants who are no longer going along with the program, they should expect to be badly abused during their time in custody to serve as a deterrent. From Chong’s comments about how “his perspective on life has changed since his isolation,” I’d say he got the message loud and clear.

And let’s also not lose sight of who it is that is ultimately responsible for this abuse of power—President Hopey-Changey himself. Maybe we can’t pin the Occupy LA abomination on the “Constitutional Scholar” in the White House, but the DEA is a federal agency directly under his control. The president absolutely does have the authority to stop this kind of bullshit if he wants to, but given that Obama has gone so far as ordering a federal crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries, he has conclusively shown which side he is on. Any young people thinking of making the mistake of voting for him again this November should take that under consideration.

All in all, the arbitrary indefinite detention of citizens for minor offenses in inhumane conditions is one of the key hallmarks of any authoritarian regime. While it is hyperbolic to say that America has already become a dictatorship, the overall trend could not be more alarming. Chong’s lawyer was absolutely right to conjure up visions of Abu Ghraib, and he might have mentioned Guantanamo as well. We citizens are now reaping what we have sown by not loudly condemning the crimes of the empire around the globe. It was inevitable that the evil at first being perpetrated against brown skinned foreigners overseas would eventually find its way back to our shores, and that by the time it did it would be far too late to stop it from beginning to consume us all.

Addendum: After I wrote the initial post, it was reported that the DEA apologized to Chong. Sorry, but there are times when merely saying your sorry just doesn't fucking cut it. This is one of those times.

Addendum 2: Another news report indicated that a large stash of Ecstasy was found in the
house where Chong was arrested, but that the DEA agents who detained him quickly realized he was not involved with the drug stash.

Bonus: Roll another number


  1. Bill, what really strikes me about this story is not how sinister these people are but how they are so stunningly incompetent.

    1. You're probably right about that. Although sinister AND incompetent is a pretty scary combination.

  2. God what a horrible story. I suspect like you that this kid just got air time due to his middle class station in life. It does remind me of Levine's piece about the Occupy Protest arrests in LA (and don't you remember- they were framed by the MSM as "going very well.")

    What amazes me is that so many people can read this stuff and still not comprehend that none of us are safe in this atmosphere- they will still view it as a cautionary tale against drugs, not against our nation's collective unbridled insanity.

    Kind of how they view culpability for the people who get swept off to Guantanamo just for being in certain areas. Almost like "sure, these are terrible events, but they wouldn't happen to these people if they weren't in those sketchy places." Even this kid's attorney framed it this way with the "wrong place, wrong time". No. There's never a time when someone should face death and torture after a minor offence. But to consider that is to have to look at the entire framework; I guess it's easier to view these things as aberrations, not part of an authoritarian system working the way they always do.

  3. Well at least they did apologize, and I'm sure he'll win that lawsuit which is more than I imagine would happen in some Iranian prison.

    No, this is America, he'll probably go buy a luxurious mansion and a 6 car garage filled with various sportsters following his cut of 20 million. I don't see that happening in the land of the browns. Assad's thugs would've just rip his throat out and left it at his family's doorstep.

    1. How low has the US sunk when the argument is, well at least it's better than Iran or Syria. Talk about damning with faint praise.

    2. Indeed - that the injured party might win a lawsuit hardly seems compensation for almost dying...

    3. How wonderful! So at least we're not at the same level as brutal authoritarian regimes like Syria, huh? Wow that makes me feel better.

      This is what American exceptionalism has become today; making excuses for the outright failure and incompetence of government, law enforcement, and corporate officials. I hear it all the time, especially from Republican folks who still delude themselves about this country. "Things are bad here in the US but how about dem brown people! Yeah I don't have health insurance but I at least I don't have to wait in line like they do in Belarus."

      As the decline if the United States hastens, I expect to see the same kinds of actions we are seeing in Syria today, carried out by our government as it struggles to deal with massive social unrest.

    4. America is NOT like Syria or Iran when it comes to these things. When this happens here there's outrage, investigation, lawsuits, and apologies from the offending institute (or at least there's a better chance of it happening). Syria or Iran? Forget it, you have to charge down tanks and be shot at by real bullets, not by rubber ones. Abu Ghraib was an embarresment for the US and there was public condemnation and investigation into the torture. While the US is on the road to a dictatorship and complete oppression, we're not there yet. The fact we can voice our outrage, file lawsuits that actually have a chance of winning, and the government having to sometimes apologize makes a difference. This is all that I was alluding to.

      "Hell is empty, the devils live here." William Shakespeare.

  4. Not that this couldn't have been on purpose - I just think that you might be assuming more competence than is warranted; I mean his paperwork probably said he'd been released - those screams and kicks "had" to be coming from someone they'd already accounted for. Thus, no problem exists (until a body is found).

  5. Perhaps we should all start carrying cards around that inform the authourities of two things.

    ONE; Upon arresting or detaining me, you are completely responsible for my care, feeding and well being.
    TWO On my arrest or detention please call xxx-xxx-xxxx and advise my lawyer of my arrest/detention so he can start the paperwork.

    Have a nice day.

  6. Bill, the more i hear, the sicker I get.
    It's possible that starskeptic is right and this was just a giant clusterfuck, but, what does that say about a system that is so over burdened, so stupidly complex, that this could ever happen.
    why the hell didn't someone check on him when he was crying out for help? He could hear other people, you know they had to hear him.
    how did the people bringing food to prisoners "skip" his cell without wondering why?
    It's just too monstrous to think about, and I think it's getting a lot of air time because of the urine drinking as much as him being middle class etc.
    That urine drinking bit really caught my eye when scanning the headlines. That's for sure.

    1. Those are all the same questions I was asking, pamela. Americans are conditioned to think that law enforcement officers are well trained professionals, but this scandal really calls that into question. Incompetence of this magnitude is almost as bad as if it was done intentionally.