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Back in the USSR

Joyce Marcel

How would you like a glamorous trip to a foreign country on the government's tab?

If you're a nurse, you may have seen the ads. "Do you ever dream of escaping to exotic, exciting locations? Want to get away from the office but are strapped for cash? Make your dreams come true..."

What do you have to do? According to the Washington Post on Wednesday, travel with people who are being deported from the United States -- to countries where they might very well be killed moments after landing -- and shoot them full of powerful psychotropic drugs when they complain.

"The U.S. government has injected hundreds of foreigners it has deported with dangerous psychotropic drugs against their will to keep them sedated during the trip back to their home country, according to medical records, internal documents and interviews with people who have been drugged," the Post reports.

The drugs? Haldol, which is used with schizophrenia patients. Ativan, a tranquilizer. Cogentin, a muscle relaxer helpful with Parkinson's patients.

"Haldol gained notoriety in the Soviet Union, where it was often given to political dissidents imprisoned in psychiatric hospitals," the Post said. Then the story quoted a specialist who pointed out -- as if it needed to be pointed out -- that giving these drugs to people who are not psychotic "is medically and ethically wrong."

Often, deportees were given a "cocktail" of all three drugs at once. And they were given the shots many times -- in detention, on the runway, on the plane, while changing planes.

Since this morally depraved practice not only violates any sense of decency that we might still have left as a country, but international law as well, it is interesting to note that during plane-changing layovers on the ground in Belgium and France, the nurses were not allowed to give their patients "booster shots." They had to wait until they were back on a plane.

According to the Post, our government has been discussing deportee drugging for a long time. By the end of the Clinton administration, it had decided that it could be done "only if a federal judge gave permission in advance."

Even after 9/11, the government was still "wary about drugging detainees."

But Bush and Cheney rushed to the rescue. In early 2003, "They handed the job of deportation to the Department of Homeland Security's new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE." The appropriately-named agency, according to an internal policy memo, decided that a detainee "with or without a diagnosed psychiatric condition who displays overt or threatening aggressive behavior... may be considered a combative detainee and can be sedated if appropriate under the circumstances."

And guess who got to determine what might be considered "combative"?


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Today, more than 250 druggings, at least 83 deaths and two lawsuits against the U.S. government later, the rules may have been changed. Or they may not. And by the way, ICE has never asked for a court order.

As if Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib weren't enough, now we're taking a page from the bad old Soviet Union. What's next? Bush and Cheney flying to Myanmar to see how it's done over there?

Here's a confession. Over the past seven years, I've built myself an anti-Bush-Cheney shield.

Because I don't want outrage and anger to override my chance to enjoy daily life, I've turned off the radio every time Bush's voice comes on. Although I've force myself to watch his speeches (with my blood boiling) on television, I will not watch him anywhere else. I have even gone so far as to avoid the pictures of his daughter's recent wedding.

I read the style sections of the papers more closely than I read the front page. I adhere to the Julia Roberts Rule of movies -- only romantic comedies, only happy endings.

But every now and then, a story like this one breaks through my shield and leaves me full of sheer rank hatred and contempt for this administration and everything it stands for.

It's important to give credit to The New York Times, The New Yorker, the Washington Post -- yes, the despised mainstream media -- for doing these kinds of investigations and revealing the dark underbelly of our government. Black sites, the mistreatment of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital, Abu Ghraib, generals being turned into propagandists on television -- reporters and editors are doing the job that our Constitution gave to our morally bankrupt Congress.

In the current issue of Vanity Fair, James Wolcott writes about the violent schism in the Democratic party -- especially in the blogosphere -- as a result of the intense Clinton-Obama primary season.

"Such fratricidal skirmishing may sound silly...." Wolcott said. "But there is a deeper frustration at work... And that is the failure of Democrats and activists to bring the Bush-Cheney administration to account for any of its destructive and disastrous misdeeds over the last seven years (even raising the possibility of impeachment was treated as poor etiquette by the queasy Democratic leadership), the impotent fury over the knowledge that the masters of disaster will leave the White House unscathed, unaccountable, their smirks intact. There will be no day of reckoning, nothing to stop their clean getaway."

As a country, we've lost all moral credibility. Each new revelation corrodes our humanity just a little bit more. What's going to be left for the next president, whoever it may be? Generations still unborn will be paying the price for what this administration has done.

And us? As Wolcott said, all we are left with is impotent fury as we watch this lovely, lovely country go swirling down the drain.

A collection of Joyce Marcel's columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through And write her at

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