On 1/18/14, I posted a discussion on this blog of a story about which I first learned from the libertarian blog Notes on Liberty. Briefly: a minor drug suspect was subjected to repeated anal violations over the course of several hours under under a proper warrant. The violations were performed by a doctor, or by two doctors, at police request. The story was blood curdling but it contained too many dark spots at the time, I thought. I expressed skepticism, for which I was roundly condemned by orthodox libertarians. To my mind there were not one but two big issues at hand. The first one, the obvious one, was the question of whether long-lasting torture under authority of law has become routine in America. (It’s separate in my mind from the matter of police brutality under the influence of an adrenalin rush.) The secondary and subsidiary issue raised by this tale of official atrocities was that of the possible credulousness of my libertarian friends. You can read the whole original thread by following this link:
My original posting was opened 220 times. Perhaps it was mostly by perverts attracted by its title but I can’t be sure. Two hundred an twenty visits are enough by the humble standard of this blog to attempt an update. Here it is:
Shortly after my posting, the victim accepted a settlement of $1.6 million in return for not suing the local government entities involved. One of the two entities specified that it accepted no legal responsibility for the events connected with its payment. All the same, small poor governments are not likely to respond to wild accusations with hush-up money in that an mount. The deal itself creates a presumption of guilt.
One of the two doctors actively engaged in administering the torture was mildly condemned by his state’s medical association in the light manner of professional associations everywhere. But the relevant board used the word “probably.”
The second doctor said to have been involved has dropped out of sight, at least out of my sight. (Please, correct me if my search has been incomplete.) Of course, I think that if he even was in the vicinity during the torture and he did not intervene, he is culpable. That’s one small item in the list of things I was expecting to happen and that did not. By the way, I think anomalies should be treated as aggregative. One small anomaly probably does not mean much; five together do.
Here is what does not seem to have happened:
I had asked a question about the probable cause used by officers to inflict anal torture on the victim. There has been no denial of the notion that the probable causes were limited to the victim’s long but boring history of brushes with the law, and on the “signaling” of a police dog with a dubious track record.
More than twenty months after the victimization, I found no trace of a civil lawsuit either against the doctor known to have performed the forced medical procedures or against the hospital where they took place. That would be the same hospital that attempted to charge the victim for the forced procedures. That fact alone would be enough to stimulate me to action if I were the victim. This absence is puzzling because the victim now has had a war chest of $1.6 million for the past eight months. That’s more than enough money to begin a lawsuit against a deep-pocket organization such as a hospital.
The doctor is a Nigerian by birth. He may have had a shaky immigration status making him vulnerable to police pressure as I speculated. Or, his immigration status may be perfect but, I am pretty sure that having been reared, having gone to high school in one of the African tyrannies does not prepare one to be sensitive to individual liberties American style. That lack of preparedness would also make the doctor vulnerable to police pressure to act in a horrendously unethical fashion by ordinary American standards. Reading around his name on Google, I am also fairly sure that his reputation is shot locally, as far as a private practice is concerned. He may move to another state or become a prison doctor, a category always in demand and where scrutiny is slight.
The American Enterprise Institute – which did much to lift the story out of the category of “possibly true” internet tales – seems to have to dropped the same story. There were some continuing indignant comments on its site but the Institute is simply not asking the obvious questions I raise below. I believe they are obvious questions if you fear that deliberate torture of citizens has become routine or that it is about to become routine.
There is no evidence that the police personnel involved, in the field and in their chain of command, were professionally sanctioned. Some have left their respective departments but their departure seems compatible with ordinary organizational turnover and with natural personnel attrition. At this point, if I were to vote on this question, it would be 70/30 that no one was punished. This seems strange. If I were the mayor, or a supervisor in one of the entities paying up the settlement, I would want heads to roll. I would want them to roll as publicly as possible to show the electorate that I have little responsibility in the events leading to the payoff. If I were a local taxpayer, I would demand that heads roll. If I were a local newspaper, I would increase circulation overnight by conducting a campaign in favor of punishment. There is just too much local silence around the overall story.
I have not found any trace of criminal prosecution of the police personnel involved in what certainly looks like criminal behavior. (See below.) A grand jury investigation is not difficult to undertake. It’s sometimes done just to pacify popular sentiment. That the victim won a large financial settlement in lieu of a civil lawsuit suggests to me that the facts were such that both local governments did not wish to take their chance in any court, least of all, in a criminal court. If even only a small fraction of the events described are factually correct, it seems to me that there is ground for a criminal investigation. (But, I repeat: I am not a lawyer.)
Perhaps, the victim did not wish to become embroiled in a criminal suit, perhaps, he wished only to enjoy his award in peace. This is not a good explanation, however, for the lack of criminal action initiated by the authorities. The District Attorney does not need the assent of the alleged victim to pursue violent crimes except when the alleged victim’s testimony is crucial. But, in this case, some of the facts at least are not in dispute. And in any legal action, some of the police personnel involved would betray their brothers and tell the full story to lessen their own punishment, as is customary. And the doctor would seem a good target for cooperation with the prosecution.
I am also surprised by the fact that commonweal third parties seem to not have intervened. The story as told is such a horrendous violation of basic rights that it must be considered exemplary. It’s difficult to understand why the American Civil Liberties Union, or any of a number of lawyerly associations dedicated to the defense of the little guy against abusive government, did not jump in, still have not jumped in. (Perhaps, the victim is white but that is not a sufficient explanation. I don’t know if he is.)
Of course, I would like my errors of fact – if any- to be corrected on this blog. I also welcome especially comments by attorneys. (Incidentally, I never accept reading assignments unless they are introduced by a few words about why I should do them. I used to be a teacher; I have a good B.S. detector.)
A few words about skepticism. I think it’s an all around virtue. I believe it may sometimes lead to a waste of time and energy but that it’s never morally wrong. It’s the first line of defense against irrationality. A dearth of skepticism often has horrendous consequences. There were not enough skeptics in Italy in the 1920s or in Germany and in Japan in the 1930s. Lenin knew better. At the beginning of his regime, he worked harder at liquidating skeptics and potential skeptics than at fighting class enemies. He turned out to have been right for eighty years.
Skepticism toward one’s friends is more important than skepticism toward one’s enemies. Every new piece of evidence of turpitude about enemies adds little to the whole picture, has little implication for action. There are reasons why they are enemies to begin with. Additional evidence quickly brings diminishing returns. However, when friends and allies make mistakes, they often take you with them. Friends who are lost are dangerous because they have the capacity to make you lose your own way. My original skepticism toward this story has subsided a little, not much. It’s surrounded by too much inexplicable – or simply unexplained – penumbra.
Now, to finish, I want to say again that I don’t have a dog in this fight (or I wouldn’t if there were a fight). I believe, with some of my past critics, that the so-called War on Drugs is a disaster for America. It’s the worse thing since the end of the Cold War. It’s much worse than all terrorist threats put together because it attacks the very foundations of our society. If I knew nothing of the horror story that is the subject of this essay, I would condemn the War on Drugs because, inevitably, it promotes official lawlessness, the worst kind of lawlessness.