Torture at home

What goes on under the name of “tough love”: an account by a survivor.

That some American prisoners are treated very badly does not &#8212 much as Mr. Bush’s defenders would like it to &#8212 in any way mitigate the horrors now being carried out in the name of the war on terror. But if they’re really interested in doing something about maltreatment of Americans, rather than just deflecting criticism from the Young Churchill, I invite them to join the campaign to end the commercialized child abuse masquerading as “tough love” drug treatment (and behavior modification of other kinds).

This letter from reader JL (who prefers not to have his full name published) brought the issue back to mind:

We live in a society that has a hard time coming

to grips with the truth about how we treat our

own children. If you read it, you eventually find

out about some Republicans you might have heard

of. If we are willing to do these things to our

own kids, kids who need help, why would we be at

all concerned about doing it, or worse, to ‘enemy


I survived Straight, I served as a Staff Trainee,

I abused other kids and was abused in turn. It

only took 18 years of suicide attempts,

alcoholism and finally several years of

cognitive therapy and a big dose of luck to be

alive today.

And everyday, everyday, it continues right here

in American, to people who for the most part

have been convicted of no crimes, who are held

without access to outside counsel, or even

outside anything, citizens, children.

But no one wants to talk about it. No one wants

to cover it on AC360, no one wants to hear about

how we enforced peanut butter diets, how we beat

people, how we unwittingly used the most

sophisticated thought and behavior reform

techniquues, at the behest of grown ups, to

literally torture each other into various states

of insanity.

Plenty of the kids I was in with 23 years ago are

dead today, some were killed, others took their

own lives, I know of one who is serving life in

an Alabama prision.

These were 13-14-15 year old children, and we

tortured them, we tortured each other into

proclaiming the desired truth, and we did it at

the behest of so called conservatives. I saw

broken bones, people covered head to toe in

bruises, people who were not allowed to go to the

bathroom, people stripped naked in private homes

and taunted for 8 hours a night, then taken into

the ‘building’ and taunted for 10-12 hour days,

every day for a year, two years, three years. I

was there, I saw it, I did it. I live with it

everyday of my life. I live with the nightmares

of being abused, and the far worse nightmares of

being the abuser.

Sure, I agree that what we are doing to people

like Padilla and those at Gitmo is horrible. But

I think it is even worse that we are doing it to

our own children.

JL points to this chilling piece by Maia Szalavitz.

If you’re wondering where you’ve heard the name “Mel Sembler” before, he’s just signed up as one of Mitt Romney’s finance co-chairmen.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: