Thursday, May 24, 2012

Is it torture when the police do it?

(Cross-posted at And Sometimes Tea.)

In case you missed it, here's a frightening look at the increased use of things that a sane nation would call "torture" by American police agencies on American soil against American citizens (Hat tip: Mark Shea):

After Daniel Chong was arrested in a federal drug raid, he wasn’t taken to Gitmo. Instead, the Feds thoughtfully arranged to bring Gitmo to him, nearly torturing him to death in the process.

Chong, a senior at the University of California-San Diego, was one of nine people swept up in an April 21 narcotics raid by the Drug Enforcement Administration. After his arrest he spent four hours handcuffed in a cell before being questioned. One of the agents who questioned Chong described him as someone who was "in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Following the interrogation, the student was told that he would be released and provided with paperwork to sign. He was then handcuffed and put into a five-by-ten-foot detention cell, where he was held for five days in conditions that qualify as torture under any rational reading of either domestic or international law.

The DEA’s story was that Chong was simply "forgotten." A likelier explanation is that he was ignored, or even singled out for deliberate abuse. Chong shouted and screamed for help, kicking against the heavy door of his cell. Although his hands were cuffed, he managed to tear a small fragment from his jacket, which he shoved under the door in an effort to get the attention of his jailers.

Since Chong had no difficulty hearing conversations and other sounds outside his cell, there’s no reason to doubt that his pleas were heard, and simply disregarded. [...]

By the time two agents "discovered" him, Chong was literally pleading for his captors to kill him. He was hospitalized for acute dehydration, renal failure, a perforated esophagus, and severe cramps. He had shed 15 pounds. He has never received an apology.

If a dog had been subjected to treatment similar to the abuse inflicted on Daniel Chong, those responsible would face felony charges. Thanks to the spurious principle of "supremacy clause immunity," there is no measurable likelihood that the people who nearly tortured Chong to death will face criminal charges. It’s quite likely they will never be identified.

There's more--a lot more--here, including the stories of the torture-death of a man named Nick Christie, another man named Raul Rosas, the physical abuse of Derena Marie Madison, and several more. The moral of all of these stories is that by condoning torture, we're increasingly choosing to turn a blind eye when it happens on our own soil, and to insist on the immunity of the police even when they cross a very bright line.

Is that really a surprise? In the moral realm, when we remove religion or other philosophical guidelines from questions of morality and ethical conduct, what are we left with except "might makes right?" And what protections do ordinary citizens have from the abuses of the people we trust to serve and protect?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The execution of an innocent man

Sorry for this blog's long silence--it has been a busy spring, and I'm finding it hard to maintain posting here.

But I wanted to share this (Hat tip: Deacon Kandra):

He was the spitting image of the killer, had the same first name and was near the scene of the crime at the fateful hour: Carlos DeLuna paid the ultimate price and was executed in place of someone else in Texas in 1989, a report out Tuesday found.

Even "all the relatives of both Carloses mistook them," and DeLuna was sentenced to death and executed based only on eyewitness accounts despite a range of signs he was not a guilty man, said law professor James Liebman.

Liebman and five of his students at Columbia School of Law spent almost five years poring over details of a case that he says is "emblematic" of legal system failure. [...]

The report, entitled "Los Tocayos Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution," traces the facts surrounding the February 1983 murder of Wanda Lopez, a single mother who was stabbed in the gas station where she worked in a quiet corner of the Texas coastal city of Corpus Christi.

"Everything went wrong in this case," Liebman said.

That night Lopez called police for help twice to protect her from an individual with a switchblade.

"They could have saved her, they said 'we made this arrest immediately' to overcome the embarrassment," Liebman said.

Forty minutes after the crime Carlos DeLuna was arrested not far from the gas station.

He was identified by only one eyewitness who saw a Hispanic male running from the gas station. But DeLuna had just shaved and was wearing a white dress shirt -- unlike the killer, who an eyewitness said had a mustache and was wearing a grey flannel shirt.

Even though witnesses accounts were contradictory -- the killer was seen fleeing towards the north, while DeLuna was caught in the east -- DeLuna was arrested.

Arrested. Sentenced to death. And executed. For a murder he did not commit.

There are many reasons for faithful Catholics to oppose the death penalty, but the executions of innocent people stand at the top of the list. Anyone who thinks this is an isolated incident hasn't been paying attention. It's time for Catholics to work together to end the death penalty in the modern world.