It was the vascular guy who made the impact. "You know what killed Jesus Christ don't you?" he had asked. I thought he was about to tell me a good joke. "The cross," I answered. "Yes, but what was actually the cause of death?" he responded. "Hanging there, upright, unable to move," he continued without waiting for a second reply, "his bodily fluids drained down to his lower extremities. This placed great strain on his heart and he had congestive heart failure." Well, I'd never heard that. I knew that position abuse was a powerful tool used in torture and brainwashing but I never knew it could be deadly!
On June 16, 2004 Senator Richard Durbin addressed his colleagues on the floor of the US Senate to propose an amendment that would outlaw the use of "position abuse" and other tortures on Moslem detainees in US military prisons. He noted that the US Supreme Court ruled against "position abuse" as late as 2002 in a case called Hope v. Pelzer. According to the magazine American Progress, "Hope, a prisoner, was handcuffed to a "hitching post'' for seven hours in the sun and not allowed to use the bathroom. The Court held that this violated the 8th Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment." The Court ruled:
"The obvious cruelty inherent in this practice should have provided [the prison guards] with some notice that their alleged conduct violated Hope's constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Hope was treated in a way antithetical to human dignity--he was hitched to a post for an extended period of time in a position that was painful, and under circumstances that were both degrading and dangerous."
But Senator Durbin is not just against using "position abuse" on Gulf War detainees. He is against using any types of tortures, including sleep deprivation. He talked about the 1944 case of Ashcraft v. Tennessee which also made it to the US Supreme Court. In this case the Supreme Court held that "a confession obtained by depriving a suspect of sleep and continuously questioning him for 36 hours was involuntarily coerced." Justice Hugo Black , giving the majority opinion, wrote:
"It has been known since 1500 at least that deprivation of sleep is the most effective torture and certain to produce any confession desired [quoting the Wickersham Commission]. ..... We think a situation such as that here shown by uncontradicted evidence is so inherently coercive that its very existence is irreconcilable with the possession of mental freedom by a lone suspect against whom its full coercive force is brought to bear."American Progress, quoting from Durbin's speech to the Senate, reported, "Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin wrote about his experience with sleep deprivation in a Soviet prison in the 1940s:
In the head of the interrogated prisoner a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep, to sleep just a little. ..... Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger or thirst are comparable with it. ..... I came across prisoners who signed what they were told to sign, only to get what the interrogator promised them ..... uninterrupted sleep!"Position abuse and sleep deprivation are two tortures that were routinely employed at Mel and Betty Sembler's Straight program. Read what they did to Leigh Bright.
Leigh Bright was a Virginia teenager who was in Straight's re-education center in Saint Petersburg, Florida in 1982. Her story comes from her court testimony and from an accounting by Dr. Arnold Trebach in The Great Drug War. Ms Bright testified that she has arthritis and was having problems doing her exercises at Straight, Inc. in June 1982, so she was taken into a shower stall to exercise where she was marathoned [Bomb Squad] by staff and old comers who started pushing her around the stall. She testified that they picked her up and threw her to the floor. One girl pulled her up and down by the hair until her head was numb. She kept telling them she had to go to the bathroom, but they wouldn’t let her go. When they finally did, they kept trying to pull her off the commode as she was using it. When she had finished, she stated, a girl started twisting her arm until another girl told her to stop or she would break it. They made her use a paper towel to scoop her own feces out of the toilet.
After three hours of this she was forcefully taken to stand before the GROUP of 600 Straight kids where kids would stand up and say she was no good. One old comer yelled for the GROUP to leave her alone when Straight’s national clinical director, Reverend Doctor V. Miller Newton went over and started screaming at the girl. Two girls came up and put their hands over Leigh’s mouth so she couldn’t breathe. Dr Newton, who was an ordained minister, in front of 600 kids, grabbed Ms. Bright by her hair and threw her to the floor stating, "I want this girl the fuck out of my GROUP." She was taken into the intake room where Dr Newton told the old comers to keep her awake until Monday night. Since this occurred on a Saturday, Ms Bright was kept awoke for 80 hours, during which time girls would push her and make her stand for 12 hours at a time all the while calling her a whore. Finally on Monday night she was allowed 3 hours sleep.
On another occasion Ms Bright testified she had to stand through an entire rap with her back bent half-way to the GROUP. When she tried to bend her legs to relieve the ache five girls restrained her by putting her on the floor and sitting on her for over and hour.
Ms Bright testified that she had a bladder infection when she entered Straight in May but Straight wouldn’t let her go to a doctor. Finally in June Straight let her see a doctor because she had doubled over and started crying. The doctor gave her a prescription for a vaginal infection but Straight did not give her the medicine until July. On another occasion she reported she had excruciating pain in her ears whenever she opened her mouth but again Straight would not let her see a doctor. When Straight finally did let her see a doctor, he said she had a bone problem and needed to see an orthodontist. In the meantime he told her to eat soft foods. Straight did not give her soft foods nor they let her see an orthodontist.
Ms Bright remembered another girl who was not allowed to see an orthodontist. That girl, Ms. Bright reported, had such a bad problem with her braces that she went around with the entire wire sticking out of her mouth! [In an unannounced site visit by officials from Virginia’s Department of Mental Health conducted on February 14-15, 1990 client interviewee # 3 reported that she had had orthodonal surgery just prior to entering Straight and usually sees an orthodontist once a month, but had not seen an orthodontists in four months at Straight. Her teeth bleed when brushing, she reported, because she did not have a special toothbrush to use with braces. She reported to authorities that she believed she could not see an orthodontist until she made Phase 2.]
One day, Ms. Bright says, she related to her old comer that she wanted to commit suicide [not surprisingly]. Later, her old comer stood her up in front of GROUP and announced that Leigh wanted to commit suicide, whereupon GROUP started mocking her. After that, for almost a week, she was made to wear a blue shirt with he words PSYCHOTIC written on it. Whenever parents were around like at Open Meeting, Straight would make her take the shirt off. After that, Ms Bright estified, she never talked about suicidal thoughts to anyone.
Dr. Newton has written a sworn statement acknowledging that he did once restrain Ms. Bright, but only because she had become "physically vicious". "I used only recognized restraint techniques, including a grip on the hair, which causes a person to release anything she is holding or biting," Newton declared. Read here the log of complaints against Dr. Newton when he fled Florida in 1983. Read here about Dr. Newton's $11 million in settlements with former clients for abusing them in New Jersey. A watchdog group for abusive priests of the Orthodox Catholic Church of America lists Father Cassian (formerly known at Straight and Kids as Reverend Doctor Doctor V. Miller Newton).
Last month, in a PumpGate court deposition, Betty Sembler made this incredible statement about Miller Newton, "[Miller Newton is] a very close and dear friend and a valued one." Then she calls him "an outstanding individual." Mr. Newton is even a participant on the International Scientific and Medical Forum on Drug Abuse, a front group for Betty's Drug Free America Foundation.
In his June speech, Senator Durbin reminded the gathered Senators that, "Eleanor Roosevelt was the Chair of the U.N. Commission that produced the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948. The Universal Declaration states unequivocally, "No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.'' " Just six months later on December 10, 2004 on the occasion of Human Rights Day, Ambassador Melvin Sembler, AO wrote an Op-Ed for La Nazione/Il Resto del Carlino/IL Giorno in which he stated, "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a revolutionary document when the United Nations passed it in 1948. It remains so today. Americans take a justifiable pride in the central role that Eleanor Roosevelt played in its drafting and passage." He continued, " Its opening words resonate around the world in 2004 with the same force they did in the wake of World War II, and bear repeating: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equality and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.”
Menachem Begin had been tortured before the UN Declaration, Leigh Bright after. How dare Mr. Sembler make such a hypocrtical, public statement in opposition to torture!!!
1 St. Petersburg Times, 1-30-83, p. 1B.