By Erin Lale
On July 18, 2012, the Heritage Foundation hosted a speech by perjury proponent E. Fuller Torrey M.D., who was promoting his new book The Insanity Offense: How America’s Failure to Treat the Seriously Mentally Ill Endangers Its Citizens. In a previous book, he stated with approval, “It would probably be difficult to find any American psychiatrist working with the mentally ill who has not, at a minimum, exaggerated the dangerousness of a mentally ill person’s behavior to obtain a judicial order for commitment.”
Activists with Mind-Freedom International and Occupy Psychiatry were on hand to counter Torrey’s message. James B. (Jim) Gottstein, Esq., President of Psych-Rights, said, “The paid henchmen of the pharmaceutical companies, such as E. Fuller Torrey, must be challenged when they spin their web of lies.”
When lying to a judge becomes routine for commitment hearings, the public should expect that it will also become routine during trials. Historically, what is tried first on the most voiceless members of society, those labeled as mental defectives, eventually is applied to everyone after going through several distinct steps. In Nazi Germany, the mental defectives were the first people to lose their right to life, turned in by their own doctors. That was stage 1. Next came crimes by the state against specific ethnicities, in that case Jews and Gypsies, and the denial of the rights of homosexuals. That was stage 2. In stage 3, political enemies of the state also lost their rights and were treated the same as the previous groups. Political enemies of the state included communists and members of minority religions such as heathens. In the United States, imprisonment without charge or conviction of crime was first applied to those labeled mentally ill. They were imprisoned for indefinite terms in mental health prisons, kept in restraints for long periods, drugged, electroshock, denied sleep, and generally treated in ways that would meet the definition of torture if applied to enemy combatants. That was stage 1. In stage 2, the U.S. invaded multiple Muslim countries, swept up people to imprison without charge or trial, and imprisoned them as terrorists in overseas military bases, where they were kept in restraints for long periods, drugged, electroshock, denied sleep, and generally treated in ways that our government admitted were torture, but claimed to be legal anyway. Some of the same drugs used on psychiatric prisoners, such as Haldol, were also administered to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. These mind altering drugs were used to extract confessions which were called intelligence and used to justify war. In stage 3, the President established a kill list and declared himself a new power: the power to order assassinations without trial of anyone, including American citizens.
In the Soviet Union, political prisoners were often declared to be mentally ill and confined in mental institutions, where they were drugged and tortured. Being politically opposed to the government was an official mental diagnosis.
In The Politics of Cruelty, Kate Millett wrote, “When one considers torture, one comes to understand how crucial a precondition is capture; how great an invasion of the human condition in imprisonment itself. How any confinement erodes humanity, and how broadly it is extended in the case of political imprisonment where there is no criminal offense to extenuate the arbitrary cruelty of human incarceration. Still more irrational to extend this detention in legal commitment under state psychiatric power and detention. Detention without trial or charge is responsible for torture to a greater extent than any other modern factor.”
What happens to those labeled mentally ill will eventually happen to everyone else unless the people limit the power of the state and its proxies. Society should fear the routine use of perjury to indefinitely imprison a person not charged with any crime. Changing an average citizen into someone labeled mentally ill and thus worthy of indefinite detention without charge is a simple matter of paperwork. The majority of American citizens will meet the criteria of at least one of the mental conditions described in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) at least once in their lives, and the use of lies as advocated by Dr. Torrey would make anyone and everyone vulnerable to this form of imprisonment whether they truly met any of the definitions or not. Imprisoning a person for thinking the wrong thoughts –thought-crime—is bad enough without the possibility that you might be imprisoned because a liar said you committed a thoughtcrime.
Dr. Torrey says that what he advocates is for the public good, to keep dangerous people away from society. This sort of thinking is rooted in the legal concept of the insanity defense. The idea of excusing people with mental illness from legal responsibility for their crimes came from common law, and common law originated in a time when people thought mental illness was caused by evil spirits. People were excused for whatever they did while a demon possessed their bodies in much the same way that characters on Star Trek are excused from responsibility for action they undertook while aliens controlled their bodies. We no longer live in an age when the socially acceptable treatment for mental illness is exorcism. We go to doctors instead of priests. The law, however, cannot catch up to science because the law is based on precedent, and precedent goes back to common law. Dr. Torrey is not a lawyer, but he seems to have absorbed the mindset that the law says mental illness causes crime and therefore the mentally ill must be dangerous. The truth is that the mentally ill are not statistically more likely to commit crimes than the general population. People diagnosed with mental illness are, however, statistically more likely to be victims of crime.
Excusing people with mental illness from responsibility for their crimes perpetuates stigma against people with mental illness, and it influences the mental health system to treat all people with mental illness as dangerous, even those who came into the mental health system as victims of crime. There is no crime that is a diagnosis. However, being a victim of crime and seeking help can get one labeled as mentally ill. Rape is a crime; Rape Trauma Syndrome is a mental health diagnosis.
One might think that common sense would keep the mental health system from imprisoning rape victims seeking help and restraining them to beds, strip searching them, subjecting them to sleep deprivation and otherwise imposing further traumas on them, setting back their recovery. One would be wrong. I know because it happened to me. This was my original political issue, the thing that vaulted me into the political arena in the first place. It was my advocacy on behalf of victims of rape and adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse that led to my being appointed to the Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Advisory Board in 1998. I spoke out, and I made a difference.
Those who hurt me thought they were doing good. Dr. Torrey thinks he is protecting society. The Spanish Inquisition thought they were saving souls. The tortures at Guantanamo Bay thought they were saving the world from terrorism. Abusive parents think beating their children is for their children’s own good. The Nazis thought they were improving the human gene pool.
The antidote to all those horrors is human freedom. Let the mental health system treat patients with human dignity and compassion instead of treating every person with a diagnosis — even Rape Trauma Syndrome — as if they were dangerous, wild animals. Do not give doctors the power of extrajudicial imprisonment because then they cannot abuse such power. Let no Inquisition have the power to imprison, torture and execute heretics and witches, and no one will abuse such power. Close Guantanamo, and no one will be tortured there. Free children from their abusers, and the abusers no longer have power over their victims. Give no one absolute power over the rest of us, and no one will be corrupted absolutely.
Even perjurers cannot prevail if testimony without evidence is not given the weight of truth based on the liar’s social status; if a doctor testifies against a patient, or a soldier against a foreigner, or a policeman against an accused person, a free and just society will still demand evidence of a crime before imprisoning someone, whether the prison be a jail, military detainment center, or mental institution. Lies lose their power to create human suffering when society insists on justice based on proven truth in the form of evidence, on common sense, and on the value of human life and liberty. Society is made up of individuals, and individuals can stand up and make difference. I did; so can you.