Detainees drugged against their will for deportation
Published: Wednesday May 14, 2008

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In day 4 of a Washington Post series, Careless Detention, it is revealed that the United States has injected hundreds of foreigners without their consent with dangerous mind-altering drugs for trips returning them to their home countries, according to government documents, medical records, and interviews with some of the actual people who were drugged.

From the report:

The government's forced use of antipsychotic drugs, in people who have no history of mental illness, includes dozens of cases in which the "pre-flight cocktail," as a document calls it, had such a potent effect that federal guards needed a wheelchair to move the slumped deportee onto an airplane. "Unsteady gait. Fell onto tarmac," says a medical note on the deportation of a 38-year-old woman to Costa Rica in late spring 2005. Another detainee was "dragged down the aisle in handcuffs, semi-comatose," according to an airline crew member's written account. Repeatedly, documents describe immigration guards "taking down" a reluctant deportee to be tranquilized before heading to an airport. In a Chicago holding cell early one evening in February 2006, five guards piled on top of a 49-year-old man who was angry he was going back to Ecuador, according to a nurse's account in his deportation file. As they pinned him down so the nurse could punch a needle through his coveralls into his right buttock, one officer stood over him menacingly and taunted, "Nighty-night." Such episodes are among more than 250 cases The Washington Post has identified in which the government has, without medical reason, given drugs meant to treat serious psychiatric disorders to people it has shipped out of the United States since 2003 -- the year the Bush administration handed the job of deportation to the Department of Homeland Security's new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE. Involuntary chemical restraint of detainees, unless there is a medical justification, is a violation of some international human rights codes. The practice is banned by several countries where, confidential documents make clear, U.S. escorts have been unable to inject deportees with extra doses of drugs during layovers en route to faraway places. Federal officials have seldom acknowledged publicly that they sedate people for deportation. The few times officials have spoken of the practice, they have understated it, portraying sedation as rare and "an act of last resort." Neither is true, records and interviews indicate.

The most frequently used drugs in the sedation 'cocktail' are haldol, an anti-psychotic medication that "gained notoriety in the Soviet Union, where it was often given to political dissidents imprisoned in psychiatric hospitals." Ativan, used to control anxiety, and Cogentin, a medication that supposedly lessens Haldol's side effects of muscle spasms and rigidity.

The medically recommended dosage for the Haldol alone, from the report:

For aggressive behavior, 0.5 milligrams twice a day to 5 milligrams three times a day, although doses of up to 10 milligrams a day may be used in a hospital emergency room.

This graph illustrates the dosage, and number of detainees given Haldol:

The U.S. made flight layovers during some trips with sedated detainees, and as there are foreign nations that forbid the practice, the report also details some run-ins between flight nurses and foreign officials, which in one instance resulted in a detainee being returned to Atlanta, GA from a layover in France.

The full report by the Washington Post's Amy Goldstein and Dana Priest is available online here.