In a case eerily similar to David Eckert's humiliating ordeal at the hands of cops in Deming, New Mexico, a federal lawsuit charges Customs and Border Protection agents with subjecting a U.S. citizen to six hours of degrading and fruitless body cavity searches based on an alleged alert by a drug-sniffing dog. The lawsuit, filed yesterday by the ACLU chapters in Texas and New Mexico, says the plaintiff, a 54-year-old New Mexico resident identified in the complaint as Jane Doe, was crossing the bridge between Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso after visiting a family friend last December when she was chosen at random for "additional screening." This "secondary inspection" involved a pat-down during which an agent "inserted her finger in the crevice of Ms. Doe's buttocks"—a rather startling incursion inasmuch as the agents at this point had no basis to suspect that the woman was carrying contraband. But they were just getting started.
The agents instructed the plaintiff to stand in line with other people who had been selected for additional screening and walked a dog past her. According to the lawsuit, the dog handler "hit the ground by her feet, but did not hit the ground by any of the others in the line," and "the dog responded by lunging onto Ms. Doe and landing its front paws on her torso." Why did the dog do that? "Because Ms. Doe did not possess any contraband," says the complaint, "the dog either did not alert or the response was not a proper alert." Yet this possibly manufactured and in any event erroneous alert was the basis for all that followed.
First the agents strip-searched the plaintiff, examining her anus and vagina with a flashlight. Finding nothing, they took her to the University Medical Center of El Paso, where they forced her to take a laxative and produce a bowel movement in their presence. Again they found no evidence of contraband. At this point one of their accomplices, a physician named Christopher Cabanillas, ordered an X-ray, which likewise found nothing suspicious. Then the plaintiff "endured a forced gynecological exam" and rectal probing at the hands of another doctor, Michael Parsa. Still nothing. Finally, Cabanillas ordered a CT scan of the plaintiff's abdomen and pelvis, which found no sign of illegal drugs. "After the CT scan," the complaint says, "a CBP [Customs and Border Patrol] agent presented Ms. Doe with a choice: she could either sign a medical consent form, despite the fact that she had not consented, in which case CBP would pay for the cost of the searches; or if she refused to sign the consent form, she would be billed for the cost of the searches." She refused, and later the hospital sent her a bill for $5,000, apparently the going rate for sexual assault and gratuitous radiological bombardment.
David Eckert, you may recall, also got a bill (in his case for about $6,000) after undergoing a similar exploration of his orifices and plumbing, which likewise continued, becoming increasingly invasive, precisely because the cops were not finding any evidence to substantiate their suspicions. And while the police in his case did obtain a warrant, the main basis for it was a dog's purported alert, which in Jane Doe's case seems to have been the only evidence that she was smuggling drugs. Although such alerts are frequently wrong and can easily be faked, the Supreme Court has said they qualify as probable cause for a search as long as the dog is properly trained. The burden of showing a dog is not properly trained lies with the person challenging the search.
Aside from the dangers of putting too much faith in drug-detecting dogs, this case, like Eckert's, illustrates the appalling complicity of doctors in waging the war on drugs, even when it involves utterly unethical participation in dehumanizing pseudomedical procedures performed on involuntary and audibly protesting "patients." In addition to Border Patrol agents, the lawsuit names the hospital, Cabanillas, and Parsa. Lest you think the criminal malpractice described in this complaint is an aberration, the ACLU offers evidence that it is in fact commonplace:
During the car ride to the Medical Center, Ms. Doe asked if the agents had awarrant. One of them responded that they did not need a warrant….
Medical Center policy L-13 on searches by hospital personnel does not permit an invasion of a person's body for purposes of a search without either consent or a search warrant. However, in practice, the Medical Center staff and CBP agents routinely conduct invasive cavity searches without a warrant, consent or sufficient suspicion to justify the searches. When Ms. Doe expressed dismay about the unreasonable searches she suffered, a Medical Center employee responded that these procedures were routinely followed when an individual is brought in by CBP agents. The employee also told Ms. Doe that what happened to her was not invasive.
This kind of abuse tends to draw attention only when the victim is "innocent," meaning he or she is not in fact smuggling drugs. But how can any society call itself civilized when it allows human beings to be treated this way in the name of locating arbitrarily proscribed substances? Having arrogated to itself the authority to regulate what people put into their own bodies, the government ends up forcibly delving into those bodies in search of the chemicals it has anathematized. To enforce politicians' pharmacological prejudices, the government's agents and their medical accomplices become kidnappers and rapists. There is nothing noble or decent about this immoral crusade, and anyone associated with it ought to be ashamed of himself.