|Week Online: What are you doing
Dr. Arnold Trebach: One reason I
left the movement was that I really got annoyed at the extent to which
you have to beg for money to run these organizations. I didn't like
kissing King George's ring. Being in the center of the drug reform
movement is like having a lover who drives you insane. Great in the
bedroom, but can't stand her in the kitchen. After awhile, issues
like that made me want out, but I'm happy as a lark these days. I
formed the Trebach Institute, which I am trying to develop into the equivalent
of a small university dealing with areas that are not being dealt with
by other parts of the reform movement. I also formed Arnold S. Trebach
and Associates, LLC, which is basically a consulting concern, but the Institute
is the main thing. It was through the Institute that my interest
in these abusive treatment programs was reawakened.
WOL: That is what your conference
will be about, isn't it?
Trebach: Yes. This is an area
that I had forgotten about. I had written about the unbelievable
abuses of Straight, Inc. and similar programs in 1987 in my book, "The
Great Drug War," and did what I could to shut them down. I had succeeded,
I thought. But last month, some Straight Survivors -- that's what
they call themselves -- happened upon my website and asked me to help them.
Straight, Inc. may no longer exist, but they're still out there under various
names and still hurting kids. The conference will be a forum for
people who have been harmed by Straight, Inc. and similar programs to tell
their stories and a wake-up call for the public.
This is serious stuff. These folks
are still affected by it ten or fifteen years later. They have Post
Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Much of what these kids went through in
the name of saving them from sex or drugs or God knows what is a crime.
I'm talking about consistent reports of girls and women raped with foreign
objects, such as curling irons. I got a call two days ago from a
man in Texas who sent his son to Straight, Inc. ten years ago. The
father told me it was an awful mistake, that they imposed sexual activities
on the young man, that they peed on him. According to the father,
his son still refuses to talk about his experience at Straight, Inc.
Dad said his brother, a drug counselor, had recommended the place as the
best in the country.
We need to develop a strategy where we
can help guide victims of these people to emotional counseling, but we
also want legal redress for the harm suffered by these kids, who number
in the thousands or even the tens of thousands. There are civil remedies.
If it's a crime, it's normally a tort as well. There have been successful
civil suits. Karen Barnett won $700,000 from Straight, Inc. in Florida.
Another kid, Fred Collins, won $220,000 for false imprisonment. And
New Jersey teenager Barbara Ehrlich won a $4.5 million settlement against
a Bergen County treatment program called Kids, which was operated by one
of the former Straight leaders. Barbara had some emotional problems,
but had never used drugs. They held her there for years. She
was lucky; attorney Phil Elberg heard of her case, became obsessed with
it, and worried it like a dog. I want to try to lead people to knowledge
about their legal rights to sue.
I also want to share ideas about what's
needed to prevent these things from happening again. We're considering
an Internet service to alert parents and kids about programs where complaints
have been made. We'll report on programs where some action has been
taken to address complaints. We want to warn people that abusive
treatment programs are out there and their prevalence is unbelievable.
I keep getting complaints about places I've never heard of. Elan
is one, in Maine. That's the place where Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel
confessed to the murder of Martha Moxley, but that place made him worse
in many ways. Elan has threatened to sue us if we mention their name.
So sue me, it'll get my blood going. We are turning over a rock,
and under the rock we are finding a vast number of alleged treatment facilities
harming thousands of American kids in the name of saving them form drugs,
from sex, and other issues. Some of these kids have serious problems
and there is little indication that they are being helped. Finally,
we want to ask the powers that be, starting with George W., to focus in
on this and acknowledge the harm that is being done.
WOL: Why the emphasis on President
Trebach: There are political connections
here. Straight, Inc. was endorsed by George Herbert Walker Bush,
who visited the place with Nancy Reagan and Mel and Betty Sembler and Joe
Zappala, who are, as best as we can determine, the founders of Straight,
Inc. Both Sembler and Zappala were heavy contributors to the elder
Bush's campaign, and both were rewarded with ambassadorships. I saw
Ambassador Sembler give a speech in Australia in which he proudly said
he founded Straight, Inc. and held it up as a model. More recently,
Mel Sembler was the co-chair of finance for the Republican National Committee
for the 2000 election. His wife Betty seems to be the guiding light
behind the Drug Free America Foundation (http://www.dfaf.org),
which is a direct descendant of Straight, Inc. DFAF fought Prop.
36 in California, it fights legalization as a horrible scheme, and Betty
testified against medical marijuana in Congress. And Jeb Bush last
fall declared a "Betty Sembler Day" in Florida, commending her for her
work with drug abuse control, especially with Straight, Inc. Betty
claims she has the ear of the president. George W. himself has never
come out and endorsed these people, but the ties to the Bush regime are
there throughout their top funders.
We want to keep exposing those political
connections and say to the White House isn't it time you abjectly confessed
that you all made a horrible mistake, that you're endorsing child abuse
and crimes against America's children? Okay, you people, apologize.
Help us draft legislation to prevent this, and please send the FBI out
to investigate these allegations of child abuse. We have to start
creating a nationwide movement to stop the abuse, and part of that is pressure
on the top of the political structure.
WOL: What about the emerging trend
toward "treatment not jail"? Does that constitute "coerced treatment"?
Is it the proper direction for the drug reform movement?
Trebach: It sounds like a wonderful
idea, but…the difficulty is that when you begin to look at the treatment
field, you realize there is no clear definition or agreement on even such
basics on what addiction is or what constitutes effective treatment.
And as I just mentioned, some parts of the treatment field are horribly
destructive. Then there's the notion that some sort of coerced drug
treatment must be part of the alternative to prison. What about the
problem kid whose problem is not really drug use? What about the
recreational user? I oppose coerced treatment, but it's complicated.
There are people I know who say if they had not been forced into treatment,
they'd be dead. I have grave doubts about coerced treatment, but
in some cases it may be justified to save a life. This whole notion
of "treatment not jail" is so full of difficulties and contradictions that
it is very problematic. We have to look anew at the treatment programs,
while keeping in mind that there is little evidence that any one mode of
treatment works better than just leaving them alone. Among serious
drug addicts, spontaneous cures are as prevalent as doctor-induced cures.
We are walking into a mare's nest of contradictions with this.
WOL: You advocate an end to drug
prohibition, with regulation similar to alcohol. Is it fair to characterize
you as a legalizer?
Trebach: I am a legalizer, and it
makes a lot of my friends in the drug reform movement very uncomfortable.
They say, "do you have to say that?" Yes, god damn it! The
nation can't live half slave and half free. Legalization is the only
rational thing to do. The fact that we use the criminal law to try
to deal with a complex social problem only creates more problems.
Criminal prohibition makes no sense. If you have a bag of pot and
hit somebody over the head with it, that's a police problem. If you
have a bag of pot and go home and smoke, that should be your problem.
WOL: Is legalization as you envision
it ever going to happen?
Trebach: I don't even think about
that. I was in the civil rights movement and defended a criminal
case in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962 -- scared out of my mind -- and I
never thought I would see black students at the University of Mississippi.
But I did. I just did what I thought was right and argued my case,
and I still just keep doing what I can do. I think if all of us keep
working for what we believe in, one of these days we'll wake up and we
will have done it. We're laying the groundwork now. Remember,
back in 1928 one of the drys was noted for saying the chances of repealing
Prohibition were about as great as a hummingbird flying to the moon with
the Washington monument tied to its tail. It was all over five years
later. Drug prohibition can be ended, it will be ended. There
is no doubt in my mind that prohibition will be repealed just as was Alcohol
Prohibition. I have faith in that.