Drugging Elián

An emerging conservative line of attack against the Clinton administration in the González affair is that Elián, if returned to Cuba, will fall prey to Soviet-style psychiatry, which is an instrument of political control. (See, for example, this April 24 Robert Novak column.) This is not an unreasonable fear. What is fairly loopy is the assertion that U.S. psychiatrists have already started the process. Novak quotes, with approval, Florida Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s prediction that Elián will be “brainwashed on U.S. soil.” Novak is a little vague about who will do the brainwashing; he writes first that he’s worried that Cuban psychiatrists will be permitted to visit Elián, but then seems to imply that in the absence of Cubans, U.S. psychiatrists will oblige. Note the paragraph’s ambiguity:

Will Cuban psychiatrists be at the air base and later at the Wye conference center before the May 8 federal court hearing determines the boy’s fate? That is Castro’s clear desire, and Republican Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida expressed to me fear that Elián would be “brainwashed on U.S. soil.” Two things are certain: Desirability of life in Cuba will be drummed home to him the next two weeks, and Communist psychiatrists will join in the mind-adjustment once he arrives there, if not before.

The Wall Street Journal’s “A Victory for Fidel” editorial, whose unrelated insinuations about Cuban blackmail Chatterbox has already discussed, renders more explicit the point that Communist psychiatrists and U.S. psychiatrists are morally equivalent:

Castro’s kind of doctors would have no trouble finding the right drugs to control a six-year-old child. A psychiatrist of our acquaintance suggests the anti-panic drug Xanax, which would relieve anxiety and make the kid look calm without any obvious evidence of being drugged.

Some kind of tranquilizer might be considered medically indicated, for that matter, in the ordeal Elián underwent Saturday morning. On the U.S. government plane from Miami to Washington he was accompanied by a psychiatrist and a flight surgeon–both bilingual, the attorney general assures us. Congress should establish what drugs he may have been given while in U.S. government custody [the italics are the Journal’s]–before his beaming photo with his father.

Let’s diagram this chain of logic:

  1. Circumstances warranted that Elián be given a tranquilizer–maybe Xanax–for the U.S. government plane ride from Miami to Washington.
  2. Therefore, a tranquilizer was given.
  3. Shame on the U.S.!

The only way to resolve the apparent contradiction is to conclude that “might be considered medically indicated” is an arms-length judgment. By this reading, the Journal is not saying that it endorses what U.S. psychiatrists think; rather, it’s saying that U.S. psychiatrists, in their eagerness to prescribe drugs in situations like these, are just like their Communist counterparts–nefarious witchdoctors who are mostly interested in mind control.