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Straight Inc Complaint under CAT - Cruel, Degrading Treatment & Torture

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Janet Parker
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On January 7, 2003 the International Survivors Action Committee (ISAC) [i] filed a formal complaint with the United Nations against Melvin Sembler, director of the Straight, Inc. Board of Directors, charging "crimes against humanity."   From 1976-1985 the company, operated as Straight, Inc., had acquired a reputation for abusing kids within its drug rehabilitation program.   In 1985 its name was changed to Straight Foundation, Inc. so as to protect its assets and its principals from civil suits. "My best guess is that at least half of the kids were abused," estimated Dr. Arnold Trebach, a professor emeritus at American University.   He created the Drug Policy Foundation to find alternatives to harsh laws and wrote about Straight, Inc. in his book, "The Great Drug War". [ii]   

In 1995, Straight Foundation, Inc.   was renamed the Drug Free America Foundation . [iii]   The Drug Free America Foundation (DFAF) is identified as a national and international drug policy think tank and provider of services for drug-free work places.  See  Piercing the Corporate Veil.  [iv]

International Survivors Action Committee (ISAC) was an industry watchdog organization dedicated to expose abuse, civil rights violations, and fraud perpetrated through privately-owned facilities serving juveniles. William E. Earnshaw, Sr., Director of Board of ISAC,  worked for years compiling the stories of victims and working on the complaint to the United Nations.    The reply from the Secretary of the Human Rights Committee, Markus Schmidt, to ISAC's formal complaint was a form  letter  dated February 6, 2003. [v]   The complaint posed a legal problem because the United States had never agreed to let its citizens be investigated or arrested by international law enforcement (provision under Article 22).   This limited the United Nation's Human Rights Committee's competence to receive and consider petitions, and to investigate related matters.  The U.S.A. asserted to the international community that it would be inappropriate to permit American citizens to be so interrogated.  

Thus, the original case of the thousands of victims of child abuse, torture, and sexual abuse in Straight Inc. facilities did not get the United Nations' investigation the survivors/victims had hoped for.  This was despite overwhelming evidence of abusive treatment of possibly over 50,000 children and adolescents.   Straight Inc. also, under its various identities, committed insurance and Medicaid fraud. [vi]   [vii] [viii] [ix] [x] [xi]

Even though the Straight Inc. victims later won victories in US courts and were awarded damages by the courts, the money from Straight Inc. seemed to vanish into thin air.    Thousands of Straight Inc. victims have not received any restorative justice for their victimization.

Under international Law and Treaty obligations signed by the U.S.A., the three branches of government (i.e., Executive, Legislative, and Judicial) are required to uphold the provisions of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights Documents (i.e., documents signed and ratified).  The US also has federal statutes that address torture, cruel and degrading treatment. See US Criminal Code: Title 18 Chapter 113 C Torture [xii] Federal investigations  are supposed to be mandatory when torture and child abuse are alleged, especially when children are held in facilities across state lines from their original home. 

Through a complex scheme for money laundering, the Straight Inc. board officers and staff were able to move assets out of the country, out of reach and sight of federal law enforcement investigators. This essentially denied the victims of human rights violations the reparations that had been ordered by U.S.A. courts.  More than 200 victims were Canadian citizens, also denied access to satisfaction of monetary damages in their cases.  FBI investigations failed to identify where Straight Inc.'s assets went. Political power and influence helped shut down FBI investigations into the shell companies and off-shore accounts of these non-profit organizations.  Former US Ambassador to Italy, Melvin Sembler, was a real estate broker by trade as well as the director of the Straight Inc. Board.   These positions afforded Sembler the means and opportunity to hide the tremendous profits obtained from this abusive teen rehabilitation network. [xiii]

Melvin Sembler enjoyed many political connections and influence.   From 1993 to 1995 Melvin Sembler was Finance Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.  Melvin Sembler was also Finance Co-Chairman for the state of Florida for the George Bush for President Campaign.   He was the Finance Chairman for the Republican National Committee from 1997 to 2000.   He was a very successful Republican fundraiser and heavy contributor to George Bush's campaign, even raising a record $21.3 million at a single dinner in April 2000. Melvin Sembler was Finance Co-Chairman of the American Bicentennial Presidential Inaugural. He also served as Florida's National Committeeman to the Republican National Committee from 1994 until 2000. He served as Co-chairman of the Republican National Committee's Team 100.   He also raised funds during the 1988 George H. W. Bush Presidential Campaign.

When the lucrative Straight Inc. centers were finally closed due lawsuits related to human rights abuses, but Sembler still remained involved with many committees nationally that influenced federal drug policy.  Sembler served on President Reagan's White House Conference for a Drug-Free America.  He served on the President George Bush's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health as well as his position as Chairman of the Drug Free America Foundation.  Melvin Sembler was an adviser on drug policy to Florida's former Governor Bob Martinez. Former ASAM president, George Douglas Talbott, MD enjoyed personal and political connections to Melvin Sembler.  

Melvin Sembler while legally fighting allegations against Straight Inc. of child abuse, fraud and even torture,  still went on to become a US Ambassador under former President George Bush Jr.  and thus a diplomatic pouch at his disposal. Melvin Sembler had financial power and served on the Board of Directors of several banks, including the First Bank of Treasure Island, the National Bank, First Union Bank, and with a position of the Board of Directors of American Momentum Bank.  

But what happened to the victims/survivors of abuse at Straight Inc?  Many, unable to deal with the trauma of their abuse, have committed suicide and many advocates have just given up. The two vocal advocates, Ray Bradbury (Straight survivor)  and  Wesley Fager (father of survivor) are both dead now. They were both involved in drafting the United Nations complaint under CAT against Melvin Sembler, CEO of Straight Inc.  Much of the research into Straight Inc.'s abuse of children was done by Wesley Fager.  Wesley Fager for years maintained an informative website thus providing a public voice to the victims and survivors.  Ray Bradbury, Wesley Fager, and all who have passed away are mourned by friends and family.

The UN complaint was refused action based on the US not permitting the UN to have jurisdiction on US soil.  The U.S.A. has held other countries accountable for torture but has steadfastly refused to pursue any allegations of torture that occur to US citizens on US soil under US jurisdiction. 

The UN Convention Against Torture has been both signed and ratified by the US government thus it is "hard law" in human rights.  When will the U.S. government live up to its' commitment to human rights and abide by the Law of Treaties and the Supreme Law of the Land?  The victims/survivors of child abuse in residential treatment centers all over the US and even overseas hope that our moral and ethical accountability will translate to a legal responsibility - a duty to protect human rights and prevent torture in all US jurisdictions.

[i] The International Survivors Action Committee Corporation (ISAC) was an industry watchdog organization created by survivors of Straight, Incorporated. ISAC works "to expose child abuse within privately owned behavior modification centers, drug treatment centers, specialty boarding schools and teen boot camps."   ISAC documents are now available at www.survivingstraightinc.com   ISAC dissolved in 2009.

[ii] Trebach, Arnold S., "An Updated Look at Why America is Still Not Winning the Great Drug War: And Rational Proposals to Turn the Tide," Unlimited Publishing LLC, Bloomington, Indiana, (2005) Library of Congress Number: 20005920711.  

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