Ghraib mistake? US student drinks urine to survive prison abandonment

Daniel Chong, the UC San Diego student who was left in a Drug Enforcement Agency holding cell for nearly five days, said the time spent in his cell was a life-altering experience. (Screenshot from NBC video / www.nbcsandiego.com)
A San Diego college student was left in a cell for five days without food, water or access to a toilet by federal drug agents. He says he drank his own urine to stay alive, and even tried to etch a message to his mother in his own arm.

Twenty-four-year-old Daniel Chong says he was forgotten in a five-by-10-foot (1.6 x 2.3m) windowless cell after being arrested by the Drug Enforcement Administration agents on April 21.

Daniel was questioned, and then the agents told him he could go home. One agent even offered him a ride, Chong told the media on Tuesday. No criminal charges were filed against him.

Then he found himself in a cell where he could not spread his arms out wide.

“They never came back, ignored all my cries and I still don’t know what happened,” he added. “I’m not sure how they could forget me.”

It is still unclear how he could have been completely forgotten: the man informed the reporters he could even hear DEA employees and people in neighboring cells.

He says he kicked and screamed as loudly as he could, but apparently his cries for help, for water, and for food went ignored, or perhaps unheard, by the agents.

"I had to recycle my own urine," he said. "I had to do what I had to do to survive."

By the third day, Chong said he was hallucinating. At some point he ingested a white powder DEA agents said was left in the cell accidentally. Later testing revealed the substance was methamphetamine.

Believing he would die in the cell, he said he bit into the lenses of his glasses, scratching the message “sorry Mom” on his wrist. He also apparently swallowed some of the shards.

When he was found on April 25, he was taken to a hospital and treated for cramps, dehydration and a perforated lung – the result of ingesting the broken glass.

He spent three days in the intensive care unit at Sharp Hospital and his kidneys were reportedly close to failing.

The agency has no explanation to the case. A DEA official told NBC San Diego on Sunday, before Chong's name had been released, that the man was locked up four days, not five “DEA plans to thoroughly review both the events and detention procedures on April 21st and after,'' their statement says.

The University of California, San Diego, engineering student was arrested at a party along among nine suspects on April 21 in a drug raid. One of them was released and seven arrestees were booked at the county jail.

At the party the agents seized "18,000 ecstasy pills, marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms, a Russian rifle, two handguns and thousands of rounds of ammunition."

Chong and his lawyer Gene Iredale, who compared Chong’s experience to the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, promised they will file with the federal court system on Wednesday.

If the claim is denied, the lawyer will proceed with filing a federal lawsuit.

San Diego defense attorney Gretchen Von Helms said Daniel Chong could get millions of dollars in compensation.

"In all my years of practice I've never heard of the DEA or any Federal government employee simply forgetting about someone that they have in their care," she told NBC San Diego