The New York Times today gives a glimpse of the systematic destruction of a human being as they describe the routine treatment of US citizen Jose Padilla, held for years without charges as an "enemy combatant" until the government, on the eve of a crucial court hearing challenging their ability to hold him without charges, decided to charge him after all.
The Times article describes the total isolation he was held in for three and a half years, before being charged:
One spring day during his three and a half years as an enemy combatant, Jose Padilla experienced a break from the monotony of his solitary confinement in a bare cell in the brig at the Naval Weapons Station in Charleston, S.C.
That day, Mr. Padilla, a Brooklyn-born Muslim convert whom the Bush administration had accused of plotting a dirty bomb attack and had detained without charges, got to go to the dentist.
“Today is May 21,” a naval official declared to a camera videotaping the event. “Right now we’re ready to do a root canal treatment on Jose Padilla, our enemy combatant.
Several guards in camouflage and riot gear approached cell No. 103. They unlocked a rectangular panel at the bottom of the door and Mr. Padilla’s bare feet slid through, eerily disembodied. As one guard held down a foot with his black boot, the others shackled Mr. Padilla’s legs. Next, his hands emerged through another hole to be manacled.
Wordlessly, the guards, pushing into the cell, chained Mr. Padilla’s cuffed hands to a metal belt. Briefly, his expressionless eyes met the camera before he lowered his head submissively in expectation of what came next: noise-blocking headphones over his ears and blacked-out goggles over his eyes. Then the guards, whose faces were hidden behind plastic visors, marched their masked, clanking prisoner down the hall to his root canal.
This treatment as he was taken to the dentist was in order to continue the treatment that was his fate in his cell, day-in and day-out for months on end:
In the brig, Mr. Padilla was denied access to counsel for 21 months. Andrew Patel, one of his lawyers, said his isolation was not only severe but compounded by material and sensory deprivations. In an affidavit filed Friday, he alleged that Mr. Padilla was held alone in a 10-cell wing of the brig; that he had little human contact other than with his interrogators; that his cell was electronically monitored and his meals were passed to him through a slot in the door; that windows were blackened, and there was no clock or calendar; and that he slept on a steel platform after a foam mattress was taken from him, along with his copy of the Koran, “as part of an interrogation plan.”
Was this treatment because Padilla was violent, a threat to the guards or to others? Evidently not:
One of Mr. Padilla’s lawyers, Orlando do Campo, said, however, that Mr. Padilla was a “completely docile” prisoner. “There was not one disciplinary problem with Jose ever, not one citation, not one act of disobedience,” said Mr. do Campo, who is a lawyer at thefederal public defender’s office.
In his affidavit, Mr. Patel (another attorney) said, “I was told by members of the brig staff that Mr. Padilla’s temperament was so docile and inactive that his behavior was like that of ‘a piece of furniture.’”
Rather than any necessity to control him, Jose Padilla experienced the total isolation that is at the core of the U.S. government's decades-under-development program of psychological torture. According to Padilla's attorneys:
"his interrogations... included hooding, stress positions, assaults, threats of imminent execution and the administration of 'truth serums.'"
Compare this with Alfred McCoy's description of the CIA's psychological torture techniques:
While these CIA drug experiments led nowhere and the testing of electric shock as a technique led only to lawsuits, research into sensory deprivation proved fruitful indeed. In fact, this research produced a new psychological rather than physical method of torture, perhaps best described as "no-touch" torture.
The Agency's discovery was a counterintuitive breakthrough, the first real revolution in this cruel science since the seventeenth century -- and thanks to recent revelations from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, we are now all too familiar with these methods, even if many Americans still have no idea of their history. Upon careful examination, those photographs of nude bodies expose the CIA's most basic torture techniques -- stress positions, sensory deprivation, and sexual humiliation.
We don't know about sexual humiliation, but the rest of these techniques were apparently used upon Padilla.
[An excellent account of these these techniques, with extensive quotes from the CIA's now declassified interrogation manual are provided by Daily Kos diarist Valtin in his Torture 101: CIA text on teaching "coercive interrogation."
As the Times article indicates, Padilla is textbook case of what these techniques accomplish:
Dr. Angela Hegarty, director of forensic psychiatry at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, N.Y., who examined Mr. Padilla for a total of 22 hours in June and September, said in an affidavit filed Friday that he “lacks the capacity to assist in his own defense.”
“It is my opinion that as the result of his experiences during his detention and interrogation, Mr. Padilla does not appreciate the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him, is unable to render assistance to counsel, and has impairments in reasoning as the result of a mental illness, i.e., post-traumatic stress disorder, complicated by the neuropsychiatric effects of prolonged isolation,” Dr. Hegarty said in an affidavit for the defense....
Mr. Padilla’s lawyers say they have had a difficult time persuading him that they are on his side.
From the time Mr. Padilla was allowed access to counsel, Mr. Patel visited him repeatedly in the brig and in thedetention center, and Mr. Padilla has observed Mr. Patel arguing on his behalf in federal court.
But, Mr. Patel said in his affidavit, his client is nonetheless mistrustful. “Mr. Padilla remains unsure if I and the other attorneys working on his case are actually his attorneys or another component of the government’s interrogation scheme,” Mr. Patel said....
He is especially reluctant to discuss what happened in the brig, fearful that he will be returned there some day, Mr. Patel said in his affidavit.
“During questioning, he often exhibits facial tics, unusual eye movements and contortions of his body,” Mr. Patel said. “The contortions are particularly poignant since he is usually manacled and bound by a belly chain when he has meetings with counsel.”
Why did this psychological torture continue for years on end? Originally one can imagine that they actually thought Padilla had some secrets to reveal. But long before the three and half years were up, they surely must have realized that he had no secrets to reveal. So why continue? One can only speculate. Were they conducting a barbarous experiment, trying to determine what it would take to destroy his personality? Was it simply brutal punishment for the humiliation experienced by those who ordered this treatment after they realized he was not the big terrorist they had fantasized they had in their power? Did the mechanisms of barbarity just grind ever onward after being set in motion by an administration determined to get the maximum press coverage out of this low-level arrest?
It is critical that we find out how these years of barbaric actions continued, who was responsible, for in this decision lies the potential future of us all. These types of abuses have a 50-year history of being utilized by the government. They periodically get exposed and condemned, but they continue to be developed and promulgated. The recently passed Military Commissions Act (a.k.a. the Indefinite Detention and Torture Legalization Act of 2006) allows any one of us to share his fate upon the say-so of a single individual, the President. The only way they will stop is when those responsible are held accountable, both to public opinion and to the law. Otherwise, the fate of Jose Padilla may well become the fate of any of us.
Stephen Soldz is a psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Institute for the Study of Violence of the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is a member of Roslindale Neighbors for Peace and Justice and founder of Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice. He maintains the Iraq Occupation and Resistance Report web page and the Psyche, Science, and Society blog. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
Other Articles by Stephen Soldz
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CEO of the American Psychological Association