Not Fit

The U.S. government finally is getting around to giving Jose Padilla, U.S. citizen, a trial. But there’s a catch. Naomi Klein writes,

Padilla’s lawyers are arguing that he is not fit to stand trial because he has been driven insane by the government.

Arrested in May 2002 at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, Padilla, a Brooklyn-born former gang member, was classified as an “enemy combatant” and taken to a navy prison in Charleston, South Carolina. He was kept in a cell 9ft by 7ft, with no natural light, no clock and no calendar. Whenever Padilla left the cell, he was shackled and suited in heavy goggles and headphones. Padilla was kept under these conditions for 1,307 days. He was forbidden contact with anyone but his interrogators, who punctured the extreme sensory deprivation with sensory overload, blasting him with harsh lights and pounding sounds. Padilla also says he was injected with a “truth serum”, a substance his lawyers believe was LSD or PCP.

According to his lawyers and two mental health specialists who examined him, Padilla has been so shattered that he lacks the ability to assist in his own defence. He is convinced that his lawyers are “part of a continuing interrogation program” and sees his captors as protectors. In order to prove that “the extended torture visited upon Mr Padilla has left him damaged”, his lawyers want to tell the court what happened during those years in the navy brig. The prosecution strenuously objects, maintaining that “Padilla is competent” and that his treatment is irrelevant.

Back in the 1950s we were perpetually being told that these sorts of things happened in the Soviet Union, and aren’t we glad we lived in America?

Curt Anderson, Associated Press:

“He is immobilized by his anxiety,” said Patricia Zapf, a forensic psychologist who administered tests on Padilla in October. “He believes he will go back to the brig and he will die there.”

The competency hearing before US District Judge Marcia Cooke on Padilla’s competency is crucial in deciding whether he and two co defendants will stand trial in April. …

… Dr. Angela Hegarty, a forensic neuropsychiatrist, said she concluded after examining and testing Padilla for more than 22 hours last fall that he is mentally incompetent for trial because he has post-traumatic stress disorder. Zapf reached the same diagnosis and recommended that Padilla receive treatment.

The prosecutors, of course, say Padilla is just fine.

Back to Naomi Klein:

According to James Yee, a former army Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo, there is an entire section of the prison called Delta Block for detainees who have been reduced to a delusional state. “They would respond to me in a childlike voice, talking complete nonsense. Many of them would loudly sing childish songs, repeating the song over and over.” All the inmates of Delta Block were on 24-hour suicide watch.

Human Rights Watch has exposed a US-run detention facility near Kabul known as the “prison of darkness” – tiny pitch-black cells, strange blaring sounds. “Plenty lost their minds,” one former inmate recalled. “I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors.”

Wednesday a federal appeals court ruled that Guantanamo Bay detainees cannot use the U.S. court system to challenge their incarceration. That was bad enough. But Padilla is a U.S. citizen, capriciously stripped of habeas corpus at the discretion of the Bush Administration and subjected to psychological torture for nearly six years.

The Soviets used to send political dissidents to psychiatric asylums and labor camps. The gulags sound downright humane compared to what our government did to Jose Padilla.

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13 thoughts on “Not Fit

  1. And today in the news, I read that VP Cheney in Australia was criticizing China (or was it North Korea? I forget.) for human rights abuses.

    Glad we’re straight on all that.

  2. Oh, yeah. I forgot that too.

    (Perhaps I should add that the Padilla story is both heartbreaking, that it could “happen here”, and infuriating– I want heads to roll.)

  3. Perhaps such delusional detainees are merely reflecting the state of the society that is allowing all this to continue basically unabated.

  4. The CIA has been into this s**t forever. I just finished reading Wilderness of Mirrors, which is about Angelton’s mole hunt & JFK’s assassination projects. Back in the 1960s, they kept Nosenko, one of the suspected double agents, in similar circumstances to Padilla, for about 3 years. Nosenko didn’t go nuts, however, and (miracle of miracles), when someone finally got him released and treated him like a normal human being, he started giving a lot more information than during his sensory depravation confinement.

    In DC, everything old is new.

  5. Glad to see you covering Jose Padilla. He has been on my mind lately.

    As Bush’s case fell appart, it was clear that Padilla was a pawn pinched by Bush’s larger goal of asserting a particular presidential power:
    Balloon Juice elaborates.

    Naomi Klein is, as usual, concise and on the mark. It almost brings tears to the eyes.

    We’re descending into dark times if we don’t take action to reassert humane law rather than Bush’s laws of the jungle. Unfortunately, the military police state is continuing to tighten its grip as evidenced by the recent US Court of Appeals decision upholding Bush’s authoritarian authority to indefnintely detain “enemy combatants” as he defines them.

    Back to Padilla, he is a US citizen born in New York City. This applies to us all.

  6. This seems to be an age of enlightenment for those who can stand to look into the glare of reality. Cancers are eating the heart out of our once-revered institutions: priests molesting children, congressmen looking away as a colleague preys on pages, an executive branch staffed with liars, a military under that executive branch that designs Abu Ghraib and Gitmo torture and the deepest of human rights abuses, a justice system that plays politics, an educational system now teaching memorization for test-passing instead of critical thinking skills, Christian churches supporting wars that kill tens of thousands of innnocents, and on and on.
    The one thing I can think of that remains a positive in the glare of today’s reality is that a majority of American people do care, even if they feel personally helpless about what to do about it.

  7. Leave it to Bush, etal. to create a martyr out of a common criminal. We’ll probably never know if Padilla was an Al Qaeda operative since they have reduced him to a blithering idiot.

    Thanks to the Washington Post journalists for uncovering the extreme conditions experienced by our veterans at Walter Reed. They have restored a little bit of my faith in the MSM. The administration is now expressing concern over the substandard care the veterans have been receiving at the hospital. I think they’re more concerned that they got caught. After all, Bush might have to finally reverse some of those tax cuts in order to provide decent care to our guys/gals. Ouch!

    But in all fairness, members of Congress from both sides brag about their visits to the hospital. Seems to me these visits were just photo-ops and members didn’t go further than the main hospital. Shame on them all.

    Hopefully, and apparently, the spotlight on Walter Reed is making a difference for our veterans.

    Maybe Gitmo will be next.

  8. Here’s the new facility at Gitmo built by, you guessed it, Halliburton. Rule One for W: whatever you get criticized for, do more of it and even stronger.

    National Law Journal, Feb. 23, 2007

    Camp 6 At Guantanamo

    Cleared men, harsh facility

    James A. Cohen/Special to The National Law Journal

    I recently returned from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and was among the first lawyers to visit the newly opened Camp 6 and observe the way in which it is being operated. It is a far cry from the “more comfortable” facility it is billed to be. “It’s much better across the board than the facilities from which they came,” stated Navy Rear Admiral Harry Harris Jr., commander of Joint Task Force Guantánamo Bay, referring to the 160 men transferred to Camp 6 in December. The facility was built to equal the most modern, efficient and harshest Supermax Security prison in the United States. Yet the military has managed to impose conditions that surpass our toughest federal prisons.

    Although the oppressive, punitive conditions at Camp 6 are far worse than U.S. maximum security prisons, many of its occupants have, in effect, been declared innocent by the military. Camp 6 includes detainees who have been cleared for transfer because the military has determined that they are no longer considered to be a danger to the United States or its allies, that they no longer have any intelligence value and that there is no other reason to keep them locked up. They remain only until they can be repatriated to their country of origin, or another country willing to accept them. Can there be any justification for a civilized country to hold any of this group of approximately 100 men, in conditions worse than maximum security? The answer is surely no. Yet we do. The International Justice Clinic at Fordham University School of Law represents four men imprisoned at Guantánamo. More than eight months ago, one of our clients was deemed to be no threat to the United States, yet he was transferred to Camp 6 when it opened; we know of other “cleared” men in the same position.

    The men imprisoned in Camp 6 are alone in cells with walls, floors and ceilings of solid metal 22 hours a day. There is no natural light or air and no windows except strips of glass next to the solid metal door that allow only a view of an interior corridor. During cell time, the men have no contact with any human beings other than guards.

    “Rec time” consists of a transfer in shackles to a “pod” of five pens separated by chain-link fences. Each detainee is placed alone in a 12- by 9-foot pen for two hours and allowed to communicate with others should there be men in adjacent pens. The two-story-high concrete walls of the pod are covered by barbed wire, allowing a glimpse of the sky but no view of the horizon. Though this outdoor time is offered each 24-hour period, it is sometimes offered very late at night. Other than heavily censored letters to family and from family, the imprisoned men are completely cut off from information about the outside world. Though the prison was built with common areas, such as those where U.S. maximum-security prison inmates are permitted to spend their time during the day, the prisoners of Camp 6 are not permitted access to these areas. Indeed, in U.S. maximum security prisons where we send the “worst of the worst” (after a whole lot of process, none of which occurs in Guantánamo), it is common for inmates to have jobs, to eat communally, to receive visits from family and friends and to have social contact with other inmates.

    Because the detainees in Camp 6 (and other camps) are already kept in strict isolation, solitary confinement is not an option for punishing those thought to have misbehaved. But there are other ways to deal with perceived disobedience: One’s diet is limited to bread with raisins and water for three days. If that does not achieve the desired effect, the same diet (except the raisins) may be continued for 30 days. The administration has trumpeted the fact that Camp 6 is air-conditioned, a useful if not essential benefit in Cuba, but even air conditioning is used to punish. An undershirt-a comfort item provided to diminish the effects of over air conditioning-is taken away for just about any reason. Additional punishments include injuries sustained during “ERFings”-the application of a huge, sudden use of force by an Emergency Reaction Force composed of five or six well-padded guards. And perhaps most offensive to what some consider core American values, punishment includes humiliating detainees by cutting off their beards and hair in contravention of their religion.

    There are about 400 men imprisoned at Guantánamo. Only 10 of them were charged under the president’s first military commission system that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, and none has been charged under the new military commission system passed by Congress last year. The government claims it intends to charge and try 60 to 80 men; with approximately 100 men languishing, but cleared for transfer, this leaves more than 200 men already imprisoned or at risk of being imprisoned under conditions that are worse than the harshest prisons in our federal system-without due process and with no end in sight. The situation at Guantánamo is worsening, desperate and critical. Many minds have already been lost and their bodies will soon follow.

  9. Putting the inhumanity of it aside for a minute, what has it bought for us? How many terrorists have been tried and convicted of crimes?

    By the way, does anyone know what the the purpose of the sensory deprivation is? The hoods, goggles, ear blocks?

    It’s getting harder and harder to be a good German these days.

  10. abi @11:

    I think the purpose of sensory depravation is partly punsihment, but more to make the subject go nuts–just as you see. The purpose of making someone go nuts is that you then don’t have do deal with him–you can just lock him up in a nuthouse. The U.S. is not the same as the gulags. Before we put someone in a nuthouse for life, we make sure he’s nuts first.

    “They” would probably tell you it’s to break the subject, but as you see in my comment @6 about Nosenko, he only revealed important information after he was released from sensory depravation & treated like a human being.

    Analogously, torture is about making subjects tell you what you want to hear, not about getting genuine information.

    The only thing I’m not sure about is whether the people who run these operations are aware of what they are really doing, or whether they accept the rationale at face value. I suspect some know, some are in deep denial, and some are naive enough to believe the technique works for the stated purpose.

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