Naomi Klein / The Guardian & Curt Anderson / AP & The Christian Science Monitor – 2007-02-24 23:00:37
The US Psychological Torture System Is Finally on Trial
Naomi Klein / The Guardian
WASHINGTON (February 23, 2007) — Something remarkable is going on in a Miami courtroom. The cruel methods US interrogators have used since September 11 to “break” prisoners are finally being put on trial. This was not supposed to happen.
The Bush administration’s plan was to put José Padilla on trial for allegedly being part of a network linked to international terrorists. But 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.
The US district judge Marcia Cooke disagrees. “It’s not like Mr Padilla was living in a box. He was at a place. Things happened to him at that place.” The judge has ordered several prison employees to testify on Padilla’s mental state at the hearings, which began yesterday. They will be asked how a man who is alleged to have engaged in elaborate anti-government plots now acts, in the words of brig staff, “like a piece of furniture”.
It’s difficult to overstate the significance of these hearings. The techniques used to break Padilla have been standard operating procedure at Guantánamo Bay since the first prisoners arrived five years ago. They wore blackout goggles and sound-blocking headphones and were placed in extended isolation, interrupted by strobe lights and heavy metal music. These same practices have been documented in dozens of cases of “extraordinary rendition” carried out by the CIA, as well as in prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many have suffered the same symptoms as Padilla. 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.”
These standard mind-breaking techniques have never faced scrutiny in an American court because the prisoners in the jails are foreigners and have been stripped of the right of habeas corpus — a denial that, scandalously, was just upheld by a federal appeals court in Washington DC. There is only one reason Padilla’s case is different — he is a US citizen.
The administration did not originally intend to bring Padilla to trial, but when his status as an enemy combatant faced a supreme court challenge, the administration abruptly changed course, charging Padilla and transferring him to civilian custody. That makes Padilla’s case unique — he is the only victim of the post-9/11 legal netherworld to face an ordinary US trial.
Now that Padilla’s mental state is the central issue in the case, the government prosecutors are presented with a problem. The CIA and the military have known since the early 1960s that extreme sensory deprivation and sensory overload cause personality disintegration — that’s the whole point.
“The deprivation of stimuli induces regression by depriving the subject’s mind of contact with an outer world and thus forcing it in upon itself. At the same time, the calculated provision of stimuli during interrogation tends to make the regressed subject view the interrogator as a father-figure.” That comes from Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation, a declassified 1963 CIA manual for interrogating “resistant sources”.
The manual was based on the findings of the agency’s notorious MK-ULTRA programme, which in the 1950s funnelled about $25m to scientists to carry out research into “unusual techniques of interrogation”. One of the psychiatrists who received CIA funding was the infamous Ewen Cameron, of Montreal’s McGill University.
Cameron subjected hundreds of psychiatric patients to large doses of electroshock and total sensory isolation, and drugged them with LSD and PCP. In 1960 Cameron gave a lecture at the Brooks air force base in Texas, in which he stated that sensory deprivation “produces the primary symptoms of schizophrenia”.
There is no need to go so far back to prove that the US military knew full well that it was driving Padilla mad. The army’s field manual, reissued just last year, states: “Sensory deprivation may result in extreme anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts, depression, and antisocial behaviour” — as well as “significant psychological distress”.
If these techniques drove Padilla insane, that means the US government has been deliberately driving hundreds, possibly thousands, of prisoners insane around the world. What is on trial in Florida is not one man’s mental state. It is the whole system of US psychological torture.
Naomi Klein’s book on disaster capitalism will be published this spring; a version of this article appears in the Nation www.nologo.org
Padilla Not Competent to Stand Trial, Defense Experts Testify
Curt Anderson / Associated Press
MIAMI (February 23, 2007) — Accused Al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla suffers from intense stress and anxiety stemming from his isolated years in military custody and cannot adequately help his lawyers prepare for trial, two mental health experts for the defense testified yesterday.
Defense lawyers hope to delve more deeply into Padilla’s treatment at a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., later in the federal hearing, when they are allowed to question brig officials directly involved in his custody. Those officials have never spoken publicly about the case, and the hearing will continue Monday.
“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.
Padilla, a 36-year-old US citizen, is charged with being part of a North American terror support cell that provided money, recruits, and supplies to Islamic extremists around the world. All three have pleaded not guilty and face possible life imprisonment.
The Bush administration initially asserted that Padilla was on an Al Qaeda mission to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a major US city when he was arrested in May 2002 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
He was designated an “enemy combatant” and was imprisoned by the military without criminal charges. But the dirty-bomb allegations are not part of the Miami case.
Padilla has contended in court filings that he was tortured at the brig, which US officials have denied. Prosecutors say he is competent for trial.
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.
Padilla’s symptoms are most acute when he is asked to talk about his 3 1/2 years in the brig, including interrogations techniques used on him, or to review evidence in his criminal case, including transcripts of intercepted telephone conversations, Hegarty said.
When Padilla is asked about his case or the brig, Zapf said, he becomes noticeably tense, begins to sweat, tries to change the subject, and rocks back and forth while hunched over. She said he was adamant that he did not want to testify in his own defense.
During cross-examination, prosecutor John Shipley pointed to a test administered by Hegarty in which Padilla scored zero on the portions indicating post-traumatic stress disorder.
Those segments involved questions about flashbacks, nightmares, and depression, among other symptoms.
“Nothing in this test supports your diagnosis at all, isn’t that correct?” Shipley asked.
“No,” Hegarty replied, adding that the test answers were only one component of her decision.
Was Jose Padilla Tortured by US Military?
Warren Richey | The Christian Science Monitor
MIAMI (February 16, 2007) — When suspected Al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla was taken into military custody in 2002, his interrogators set out to crush any hope he might have that a neutral judge or a defense lawyer would come to his aid.
It is difficult to convince a US citizen that legal protections guaranteed in the Constitution no longer exist for him. But that was the mission of US military interrogators ordered to extract as much intelligence as possible from Mr. Padilla.
“Only after such time as Padilla has perceived that help is not on the way can the United States reasonably expect to obtain all possible intelligence information from Padilla,” explained Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby in an affidavit to an inquiring federal judge.
The statement was made seven months into what became 21 months of strict isolation in a military brig without access to a lawyer or any other human contact besides Padilla’s jailers and interrogators.
Now, Padilla is facing an April trial in federal court here on charges that he became a willing Al Qaeda recruit in a violent global jihad. But his lawyers complain that Padilla’s harsh treatment during nearly four years of military detention and interrogation has left him so psychologically damaged that he is unable to help wage his own defense.
US District Judge Marcia Cooke is being asked to decide whether Padilla is mentally competent to stand trial.
In a hearing before Judge Cooke Friday, federal prosecutors are expected to urge the judge to ignore everything that took place during Padilla’s military detention. They say his harsh treatment is irrelevant to whether he is mentally competent to stand trial.
Padilla’s lawyers disagree. They say their client was tortured by the military and they are asking the judge to order the government to fully account for its treatment of Padilla.
“Mr. Padilla is suffering from mental defects stemming from his incarceration in the naval brig,” writes Anthony Natale, an assistant federal public defender, in a brief to the court. “The effects of that incarceration … have left Mr. Padilla in such a psychologically frail posture that he cannot bear to revisit his past and, hence, cannot assist counsel in defending him against the government’s allegations.”
Mr. Natale adds, “It is the government that is squarely to blame for his current mental state and his concomitant inability to assist counsel.”
Federal prosecutors deny that Padilla was subject to torture or any other mistreatment while in military custody, and they point to a recent report by a Bureau of Prisons psychiatrist that finds Padilla is competent to stand trial.
The key issue, according to the government, is Padilla’s present mental functioning. Since he is mentally competent today, there is no need to investigate his past treatment by the military, prosecutors say.
The issue of the scope of the judge’s inquiry into Padilla’s mental condition is important because it could open the door to the first detailed examination of torture allegations made by an alleged enemy combatant.
Was he tortured? Was he subjected to stress positions and forced hypothermia? Was he administered mind-altering drugs?
Defense lawyers alleged each of these abuses and more in a motion pending before Cooke to dismiss the entire case against Padilla because the government engaged in outrageous conduct during his military detention.
“What you have here is a battle of conflicting theories about the entire case,” says Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the University of Miami Law School.
Federal prosecutors are trying to restrict the scope of any competency hearing. The difficulty from the government’s perspective, analysts say, is that even if Cooke eventually rules Padilla is competent to stand trial, there is no guarantee that she might not also dismiss the case because of facts uncovered during a wide-ranging inquiry into Padilla’s earlier treatment by the military.
“There is every reason to believe that the defense will improperly seek to use a competency hearing as a vehicle to engage the court in detailed fact-finding about the alleged conditions of Padilla’s detention,” writes Assistant US Attorney John Shipley in a brief to Cooke. “There is no reason for the court to head down that path.”
But the government itself headed down that path when its psychiatrist contacted individuals and reviewed reports dating to Padilla’s military detention.
Padilla’s lawyers want the same access in part so they can cross-examine the government’s psychiatrist in a competency hearing set for next week.
Defense lawyers say the government’s competency report suggests its psychiatrists were misled about the conditions of Padilla’s confinement in the naval brig. And they want Cooke to find out what happened during a mysterious 72-hour gap in recordings of Padilla interrogations.
The lawyers say Padilla was subject to 24-hour video surveillance during his entire military detention – except for 72 hours of missing tape. “What could have been done to Mr. Padilla in those seventy-two, or so, hours that the government turned off the camera when for almost four years every one of Mr. Padilla’s bowel movements were videotaped?” asks Natale in his brief.
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