Breaking The Furniture
This is going to keep me up tonight:
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,South Carolina.
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.
Now lawyers for Mr. Padilla, 36, suggest that he is unfit to stand trial. They argue that he has been so damaged by his interrogations and prolonged isolation that he suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and is unable to assist in his own defense. His interrogations, they say, included hooding, stress positions, assaults, threats of imminent execution and the administration of “truth serums.”
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Todd Vician, said Sunday that the military disputes Mr. Padilla’s accusations of mistreatment. And, in court papers, prosecutors deny “in the strongest terms” the accusations of torture and say that “Padilla’s conditions of confinement were humane and designed to ensure his safety and security.”
“His basic needs were met in a conscientious manner, including Halal (Muslim acceptable) food, clothing, sleep and daily medical assessment and treatment when necessary,” the government stated. “While in the brig, Padilla never reported any abusive treatment to the staff or medical personnel.”
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.”
Mr. Padilla’s situation, as an American declared an enemy combatant and held without charges by his own government, was extraordinary and the conditions of his detention appear to have been unprecedented in the military justice system.
Philip D. Cave, a former judge advocate general for the Navy and now a lawyer specializing in military law, said, “There’s nothing comparable in terms of severity of confinement, in terms of how Padilla was held, especially considering that this was pretrial confinement.”
Ali al-Marri, a Qatari and Saudi dual citizen and the only enemy combatant currently detained in the United States, has made similar claims of isolation and deprivation at the brig in South Carolina. The Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant Vician, said Sunday that he could not comment on the methods used to escort Mr. Padilla to the dentist. Blackened goggles and earphones are rarely employed in internal prison transports in the United States, but riot gear is sometimes used for violent prisoners.
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 the Miami federal public defender’s office.
I know that all the tough guys on the right will say that Padilla is just being a typical whining malcontent but I have a feeling that most of them would crumble into blubbering babies after five minutes in his position. This treatment is extremely inhumane. They basically blinded, deafened and then isolated him, essentially destroying his mind. There is no reason on earth to put those goggles and earphones on him to go to the dentist in the prison in South Carolina except to keep him from ever feeling like a normal human being, part of the natural world. It's sick.
A psychiatrist for the defense says:
“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.
Of course this could just be a defense tactic. But there's something really sinister about his behavior that leads her to these conclusions. It's not your typical insanity type assessment:
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 the Miami detention center, and Mr. Padilla has observed Mr. Patel arguing on his behalf in Miami 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.
Mr. do Campo said that Mr. Padilla was not incommunicative, and that he expressed curiosity about what was going on in the world, liked to talk about sports and demonstrated particularly keen interest in the Chicago Bears.
But the defense lawyers’ questions often echo the questions interrogators have asked Mr. Padilla, and when that happens, he gets jumpy and shuts down, the lawyers said.
Dr. Hegarty said Mr. Padilla refuses to review the video recordings of his interrogations, which have been released to his lawyers but remain classified.
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.”
When I was a kid I read "The Count Of Monte Cristo" and it had a profound affect on me. It is a book about horrible injustice, terrible solitary confinement and the natural human response to suffering it. Every time I read about these prisoners being thrown into these high tech dungeons, isolated and dehumanized I think of that book and the descriptions of madness to which Edmund Dantes nearly succumbs until his mind is saved by the presence of another person to talk to. I think isolation and lack of a sense of time and strange repetitive interrogations may be even more cruel than physical punishment. The belief that it will never end, that you've lost all normal sense of personhood and control --- that your mind is being stripped away and there's nothing you can do about it --- must be terrifying.
I get the sense that a lot of this stuff was rank experimentation. We have known for years that Guantanamo became a guinea pig farm very early on in which they trained green interrogators in "new" techniques. This was probably part of a similar program.
From a January 2004 article in Vanity Fair by David Rose:
Reporters are not allowed to speak with interrogators or anyone else who deals with intelligence at Gitmo. The only testimony I hear is from General Geoffrey Miller, the task-force commander. "We are developing information of enormous value to the nation," says Miller, a slight, pugnacious man said to be a strict disciplinarian. "We have an enormously thorough process that has very high resolution and clarity. We think we're fighting not only to save and protect our families, but your families also. I think of Gitmo as the counterterrorism-interrogation battle lab."
But Miller's background is in artillery, not intelligence, and senior intelligence officials with long experience in counterterrorism, who spoke to Vanity Fair on condition of anonymity, question his assessment
General Miller, however, sees no cause for concern. "I believe we understand what the truth is. We are very, very good at interrogation... As many of our detainees have realized that what they did was wrong, they have begun to give us information that helps us win the global war on terror."
Spies and psychiatrists may have their doubts, but Donald Rumsfeld is convinced that even the mere foot soldiers imprisoned at Gitmo are "among the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth." All, he has said, "were involved in an effort to kill thousands of Americans."
You read some of this stuff now and it's like these guys were all running lines from some cheap 1950's era B-Movie script. Yet the press corps called this nutcase Rummy a "rock star." It was some sort of mass delusion.
Somewhere they came up with the idea that every single person detained by the military as an enemy combatant was not just guilty, he was not even a human being. And so they did this stuff almost as if to make sure the person was not treated as a human being in any way. Perhaps it tested their own assumptions too much if they were seen as people instead of pure personifications of evil.
And it worked:
In his affidavit, Mr. Patel 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.’ ”
This "piece of furniture" had to have blackout goggles and earphones, manacles and a force of men in riot gear in order to go to the prison dentist. I do not know if they made him wear the goggles and earphones when he had his root canal. But I'd be willing to bet they did. It would be so much more punishing not to be able to see and hear, but be able to feel. Why waste an opportunity to further dehumanize the furniture?
Oh, and be sure to read the whole article to remind yourself of just what a pathetic, absurd case the government is bringing against this guy.