by digby

I have written before about this amazing essay, with which many of you are no doubt familiar. It was written in December 2005, by former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who knows a lot about its subject --- torture.

Bukovsky was a very brave dissident and was widely touted as a potential leader of the new democratic Russia. (He declined.) He is a fierce critic of Putin today. But he first gained international attention in 1971 for smuggling proof of certain totalitarian practices:

The information galvanized human rights activists worldwide (including inside the country) and was a pretext for his subsequent arrest in January 1972, officially for contacts with foreign journalists and possession and distribution of samizdat (Article 70-1, 7 years of imprisonment plus 5 years in exile).

Which brings me to this sickening story which lays out in even more detail than we saw earlier, the treatment Jose Padilla has received while he's been in custody:

According to court papers filed by Padilla's lawyers, for the first two years of his confinement, Padilla was held in total isolation. He heard no voice except his interrogator's. His 9-by-7 foot cell had nothing in it: no window even to the corridor, no clock or watch to orient him in time.

Padilla's meals were delivered through a slot in the door. He was either in bright light for days on end or in total darkness. He had no mattress or pillow on his steel pallet; loud noises interrupted his attempts to sleep.

Sometimes it was very cold, sometimes hot. He had nothing to read or to look at. Even a mirror was taken away. When he was transported, he was blindfolded and his ears were covered with headphones to screen out all sound. In short, Padilla experienced total sensory deprivation.

During length interrogations, his lawyers allege, Padilla was forced to sit or stand for long periods in stress positions. They say he was hooded and threatened with death. The isolation was so extreme that, according to court papers, even military personnel at the prison expressed great concern about Padilla's mental status.

The government maintains that whatever happened to Padilla during his detention is irrelevant, since no information obtained during that time is being used in the criminal case against him.[!!!]

Padilla's lawyer, Andrew Patel, rejects that premise. The assumption, says Patel, is that the U.S. government can do anything it wants to an American citizen as long as it does not use any information it extracts in a court of law.


Even at this late stage, after dozens of meetings with his lawyers, Padilla suspects that they are government agents, says Andrew Patel, who is on the legal team. Padilla may believe that the lawyers assigned to represent him are in fact "part of a continuing interrogation program."

The situation has become impossible, defense lawyers say; they've hired two psychiatric experts to examine Padilla. Both have often testified for the prosecution in criminal cases. This time they have sided with the defense.

After spending more than 25 hours with Padilla, both psychiatric experts have concluded that his isolation and interrogation have resulted in so much mental damage that he is incompetent to stand trial.


Both Hegarty and Zapf administered a variety of objective tests to evaluate Padilla. While they found that he is able to understand the basic charges against him, he is "unable to assist" his attorneys because of his mental condition and the "paranoia" resulting from his treatment during two years of total isolation, followed by an additional year and a half of similar treatment. Zapf also suggested that Padilla may have suffered "brain injury." Both doctors noted his tics and spasmodic body responses.

The government adamantly denies mistreating Padilla, though it does not dispute the particulars cited in Padilla's legal papers. Rather, the government says its treatment of Padilla was humane and notes that it provided medical treatment when necessary. The government agreed to the additional psychiatric evaluation that has now been ordered by the judge.

They seem to have tortured the man until he lost his mind. It's horrible, the stuff of nightmares. Everytime I read about this I can hardly believe that the American government is not only doing it, but is openly defending the practice. It's chilling.

But this may be the most chilling thing I've heard yet:

Indeed, there are even some within the government who think it might be best if Padilla were declared incompetent and sent to a psychiatric prison facility. As one high-ranking official put it, "the objective of the government always has been to incapacitate this person."

Some of you may have clicked on the title of this post to see what the hell it means by now, (if you didn't already know.) It is a Russian slang word for "psychiatric hospital." What Vladimir Bukovsky smuggled out of Russia in those 150 pages was proof that the Soviets had used their psychiatric system to not only break prisoners' will and minds, but also to warehouse and torture political prisoners.

Oh, and in case anyone's wondering about why we would need to "incapacitate" this monster Padilla, soviet style:

Even former Justice Department spokesman Corallo concedes that in hindsight, Padilla was a bit player. Corallo says the government faces a problem over its ever-changing claims about what Padilla did and whether he could be prosecuted in a civilian court.

Yes, it would probably be best for everyone if this bit-player were sentenced to a psychiatric prison now that they've broken his mind and run out of reasons to keep him on ice.

The article says that Padilla has a case of Stockholm Syndrome, which I don't doubt. But so do the Republican anti-communist zealots who are willingly becoming the enemy they reviled. But then, we should have known that all their highminded talk about democracy and freedom was crap. What they didn't like about communism was the economic system. The totalitarian governing philosophy was something they evidently really believed was quite useful.

Update: Michael Froomkin has an interesting LTE published in the New Yorker on the habeas portion of the military commissions bill.

Update II: Mary Ratliff wrote a very interesting post from a couple of weeks ago about the disintigration of personality that applies to what they've done to Padilla. It's stomach churning.

And then there's this.