Friday, February 23, 2007

Jose Padilla: Driven Insane by the U.S. Government

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Jose Padilla's sanity is being evaluated to determine if he can stand trial. A psychiatrist at a Miami hearing is convinced that Padilla has Stockholm's syndrome:

A psychiatrist told a court in Miami US terror suspect Jose Padilla is unable to assist in his defense as he identifies with the military captors who held him for more than three years.

Speaking at a hearing held to determine whether Padilla is fit to face trial on charges of aiding Al-Qaeda, forensic neuropsychiatrist Angela Hagerty said Padilla suffers from symptoms of the Stockholm syndrome, in which captives identify with their captors.

"He's constantly advocating for the position of the government," said Hagerty, who examined Padilla between February and June 2006 and was called to the witness stand by the defense lawyers.

"He lacks the capacity to assist the counsel in his case," she said. "His reasoning is impaired."

Padilla was held for three and a half years without charges at a navy prison before he was allowed to go on trial.

His lawyers claim Padilla developed severe mental health problems while he was held by the military, and that he was unable to understand the legal proceedings.

Padilla, 36, has claimed he was subjected to sleep deprivation, extreme heat and cold, threats of execution, exposure to noxious fumes, and was forced to wear a hood and stand in one position for extended periods of time.

His lawyers also claim he was given "truth serum" in the form of LSD or PCP during his detention in a military prison.

Hagerty told the hearing that during her interviews, Padilla appeared anxious and detached, was sweating, had facial tics, and that his pupils were dilated.

She said Padilla was convinced he had signed a pledge not to reveal what had happened in the Navy brig where he was held from 2002 to 2005.

She said Padilla believed that "if he speaks about what went on in the brig, something terrible might happen."

Naomi Klein writes that the hearing is, in truth, putting the Bush administration's monstrous interrogation tactics on trial. Her op-ed at The Guardian is not long, but it's difficult to read because it's so upsetting. I had my hands on my stomach trying to hold down waves of nausea, but I got through the whole thing:

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.

Padilla has been held, now, for three and a half years under conditions that are expressly designed to break down the human personality:

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."

Now here is arguably the very worst part of all this:

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.

The U.S. government had every intention of holding on to Jose Padilla and subjecting him to this mind-bloggling abuse without ever charging him with a crime or allowing him to enter a courtroom. For how long? Years? Forever? It didn't matter, because Jose Padilla is not a human being to these people. He long ago was placed in the category "subhuman, not a person, no more deserving of decent treatment than a cockroach or a clot of dirt." Not that it could ever be possible to justify such vileness, but it's important to remember that the Bush administration cannot even rely on the rationalization that Padilla is Al Qaeda, because -- he was never charged with being Al Qaeda. He was never charged with anything, until the government had to find something to charge him with, or else have to deal with a SCOTUS challenge to his status as an enemy noncombatant.

So why has Jose Padilla been subjected to psychological torture intended to break him and destroy his sanity, for over three years? Because Bush doesn't like him? Because Bush thinks all Muslims are terrorists? Because he used to be a gang member, so that means he must be associated with Al Qaeda? Because he just looks like a terrorist? Because the government has just decided he IS a terrorist, and to hell with any evidence or proof?


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?

Yes. I remember that, too.

I am so ashamed that my government is being controlled by men (and some women) who are capable of such evil. I know the world will not be materially different on January 23, 2009 -- but I still am counting the days until that date.

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