[Ppnews] The Torture of Jose Padilla

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Dec 7 12:27:47 EST 2006

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- Tuesday, 5 December 2006 -



News & Analysis: North America
By Tom Carter

Lawyers for Jose Padilla, the Brooklyn-born man imprisoned and 
tortured for almost four years by the Bush administration, have 
released to the media still frames from a video taken during one 
episode in the course of his captivity in a South Carolina Naval brig.

In June 2002, the Bush administration alleged that Padilla, an 
American citizen, was an Al Qaeda operative who was planning to 
manufacture and detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the US. Bush 
declared Padilla an "enemy combatant" and on this basis deprived him 
of all due process rights guaranteed under the US Constitution.

Amid sensational headlines, Padilla was placed under military 
detention, denied legal counsel or any form of judicial process, and 
locked away in solitary confinement under the most inhuman conditions.

Padilla, now 36, was considered a "test case" in the Bush 
administration's assumption of extraordinary powers, justified in the 
name of the "war on terror." These include the supposed right of the 
president, simply on his own say-so, to declare any individual an 
"enemy combatant," whether or not he is captured on a battlefield 
(Padilla was arrested in the US, at Chicago's O'Hare International 
Airport), and lock him up indefinitely.

Last fall, having suffered a number of reverses in the federal courts 
and facing a Supreme Court review of Padilla's military confinement, 
the Bush administration removed him from the Naval brig and charged 
him in a criminal indictment on terrorism charges unrelated to the 
"dirty bomb" allegations that were used to throw him into a legal 
black hole in the first place.

He is now imprisoned in Florida, and his lawyers are seeking to get 
the criminal charges against him thrown out on the grounds that he 
was subjected to systematic torture while under military detention 
and denied his constitutional rights.

The video images themselves, which made the front pages of major 
newspapers across the US on Monday, depict one of the few 
interruptions of Padilla's three-year-and-eight-month incarceration 
and solitary confinement--when he was taken to the dentist for a root 
canal operation.

In the video, Padilla first extends his bare feet out of a small 
opening at the bottom of his cell door. They are then manacled. His 
hands, extended through a different window, receive the same 
treatment. His three guards, dressed in camouflage battle uniforms 
with their riot helmet visors down, open the door and remove Padilla 
from the cell.

Padilla is submissive and docile during the entire encounter. He gets 
a brief glimpse of the barren corridor outside his cell before 
blacked-out goggles and a noise-canceling headset are affixed to his head.

There are 16 cells in the unit--8 on the upper level and 8 on the 
lower level--but Padilla's is the only one occupied. He is then 
marched off, flanked by his captors.

The methods depicted in these images, employed under direct order 
from the highest levels of the US government, are those normally 
associated with police-state regimes. Taken together, the images 
reveal one episode in the systematic and sadistic destruction of a 
human personality. Every action on the part of Padilla's captors was 
undertaken to cause discomfort, hopelessness and depression, and 
ultimately to break his will to live.

Lawyers for Padilla filed a motion October 4 in the US District Court 
in the Southern District of Florida asking the court to throw out the 
criminal charges against their client on the grounds that he was 
tortured while in the custody of the US military. The legal brief 
provides a harrowing description of systematic mental and physical 
torture, including prolonged isolation, shackling and stress 
positions, and the administration of psychotropic drugs.

Only a week before the filing of the brief, the US Congress passed 
the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which codifies in US law the 
concept of "unlawful enemy combatant" and sanctions the continued 
torture of prisoners held by the American military and intelligence 
agencies. It denies people held at Guantanamo Bay and other US prison 
camps the fundamental right of habeas corpus--the right to challenge 
their detention in court--and deprives them of basic due process 
protections guaranteed by the US Constitution.

The premise of the lawyers' argument is that Padilla's treatment was 
so egregious that the government has forfeited the right to prosecute 
him, and that any such prosecution would be a violation of his due 
process rights. There is a tradition in US law that when treatment 
"shocks the conscience," not only must the specific evidence obtained 
during the treatment be rejected, but the entire case must be thrown out.

The military has openly admitted that its treatment of Padilla has 
been designed to create a sense of complete helplessness. The filing 
quotes Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense 
Intelligence Agency, as stating in January 2003 that "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 him. He was deprived access to a lawyer for two 
years because communication would disrupt "the sense of dependency 
and trust" necessary for the interrogation.

According to the filing, "In an effort to gain Mr. Padilla's 
'dependency and trust,' he was tortured for nearly the entire three 
years and eight months of his unlawful detention. The torture took 
myriad forms, each designed to cause pain, anguish, depression and, 
ultimately, the loss of the will to live."

The lawyers state that the basic ingredient of this torture was 
"stark isolation for a substantial portion of his captivity"--from 
June 9, 2002, to March 2, 2004. It was only in March 2004 that 
Padilla was provided access to a lawyer.

In addition to prolonged solitary confinement, Padilla was subjected 
to sensory deprivation. "His tiny cell--nine feet by seven feet--had 
no view to the outside world. The door to his cell had a window. 
However, it was covered by a magnetic sticker, depriving Mr. Padilla 
of even a view into the hallway and adjacent common areas of his 
unit. He was not given a clock or a watch and for most of the time of 
his captivity, he was unaware whether it was day or night, or what 
time of year or day it was."

"In addition to his extreme isolation," the filing continues, "Mr. 
Padilla was also viciously deprived of sleep. This sleep deprivation 
was achieved in a variety of ways. For a substantial period of his 
captivity, Mr. Padilla's cell contained only a steel bunk with no 
mattress.... A number of ruses were employed to keep Mr. Padilla from 
getting necessary sleep and rest," including loud noises throughout the night.

To complete his sense of isolation, Padilla was denied reading 
material and even, at one point, the mirror in his tiny room. "He was 
never given any regular recreation time. Often, when he was brought 
outside for some exercise, it was done at night, depriving Mr. 
Padilla of sunlight for many months at a time. The disorientation Mr. 
Padilla experienced due to not seeing the sun and having no view on 
the outside world was exacerbated by his captors' practice of turning 
on extremely bright lights in his cell or imposing complete darkness 
for durations of twenty-four hours, or more."

More direct forms of torture were also used, including being placed 
in physically stressful positions for extended periods of time. "He 
would be shackled and manacled, with a belly chain, for hours in his 
cell. Noxious fumes would be introduced to his room causing his eyes 
and nose to run. The temperature of his cell would be manipulated, 
making his cell extremely cold for long stretches of time. Mr. 
Padilla was denied even the smallest and most personal shreds of 
human dignity by being deprived of showering for weeks at a time, yet 
having to endure forced grooming at the whim of his captors."

Interrogators lied to Padilla about where he was and threatened to 
deport him to places, including Guantanamo Bay, where they said his 
treatment would be even worse. "He was threatened with being cut with 
a knife and having alcohol poured on the wounds. He was also 
threatened with imminent execution.... Often he had to endure 
multiple interrogators who would scream, shake, and otherwise assault 
Mr. Padilla. Additionally, Mr. Padilla was given drugs against his 
will, believed to be some form of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or 
phencyclidine (PCP), to act as a sort of truth serum during his 

"Apart from the psychological damage done to Mr. Padilla," the filing 
states, "there were numerous health problems brought on by the 
conditions of his captivity. Mr. Padilla frequently experienced 
cardiothoracic difficulties while sleeping, or attempting to fall 
asleep, including a heavy pressure on his chest and an inability to 
breathe or move his body.

"In one incident Mr. Padilla felt a burning sensation pulsing through 
his chest. He requested medical care but was given no relief.... The 
strain brought on by being placed in stress positions caused Mr. 
Padilla great discomfort and agony. Many times he requested some form 
of pain relief but was denied by the guards."

Padilla's attorneys contend that as a result of this sadistic 
treatment, their client has been so damaged mentally and emotionally 
as to complicate their efforts to prepare their case in his behalf. 
They have been forced to ask that Padilla not be allowed to testify 
in his own defense.

The attorneys report that Padilla is passive, friendly and likes to 
hear how the Chicago Bears football team is doing, but when they 
bring up questions relating to the charges against him, the Naval 
brig where he was held, or the interrogations to which he was 
subjected, he begins to twitch and contort his manacled body, and is 
unable to answer.

"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," public defender Andrew G. Patel, 
who has represented Padilla since the beginning of his incarceration, 
recently told the New York Times.

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