First, They Came for Jose Padilla

Now that Jose Padilla’s case has been turned over to the criminal justice system, details of his 3 1/2 years of being held without criminal charges are coming to light. These details include a video made by his military jailers now in the hands of Padilla’s lawyers. Michael Isikoff at Newsweek and Deborah Sontag of the New York Times describe the video, which shows Padilla being taken to see a dentist. Sontag writes,

“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.

At least he had some human contact that day. Most days, he didn’t. Sontag continues,

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.”

Even if Padilla was not tortured, in fact a human being cannot endure more than three years of deprivation of normal human contact — not even the second-hand contact of books — without severe emotional and psychological harm. His “basic needs” were NOT met.

And Jose Padilla is a citizen. A citizen locked up by the government for 3 1/2 years without being charged with a crime. If the Constitution didn’t protect Padilla, it doesn’t protect any of us.

I don’t have anything to say that others haven’t already said; see Glenn Greenwald, Digby, and Steve M.

For an object lesson in why a rule of law is preferable to a rule of men, see the Confederate Yank.

Sortakinda related — Craig Whitlock writes in the Washington Post that not all Europeans are cooperating with the CIA and “extraordinary rendition.”

13 thoughts on “First, They Came for Jose Padilla

  1. Let’s see, remind me again: What useful intel did they get from Padilla?

    And how dangerous was this guy, anyway? Was he 300 years old and survived by ripping out people’s livers, like that guy on The X-Files? Could he set folks on fire with his mind? Was there even any reason to suspect he controlled a sleeper cell (apparently comprised of defense lawyers), and had to be kept from communicating a “green light” to them?

    Or did the administration treat Jose Padilla with less dignity than they would give a Chinese panda, simply because they could?

    Straining at gnats while the camels got away, that’s how Bush has handled the War on Terra.

  2. Calling all psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors! Americans will need long-term help with grief and anguish and anger as they struggle to cope with so many horrors perpetrated in the guise of security.

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  4. Before becoming a fighter pilot I had to attend a school called “SERE”, which stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape. We were taught resistance methods based on what was learned from our returning Vietnam POWs. We were told that the enemy would torture us in order to extract false confessions from us. These would then be used in propaganda campaigns. Actually getting tactical information from us would be useless since that kind of information has a short shelf life anyways.

    We were also taught, and this was emphasized, that we were expected to resist only for so long, but that it was impossible to hold out forever. They told us, “Everyone has a breaking point — don’t try to be John Wayne … you’ll only fail, and then you’ll feel even more demoralized.”

    Indeed, many Vietnam POWs ended up signing statements stating that the war was unjust, that they were baby-killers, that they were sorry for their “crimes”. Of course no-one believed these statements, and our government correctly pointed out that statements gained through these methods were useless.

    And now our government is saying that we are getting tons of useful information from the detainees at Guantanamo.

    One of the techniques they told us about in SERE, one of the techniques used against our sodiers in Vietnam, was called “Stress Positions”. They warned us, “It sounds benign, but these positions can be excruciating after just a short time. Some POWs reported that their shoulders were pulled out of joint by some of these positions.” I personally spoke with an ex-POW – a Colonel when I met him – and he told me he still suffers from the physical after- effects from those positions.

    At the end of the SERE program our camp was “liberated”. We had all learned many techniques for resisting in a POW situation, but most importantly, we learned that it would be a very bad thing to be taken prisoner in wartime, and we all hoped we would be too good — we’d never be shot down!

    The “liberation” of our camp was an emotional moment for us all. We were formed up and told to expect hours more of interrogation since we had performed so poorly. Then, unexpectedly, we were told to turn about-face. When we did we saw a sight we had been denied for the entire period of our internment. There, immediately in front of us, on the flagpole where we had gotten used to seeing the flag of our evil, fictional captors, There, fluttering gently in the breeze high over our heads, was our symbol of freedom, the symbol of our great nation … there flew our very own Star Spangled Banner!

    Along with the feeling of relief that came to us as it dawned on us that this nightmare was over, that were free again, we all felt a profound sense of pride, because over the course of our internment we came to despise the fictional state that believed in such brutal torture techniques, and our hearts swelled with pride at being Americans, because we knew in our hearts that our nation was civilized, and would never resort to the kinds of terrifying torture tactics our soldiers in Vietnam had endured, or that our comrades might have to endure in the future at the hands of some other brutal state. We were the good guys.

    We were proud to be Americans.

  5. I despise the waste of GIs lives, physical health, and long-term mental injuries. I resent the graft that goes with the billions spent on this pointless war. I dread the long-term economic effects of the debt we have incurred in this military excursion. I weep for the attack on human rights, domestic and abroad in the name of ‘war on terror’. I curse the fools who support torture; defend incarceration without a hearing, praise the erosion of Constitutional rights, particularly search and seizure which protected us from warentless wiretapping.We Americans have become our worst enemy; Islamic jihadists need do nothing except pray Bush and/or his policies to continue to complete our destruction as we flail at an enemy, injuring ourselves the worst.

  6. This Padilla episode is frightning. It strikes at the heart of America…and how can people not see that?

    In theory, if Bush can do it to Padilla, he’s done it to us. And we can only be as secure as Bush’s whim.

  7. It’s also frightening that the talking heads can’t pronounce Padilla properly.I’d love to see what they do with “La Jolla” or “Arroz con pollo”.I don’t know about the rest of the U.S.A, but Florida lawmen have taken a shine to black (SWAT Team) and /or Cammo uniforms. There was a time when cops were cops and soldiers were not. Be afraid…..

  8. His name is pronounced as if it rhymes with “Godzilla”. (Padilla’s lawyer, Andy Patel told me so.)

    The only thing that’s amazing about Mr. Padilla’s case is that it didn’t bring down this government; worse, it’s something this government can point to and most people actually supported. After all, Mr. Padilla is (1) an ex-gangbanger, (2) a Latino, and (3) he converted to Islam… Needless to say, not exactly one that most red-blooded suburban and exurban Americans think about much as they drive their SUVs around… now is it?

    The fact that– by this one case– if bin Laden “hates us for our freedom”… then bin Laden won… as if he cared (he won, btw, just before Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” in 2003, when OBL got what he wanted and American forces withdrew from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia…)

    The government continues to hold Saleh Al-Marri– a LEGAL RESIDENT– in the same brig in South Carolina under pretty much the same circumstances– and continues to assert its right to do the same to any of the rest of us whenever it wants to. Neither the government– nor the public at large– seems to have learned anything from this abomination of a case.

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