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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Bush administration's torture of U.S. citizen Jose Padilla

(updated below)

The Bush administration's May, 2002 lawless detention of U.S. citizen Jose Padilla -- on U.S. soil -- was, as I recounted in my book, the first incident which really prompted me to begin concluding that things were going terribly awry in our country. The administration declared Padilla an "enemy combatant," put him in a military prison, and refused to charge him with any crime or even allow him access to a lawyer or anyone else. He stayed in a black hole, kept by his own government, for the next three-a-half-years with no charges of any kind ever asserted against him and with the administration insisting on the right to detain him (and any other American citizen) indefinitely -- all based solely on the secret, unchallengeable say-so of the President that he was an "enemy combatant."

To this day, I have trouble believing that we have a Government that claims this power against American citizens and has exercised that power and aggressively defended it -- and even more trouble believing that there are so many blindly loyal followers of that government who defend that conduct. The outrage that it provokes when thinking about it has not diminished even a small amount and does not diminish no matter how many times one reads, writes or speaks about it. It is as profound a betrayal of the most core American political principles as one can fathom.

The Bush administration finally charged Padilla with a crime (after 3 1/2 years of detention) only because the U.S. Supreme Court was set to rule on the legality of their treatment of Padilla, and indicting Padilla enabled the administration to argue that his case was now "moot." The Government's indictment made no mention of the flamboyant allegation they originally trumpeted to justify his lawless incarceration -- that he was a "Dirty Bomber" attempting to detonate a radiological bomb in an American city (because the "evidence" for that accusation was itself procured by torture and was therefore unreliable and unusable). Instead, the indictment contained only the vaguest and most generic terrorism allegations. Since then, the federal judge presiding over Padilla's case (in the Southern District of Florida) has repeatedly expressed skepticism over the Government's case against him and has, on several occasions, admonished them to provide more specific information setting forth exactly what Padilla is alleged to have done.

Last week, Padilla's lawyers filed a Motion to Dismiss the Indictment against him on the grounds that the Government has engaged in outrageous conduct -- specifically, that they tortured him for the 3 1/2 years he remained in captivity, particularly for the almost 2 full years that they denied him access even to a lawyer. Via David Markus, a South Florida attorney who has been reporting on the Padilla proceedings on his local blog, Padilla's Motion to Dismiss is here (.pdf). Markus excerpts a substantial part of the description of Padilla's captivity, which is the first detailed account I have read of the treatment to which Padilla was subjected while in detention.

I'm excerpting parts of it below (read the full excerpt at Markus' blog or in Padilla's brief). It is worthwhile to note that all of the treatment described by Padilla has been described by numerous other detainees, and from what I can tell, all of the treatment he describes are part of the "interrogation and detention techniques" which the President now has the legal authority to invoke pursuant to the so-called Military Commissions Act of 2006 -- enacted by our Congress just ten days ago. Thus, everything Padilla describes is now perfectly legal in the United States -- even when applied against individuals charged with no crimes of any kind.

As Markus notes, this is how the Argument section of Padilla's brief begins:

"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you."Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil 89 (Walter Kaufmann trans., Vintage Books 1966) (1886).

Padilla's Brief details the treatment to which he was subjected:

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 will to live. The base ingredient in Mr. Padilla’s torture was stark isolation for a substantial portion of his captivity.

For nearly two years – from June 9, 2002 until March 2, 2004, when the Department of Defense permitted Mr. Padilla to have contact with his lawyers – Mr. Padilla was in complete isolation. Even after he was permitted contact with counsel, his conditions of confinement remained essentially the same.

He was kept in a unit comprising sixteen individual cells, eight on the upper level and eight on the lower level, where Mr. Padilla’s cell was located. No other cells in the unit were occupied. His cell was electronically monitored twenty-four hours a day, eliminating the need for a guard to patrol his unit. His only contact with another person was when a guard would deliver and retrieve trays of food and when the government desired to interrogate him.

His isolation, furthermore, was aggravated by the efforts of his captors to maintain complete 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, 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. The pain and discomfort of sleeping on a cold, steel bunk made it impossible for him to sleep. Mr. Padilla was not given a mattress until the tail end of his captivity. . . .

Other times, his captors would bang the walls and cell bars creating loud startling noises. These disruptions would occur throughout the night and cease only in the morning, when Mr. Padilla’s interrogations would begin. Efforts to manipulate Mr. Padilla and break his will also took the form of the denial of the few benefits he possessed in his cell. . . .

Mr. Padilla’s dehumanization at the hands of his captors also took more sinister forms. Mr. Padilla was often put in stress positions for hours at a 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.

A substantial quantum of torture endured by Mr. Padilla came at the hands of his interrogators. In an effort to disorient Mr. Padilla, his captors would deceive him about his location and who his interrogators actually were. Mr. Padilla was threatened with being forcibly removed from the United States to another country, including U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was threatened his fate would be even worse than in the Naval Brig.

He was threatened with being cut with a knife and having alcohol poured on the wounds. He was also threatened with imminent execution. He was hooded and forced to stand in stress positions for long durations of time. He was forced to endure exceedingly long interrogation sessions, without adequate sleep, wherein he would be confronted with false information, scenarios, and documents to further disorient him. 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 interrogations.

Throughout most of the time Mr. Padilla was held captive in the Naval Brig he had no contact with the outside world. In March 2004, one year and eight months after arriving in the Naval Brig, Mr. Padilla was permitted his first contact with his attorneys. Even thereafter, although Mr. Padilla had access to counsel, and thereby some contact with the outside world, those visits were extremely limited and restricted. . . .

The deprivations, physical abuse, and other forms of inhumane treatment visited upon Mr. Padilla caused serious medical problems that were not adequately addressed. Apart from the psychological damage done to Mr. Padilla, 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 breath 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. Toward the end of his captivity, Mr. Padilla experienced swelling and pressure in his chest and arms. He was administered an electrocardiogram, and given medication. . . . .

The cause of some of the medical problems experienced by Mr. Padilla is obvious. Being cramped in a tiny cell with little or no opportunity for recreation and enduring stress positions and shackling for hours caused great pain and discomfort. It is unclear, though, whether Mr. Padilla’s cardiothoracic problems were a symptom of the stress he endured in captivity, or a side effect from one of the drugs involuntarily induced into Mr. Padilla’s system in the Naval Brig. In either event, the strategically applied measures suffered by Mr. Padilla at the hands of the government caused him both physical and psychological pain and agony.

It is worth noting that throughout his captivity, none of the restrictive and inhumane conditions visited upon Mr. Padilla were brought on by his behavior or by any actions on his part. There were no incidents of Mr. Padilla violating any regulation of the Naval Brig or taking any aggressive action towards any of his captors. Mr. Padilla has always been peaceful and compliant with his captors. He was, and remains to the time of this filing, docile and resigned – a model detainee.

Mr. Padilla also wants to make clear that the deprivation described above did abate somewhat once counsel began negotiating with the officials of the Naval Brig for the improvements of his conditions. Toward the end of Mr. Padilla’s captivity in the Naval Brig he was provided reading materials and some other more humane treatment. However, despite some improvement in Mr. Padilla’s living conditions, the interrogations and torture continued even after the visits with counsel commenced.

In sum, many of the conditions Mr. Padilla experienced were inhumane and caused him great physical and psychological pain and anguish. Other deprivations experienced by Mr. Padilla, taken in isolation, are merely cruel and some, merely petty. However, it is important to recognize that all of the deprivations and assaults recounted above were employed in concert in a calculated manner to cause him maximum anguish.

It is also extremely important to note that the torturous acts visited upon Mr. Padilla were done over the course almost the entire three years and seven months of his captivity in the Naval Brig. For most of one thousand three hundred and seven days, Mr. Padilla was tortured by the United States government without cause or justification. Mr. Padilla’s treatment at the hands of the United States government is shocking to even the most hardened conscience, and such outrageous conduct on the part of the government divests it of jurisdiction, under the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment, to prosecute Mr. Padilla in the instant matter.

All of that was done by the Bush administration to an American citizen detained on U.S. soil -- without any charges ever being brought against him, let alone convicted of any crime. All along, the Bush administration insisted it had the right to abduct and detain U.S. citizens indefinitely and deny them access to any courts or even to any lawyers, to either contest the validity of their detention or the legality of their treatment. That is still the Bush administration's position, and the Congress less than two weeks ago purported to give the President the legal authority to do virtually all of that.

The case of Jose Padilla is one of the most despicable and outright un-American travesties the U.S. Government has perpetrated for a long time. It is impossible to defend that behavior, let alone engage in it, and claim with any legitimacy that one believes in the principles that have defined and guided this country since its founding. But there has been no retreat from this behavior. Quite the contrary. The atrocity known as the Military Commissions Act of 2006 is a huge leap forward to elevating the Padilla treatment from the lawless shadows into full-fledged, officially sanctioned and legally authorized policy of the U.S. Government. The case of Jose Padilla is no longer a sick aberration, but is instead a symbol of the kind of Government we have chosen to have.

UPDATE: Please read this perfectly expressed comment from a police officer concerning this whole matter.

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