*The US psychological torture system is finally on trial*
America has deliberately driven hundreds, perhaps thousands, of
prisoners insane. Now it is being held to account in a Miami court
*Friday February 23, 2007*
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.
Brooklyn-born former gang member, was classified as an "enemy combatant"
and taken to a navy prison in Charleston, South Carolina. He was kept in
a cell 9ft by 7ft, with no natural light, no clock and no calendar.
Whenever Padilla left the cell, he was shackled and suited in heavy
goggles and headphones. Padilla was kept under these conditions for
1,307 days. He was forbidden contact with anyone but his interrogators,
who punctured the extreme sensory deprivation with sensory overload,
blasting him with harsh lights and pounding sounds. Padilla also says he
was injected with a "truth serum", a substance his lawyers believe was
LSD or PCP.
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
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."
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.
Now that Padilla's mental state is the central issue in the case, the
government prosecutors are presented with a problem. The CIA and the
military have known since the early 1960s that extreme sensory
deprivation and sensory overload cause personality disintegration -
that's the whole point. "The deprivation of stimuli induces regression
by depriving the subject's mind of contact with an outer world and thus
forcing it in upon itself. At the same time, the calculated provision of
stimuli during interrogation tends to make the regressed subject view
the interrogator as a father-figure." That comes from Kubark
Counterintelligence Interrogation, a declassified 1963 CIA manual for
interrogating "resistant sources".
The manual was based on the findings of the agency's notorious MK-ULTRA
programme, which in the 1950s funnelled about $25m to scientists to
carry out research into "unusual techniques of interrogation". One of
the psychiatrists who received CIA funding was the infamous Ewen
Cameron, of Montreal's McGill University. Cameron subjected hundreds of
psychiatric patients to large doses of electroshock and total sensory
isolation, and drugged them with LSD and PCP. In 1960 Cameron gave a
lecture at the Brooks air force base in Texas, in which he stated that
sensory deprivation "produces the primary symptoms of schizophrenia".
There is no need to go so far back to prove that the US military knew
full well that it was driving Padilla mad. The army's field manual,
reissued just last year, states: "Sensory deprivation may result in
extreme anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts, depression, and
antisocial behaviour" - as well as "significant psychological distress".
If these techniques drove Padilla insane, that means the US government
has been deliberately driving hundreds, possibly thousands, of prisoners
insane around the world. What is on trial in Florida is not one man's
mental state. It is the whole system of US psychological torture.
*·* /Naomi Klein's book on disaster capitalism will be published this
spring; a version of this article appears in the Nation
//www.nologo.org/ <http://www.nologo.org/>/ /
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