What Happened To Padilla


Readers will recall that there was considerable doubt about whether Jose Padilla was mentally fit for trial. After three years of solitary confinement, manacled by feet and hands and guarded with almost military aggression – he was forced to wear sound-proof earmuffs and goggles to get a tooth fixed by the dentist, for example – he was a wreck. One of his psychiatric evaluators, Dr Angela Hegarty, spoke to Amy Goodman about what she saw in this broken man after observing him for 22 hours:

AMY GOODMAN: What was the effect of over three-and-a-half years of isolation on Jose Padilla? DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: I think there’s two things, really. Number one, his family, more than anything, and his friends, who had a chance to see him by the time I spoke with them, said he was changed. There was something wrong. There was something very “weird” — was the word one of his siblings used — something weird about him. There was something not right. He was a different man. And the second thing was his absolute state of terror, terror alternating with numbness, largely. It was as though the interrogators were in the room with us. He was like — perhaps like a trauma victim who knew that they were going to be sent back to the person who hurt them and that he would, as I said earlier, he would subsequently pay a price if he revealed what happened. So I think those would be the two main things.

Also he had developed, actually, a third thing. He had developed really a tremendous identification with the goals and interests of the government. I really considered a diagnosis of Stockholm syndrome. For example, at one point in the proceedings, his attorneys had, you know, done well at cross-examining an FBI agent, and instead of feeling happy about it like all the other defendants I’ve seen over the years, he was actually very angry with them. He was very angry that the civil proceedings were "unfair to the commander-in-chief," quote/unquote. And in fact, one of the things that happened that disturbed me particularly was when he saw his mother. He wanted her to contact President Bush to help him, help him out of his dilemma. He expected that the government might help him, if he was “good,” quote/unquote.

Now put this picture together with the Jacoby memo, noted in this must-read post by Marty Lederman. It all makes much more sense.

Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld set up a detention policy for large numbers of mere terror suspects. With the help of Nazi, Soviet and Khmer Rouge torture techniques – many revealed accidentally at Abu Ghraib – and inculcating sense of no hope at all in the detainees, Bush’s goal was to create a pool of detained "enemy combatants" cut off from any source of comfort, justice or recourse, and psychologically dependent on the government. This is what Cheney told us he would do: work on "the dark side." Lindsay Beyerstein calls such a process by its 1950s name: menticide. You can see why, at Gitmo, suicide has seemed more palatable to many inmates. From the intelligence culled from these suspects (again: remember that large numbers have been found competely innocent), the US would win the war against al Qaeda. It was a detention regime designed specifically for the fruits of torture. It is a war crime. Padilla’s case shows that we can prosecute terror suspects arrested on American soil through the court system. It shows that torture makes prosecution of serious charges – such as the dropped "dirty bomb" accusation – impossible. And it shows the lawless, tyrannous torture regime that now exists, like slow-acting poison, at the heart of a constitutional republic.