Padilla Torture Claims Detailed

David Markus has put up his summary of the key allegations in Padilla's claim of torture at Southern District of Florida Blog: Update on Padilla motion to dismiss for outrageous government conduct.

I urge you to read it. In addition to isolation and sensory deprivation, it alleges a great deal of brutality. If only parts of it are true, I think this makes out a claim of cruel and unusual confinement; if more of it is true, it's torture. Here's a sample,

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. Mr. Padilla’s captors did not solely rely on the inhumane conditions of his living arrangements to deprive him of regular sleep. A number of ruses were employed to keep Mr. Padilla from getting necessary sleep and rest. One of the tactics his captors employed was the creation of loud noises near and around his cell to interrupt any rest Mr. Padilla could manage on his steel bunk.

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.

It's an allegation; the source is something of a thug. I deeply want this not to be true. But I regret that I can't summon up the same degree of skepticism I do for wild allegations by others.

The motion asks for the charges to be dismissed in light of what it calls nearly three years and eight months of torture. Unfortunately, I don't know enough criminal law to know if this relief even lies within the court's power. Further, and supposing it does not, I'm unclear on this court's authority (as opposed to one hearing a civil claim for damages) to look into the history of past abuse except as they may be relevant to evidentiary claims or claims of ill-motivated prosecution. Any crim law mavens in the audience?

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2 Responses to Padilla Torture Claims Detailed

  1. Jonathan Berhow says:

    Re “Mr. Padilla was often put in stress positions for hours at a time.” “The strain brought on by being placed in stress positions caused Mr. Padilla great discomfort and agony.” “In an effort to disorient Mr. Padilla, his captors would deceive him about his location and who his interrogators actually were.” “Throughout most of the time Mr. Padilla was held captive in the Naval Brig…”:

    It was someone very close to me, serving the last of several enlistments in the US Navy to include SEAL school, who initially brought the torturing of detainees to my attention back when we all first saw the photos of folks in orange jump suits kneeling behind fences at GITMO. He asked, “You know those guys are being tortured, don’t you?” “Huh?!” I replied, not understanding the effects and goal of the stress position. He then went on to tell me exactly how it works, ending with, “Go kneel on your driveway like that for four hours, if you can make it that long, and see if you can even walk afterward.” He also told me of the treatment of intercepted Haitian refugees at the hands of Navy personnel that I would consider torture.

    For any of you who may be interested and missed them, check out the relevant interrogation manuals available at George Washington University’s National Security Archive (“Prisoner Abuse: Patterns from the Past” http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB122/), especially the 1963 KUBARK manual. The gist of the military’s post-WWII/Vietnam era approach was to use advances in psychology and related fields to switch to indirect methods that force the person being tortured to fight against themself instead of having a torturer upon whom to direct their attention: self-defeat being more complete and effective than defeat by another which may include external resistance and resentment. Thus the introduction of stress positions, and other passive, non-aggressive measures instead of hot lights and rubber hoses. Apart from the more complete capitulation and destruction of the tortured, the side benefit is that to many outside observers the techniques do not look like torture or even cruel and unusual punishment (fraternity pranks, anyone?).

  2. Patrick (G) says:

    We don’t have to take Padilla at his word. We can trust the U.S. Navy to have documented that the high-profile prisoner in their charge for 3 years was treated with the dignity that befits the U.S. Navy’s Honor.

    And if the U.S. Navy does not have that documentation; or the documentation shows that Mr. Padilla (thug that he may be) was ordered tortured and those illegal orders were carried out; that is a catastrophic failure in the chain of command.

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