Some stories are hard for me to write about. One appeared last month, and then again last week: the story of the torture of Jose Padilla. Much of the description of his treatment comes from a brief (pdf) filed by Padilla's attorneys last October. I've transcribed the part of the brief that describes Padilla's treatment below the fold, along with some further remarks.
From the brief:
"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. As Mr. Padilla was attempting to sleep, the cell doors adjacent to his cell would be electronically opened, resulting in a loud clank, only to be immediately slammed shut. 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. For a long time Mr. Padilla had no reading materials, access to any media, radio or television, and the only thing he possessed in his room was a mirror. The mirror was abruptly taken away, leaving Mr. Padilla with even less sensory stimulus. Also, at different points in his confinement Mr. Padilla would be given some comforts, like a pillow or a sheet, only to have them taken away arbitrarily. He was never given any regular recreation time. Often, when he was brought outside for some exercise, it was done at night, depriving Mr. Padilla of sunlight for many months at a time. The disorientation Mr. Padilla experienced due to not seeing the sun and having no view on the outside world was exacerbated by his captors= practice of turning on extremely bright lights in his cell or imposing complete darkness for durations of twenty-four hours, or more.
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. (...)
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."
Back in December, when the NYT story came out, LizardBreath wrote an excellent post, in which she asked: why are we doing this? I couldn't really bring myself to write an answer at the time, but I think there is an explanation of why we have treated Padilla, the Guantanamo detainees, and other "unlawful combatants" we have in custody the way we have, and it can be found in Joseph Margulies' excellent book Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power. I'm drawing on Margulies in what follows.
The Mosaic Theory: The purpose of this treatment is interrogation. But it's interrogation motivated not by the hope that a detainee will know all about some dastardly plot and be induced to tell all, although that would be nice. Rather, interrogators operate on what Margulies calls the mosaic theory: the theory that intelligence works by gleaning little tidbits of knowledge from a variety of people, knowledge that the people who have it may not know is in any way important, and putting this together into a coherent picture. Even an unimportant person might have a tiny bit of useful knowledge; and the point of interrogation is to find it.
Here's an affadavit that Margulies quotes. It's by an FBI agent, Michael Rolince, from 2002, and according to Margulies it was submitted in "scores of proceedings" (p. 22) to justify the preventive detention of people who had violated immigration laws:
"The business of counterterrorism intelligence gathering in the United States is akin to the construction of a mosaic. At this stage of the investigation, the FBI is gathering and processing thousands of bits and pieces of information that may seem innocuous at first glance. We must analyze all that information, however, to see if it can be fit into a picture that will reveal how the unseen whole operates. The significance of one item of information may frequently depend on knowledge of many other items of information. What may seem trivial to some may appear of great moment to those within the FBI or the intelligence community who have a broader context within which to consider a questioned item or isolated piece of information. At the present stage of this vast investigation, the FBI is gathering and culling information that may corroborate or diminish our current suspicions of the individuals who have been detained. The Bureau is approaching that task with unprecedented resources and a nationwide urgency. In the meantime, the FBI has been unable to rule out the possibility that respondent is somehow linked to, or possesses knowledge of, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. To protect the public, the FBI must exhaust all avenues of investigation while ensuring the crucial information does not evaporate pending further investigation."
As Margulies points out, this affadavit implies that suspects will be in custody for a very long time. "Thousands of bits and pieces of information that may seem innocuous at first glance" need to be collected and sorted through, and until that process is completed, "all avenues of investigation" exhausted, and the suspect cleared, the suspect cannot be released, lest he and his information "evaporate".
It also implies that useful information can be obtained even from people who have no idea that they know anything of importance, and are not affiliated with any terrorist group: such individuals might have noticed something whose significance is apparent only "to those within the FBI or the intelligence community who have a broader context within which to consider a questioned item or isolated piece of information."
The mosaic theory makes sense to me: of course counterterrorism agents should try to discover as many little bits of knowledge as possible and try to fit them together into a broader picture. But it is also an invitation to abuse: to incarcerating people who might have done nothing wrong, and holding them indefinitely on the off chance that some tiny useful fact of whose existence they are completely unaware might emerge during the millionth round of questioning. It therefore stands in desperate need of some countervailing restrictions on how long people can be kept on the off chance that they might produce a tiny fragment piece of the mosaic, and whether they can be held at all absent any reason to suspect them of a crime.
Needless to say, the Bush administration is not very big on checks and safeguards. It is one of the hallmarks of this administration that it always considers only the possible advantages it can draw from someone's incarceration, and never the costs to that person, to our society, or to the rule of law.
This is how I imagine it all started: after 9/11, the government was operating on this theory, which can be used to justify almost anyone indefinitely. Moreover, they had thrown aside all restraints in the name of protecting the country against future terrorist attacks, and among the restrictions they discarded was anything that might have served as a check on holding people indefinitely. I don't imagine anyone thought that people like Jose Padilla or the Guantanamo detainees would be held forever, but I don't find much evidence that they gave any thought to the question when they would be released, and what would happen to them afterwards.
In the next part(s) of this, I'll try to answer the question: why did they treat Padilla the way they did? Why the isolation, sleep deprivation, and all the rest?