Naomi Klein: U.S. torture methods examined in Miami courtroom


Richard Moore

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Lookout by Naomi Klein
A Trial for Thousands Denied Trial
[from the March 12, 2007 issue]

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.

Arrested in May 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare airport, Padilla, a 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 9-by-7-foot cell 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

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 
defense. 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," that his treatment is irrelevant.

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 at the hearings on Padilla's 
mental state, which begin February 22. They will be asked how a man alleged to 
have engaged in elaborate antigovernment 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 CIA "extraordinary rendition" as well as in prisons in 
Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many have suffered the same symptoms as Padilla. According to James Yee, 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
of Delta Block was on twenty-four-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 a US 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 have 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 1963 declassified CIA manual for interrogating "resistant 

The manual was based on the findings of the agency's notorious MK Ultra program,
which in the 1950s funneled about $25 million to scientists to research "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 Airforce 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 anti-social behavior," 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.

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