tmpphpkmcliy.jpgLooking back, there was a part of the trial I “missed” and thus couldn’t share with you or comment upon. It happened before the trial itself actually started. I think if I had been as aware of it then as I am now, I would have forecast a much gloomier conclusion.

The issue centered around the question if Padilla was psychologically able to help his attorneys in his defense, whether he was mentally competent. Let Miami Herald reporter Fred Grimm, as he did January 18, 2007:

The accused was held in extreme isolation for 1,307 days. Held in a nine-by-seven-foot cell. The only window blacked out. He was the lone prisoner on the two-tier cellblock. He was given food through a slot in the door. He slept on a steel mattress. No reading material. No calendar. No clock. Nothing to connect him to the outside world.

But it was the short trip down the hallway for a dental examination that captured the utter isolation and sensory deprivation inflicted on Jose Padilla during his 3 ½ years in the Navy brig at Charleston, S.C.

Helmeted guards, their faces obscured behind dark plastic visors, manacled his hands and feet through slots in his cell door. They covered his ears with sound-canceling headphones, covered his eyes with blacked-out goggles.

Padilla, mind you, has been described by his jailers as docile “as a piece of furniture.”

At that point, after months of a dehumanizing interrogation regime, any useful information had long been squeezed from him.

Dr. Angela Hegarty, director of forensic psychiatry at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, N.Y. and assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University examined Padilla for a total of 22 hours. Thanks to an ironic twist of fate and timing, the very day the Padilla verdict came in, Democracy Now Amy Goodman, host and executive producer of Democracy Now! and co-host Juan Glonzales conducted an exclusive interview with Dr. Hegarty.

Padilla had refused to speak with his attorneys and they knew expert psychiatric help was necessary. Dr. Hegarty was called in:

He [Padilla] 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.

The second thing was his absolute state of terror, terror alternating with numbness…It was as though the interrogators were in the room with us. He was like…a trauma victim who knew that they were going to be sent back to the person who hurt them and that he …would subsequently pay a price if he revealed what happened…

In this very small cell, he was monitored twenty-four hours a day, and the doors were managed electronically….He had no way of knowing the time. The light was always artificial. The windows were blackened. He had no calendar or time, as you mentioned earlier. He really didn’t see people, especially in the beginning. He only had contact with his interrogators. (LZK Note: Padilla had to be charged with a crime. He was experiencing this as a presumed innocent man.)

AMY GOODMAN: Did you conclude he had been tortured?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Well, “torture,” of course, is a legal term. However, as a clinician, I have worked with torture victims and, of course, abuse victims for a few decades now, actually. I think, from a clinical point of view, he was tortured.

This was the first time I ever met anybody who had been isolated for such an extraordinarily long period of time. I mean, the sensory deprivation studies, for example, tell us that without sleep, especially, people will develop psychotic symptoms, hallucinations, panic attacks, depression, suicidality within days. And here we had a man who had been in this situation, utterly dependent on his interrogators, who didn’t treat him all that nicely, for years. And apart from — the only people I ever met who had such a protracted experience were people who were in detention camps overseas, that would come close, but even then they weren’t subjected to the sensory deprivation. So, yes, he was somewhat of a unique case in that regard.

AMY GOODMAN: How afraid was Jose Padilla?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: How to capture that in an apt metaphor? He was terrified. For him, the government was all-powerful. The government knew everything. The government knew everything that he was doing. His interrogators would find out every little detail that he revealed. And he would be punished for it.

He was convinced that — I mean, I think in words he endorsed — even if he won his case, he lost, because he was going back to the brig if he managed to prevail at trial. And essentially, if hypothetically one were to offer him a really long prison sentence versus — with a guarantee that he wouldn’t go back to the brig — versus risking going back to the brig, the chance that he might go back to the brig, he would take the prison sentence for a very long period of time. I think he would take almost anything rather than go back to that brig.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened in the brig?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: What happened at the brig was essentially the destruction of a human being’s mind. That’s what happened at the brig. His personality was deconstructed and reformed.

One of the things that came out in the course of my evaluation was, he was required to sign his name John Doe. This kind of thing and the whole notion of dependency and the cultivation of dependency, the impact of sleep deprivation, stress positions, all of that was so coordinated it’s impossible for me to imagine that at least at some phase there wasn’t some mental health professionals involved.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what was the reason for wanting to have him sign his name John Doe?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: He’s no longer a person. He’s no longer an individual. There will be no record that he was ever there, that the interrogators — this is from my knowledge of torture around the world — that the interrogators essentially will be absolutely immune to any accountability.

Read the entire interview for yourself.

You be the judge, not Judge Cooke. What’s your verdict?

Lewis Z. Koch

Lewis Z. Koch