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August 16, 2007

The menticide of Jose Padilla

Democracy Now! has a fascinating interview with a psychiatrist who interviewed suspected terrorist Jose Padilla for over 22 hours in an attempt to determine whether he was fit to stand trial after more than 3 years of solitary confinement.

In 1951, psychiatrist Joost Meerloo coined the term "menticide" to describe the kind of systematic psychological violence that the Chinese inflicted upon American POWs during the Korean War. The basic techniques haven't changed much since then. Over the years, these tactics have been embraced by a variety of cults and coercive "treatment" programs in the United States and abroad.

Today, the US government insists that mind-killing is an essential part of their endless war on terrorism. For details, see Jane Mayer's excellent New Yorker piece, The Black Sites.

Dr. Angela Hagerty concluded that Padilla was not fit to stand trial. Amongst other things, she observed that the 36-year-old American was furious at his own lawyers for making the government's job harder:

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. [Democracy Now!]

Talk about not being fit to participate in your own defense...

Padilla was charged with conspiring to murder people overseas and providing material support to terrorists abroad. The government publicly accused Padilla of participating in a "dirty bomb" plot, but that wasn't what they charged him with. After nearly four years of "enhanced" interrogation, they still didn't have enough evidence to lay charges in the bomb plot? What does that say about the effectiveness of their methods?

By destroying Padilla, the government cheated us all out of justice. If Padilla had gotten the speedy trial that he was entitled to as an American citizen, he might have been legitimately convicted. Instead, the government tortured an American citizen and undercut the legitimacy of their prosecution. 

In any event, a Florida jury has reached a verdict in Padilla's civilian trial. The contents of the verdict have not yet been made public.

Update: The AP reports that Padilla was convicted on all counts.

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The techniques used to destroy his mind should be illegal.

Sensory Deprivation
Long Isolation
Drugs

No prisoner should have those things forced on him, no matter what the government is accusing him of.

Even the White House doesn't openly authorize the use of "truth serum" type drugs. That's still illegal. Those other methods are still cornerstones of the "enhanced" interrogation techniques that the administration endorses.

It's hard to know whether Padilla was drugged or not. They put him through an ordeal that was designed to break down his ability to separate fact and fantasy.

Amen, Lindsay. The only objection that I have to what you say is that if he had gotten off, it wouldn't have been on a "technicality." The problem with this, and the other government techniques for dealing with alleged terrorists, is that they've so muddied the waters that it becomes impossible to know what's really going on, making a legitimate conviction impossible.

I think you're right about the word "technicality"--that connotes something trivial. It's profoundly important that cases get thrown out when the government prosecutes them by illegitimate means. It's a powerful structural incentive for the authorities to play by the rules and not railroad people.

What I meant was that he might have gotten off for procedural reasons that had nothing to do the strength of the evidence against him. The facts of the case wouldn't even matter, because the charges weren't brought in a legitimate fashion. If he's innocent, great. If he is guilty, he's back on the street because the government botched the prosecution.

Lindsay Beyerstein -

Padilla's brief says, "Padilla was given drugs against his will, believed to be some form of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or phencyclidine (PCP)."

Is there a law against that which could sue under?

With regard to the government not admitting to forced drugging, the government doesn't admit to any techniques it uses against prisoners.

George Tenet (former head of the CIA): We don’t torture people. Let me say that again to you, we don’t torture people. OK?

Scott Pelley (for "60 Minutes"): Come on, George. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

Tenet: We don’t torture people.

Pelley: Water boarding?

Tenet: We do not — I don’t talk about — techniques.

Frankly after years of studying the 9/11 narrative, I long ago concluded that not only is the official conspiracy theory offered by the government and the corporate media a blatant lie, but that frankly it is obvious that elements at the highest levels of the government of the corporation called the United States carried out the 9/11 crimes. It is simply no longer possible to deny what the facts and empirical evidence points to and not the myth and lies force feed to the people. We have been lied to about 9/11, the Iraq war and frankly just about everything this regime has done.

In the process, after having killed hundreds of thousands of people, spent hundreds of billions of dollars, gutted the Constitution, developed and expanded the powers of a domestic police and surveillance state, utilized torture and murder as techniques to manipulate and force a predetermined conclusion on people held, we find that anyone "convicted" has been found guilty on dubious evidence and testimony, secret evidence and tortured confessions, and inhumane treatment that serves no purpose. Honestly how many of the people who have been convicted are really guilty? How many people held at Gitmo were admitted to be innocent?

The fraud of 9/11 requires(d) that there be people sacrificed after the evident under trumped up charges so as to reenforce the myth of the all pervasive terror threat. This case is just another pathetic example of a regime and judicial system corrupt to its core.

Frankly after years of studying the 9/11 narrative, I long ago concluded that not only is the official conspiracy theory offered by the government and the corporate media a blatant lie, but that frankly it is obvious that elements at the highest levels of the government of the corporation called the United States carried out the 9/11 crimes. It is simply no longer possible to deny what the facts and empirical evidence points to and not the myth and lies force feed to the people. We have been lied to about 9/11, the Iraq war and frankly just about everything this regime has done.

In the process, after having killed hundreds of thousands of people, spent hundreds of billions of dollars, gutted the Constitution, developed and expanded the powers of a domestic police and surveillance state, utilized torture and murder as techniques to manipulate and force a predetermined conclusion on people held, we find that anyone "convicted" has been found guilty on dubious evidence and testimony, secret evidence and tortured confessions, and inhumane treatment that serves no purpose. Honestly how many of the people who have been convicted are really guilty? How many people held at Gitmo were admitted to be innocent?

The fraud of 9/11 requires(d) that there be people sacrificed after the evident under trumped up charges so as to reenforce the myth of the all pervasive terror threat. This case is just another pathetic example of a regime and judicial system corrupt to its core.

I would think that the treatment of Padilla would make a good case for a suit or an appeal.

He may have been a creep and a nut case, but from what I read the evidence was not there.. beyond a reasonable doubt?

After listening to Dr. Hagerty, it's more than obvious that the Army and the DOJ are populated by some very dangerous people who do not understand a thing about fundamental human rights.

This is all Bush's fault don't ya know.

Were he to sue based on being tortured he would run into the same "states secret" bullshit that everyone runs into.

I want to cover it in my own blog...so many things to cover. The invocation of states secrets is used on a constant basis now. The administration has previously stated that torture techniques or what happens in confinement are states secrets in themselves.

Being of the generation that has some experience with LSD and PCP, I can say that use of these or other psychedelics on captives would easily constitute the most extreme form of torture that could be used, short of gouging out eyes or avulsing limbs. If you’ve never taken psychedelics you have no conception whatsoever what this means. Personally, I would consider a choice of being given LSD as a captive/interogee or having my back broken, a toss-up. You are your mind – you have nothing, absolutely nothing else.

Competency to stand trial is a legal definitiom that only the judge or fact finder can make. Dr. Hagerty can only speculate on what she observed, but it is up ton the judge or the fact finder to determine competency. Suffering from a mental illness does not make one per se incompetent.

I do not know wVat, if anything, Mr. Padilla did that was against the law. But the way his rights were, not violated but, shredded, he needs to be set free.

Suffering from a mental illness does not make one per se incompetent.

Yes, in a normal case. The problem is that in this case, the government intentionally caused the mental illness. I suspect that Padilla is guilty, but the problem is that I (and more importantly, the judge and jury) have no idea what sort of defense Jose Padilla might have presented if the government had not created his mental illness. It's worth emphasizing that Padilla's inability and unwillingness to trust his defense lawyers and participate in his defense is not some unfortunate side effect of his treatment by the government, but the stated and desired goal of the government. I don't see how any legitimate conviction can arise from that.

The key legal question is whether a mentally impaired person is capable of participating in their own defense. The fact is that Padilla was not competent to do so. I don't know how you can say that anyone who has been in solitary confinement for over three years is in any position to participate in their own defense. He had no clocks, no calendars, no visitors, no natural light, no books, no letters, nothing to anchor him to consensual reality for over three years. His only link were his interrogators who, according to official statements, of US policy were systematically leveraging well-known principles of physiological and social psychology to destroy his sense of agency and will to live. The stated goal of these interrogations to create total "dependency and trust" on the interrogator. Once someone has lost all sense of self and replaced it with total trust in the system, how are they suppose to participate in their own defense?

***I do not know wVat, if anything, Mr. Padilla did that was against the law. But the way his rights were, not violated but, shredded, he needs to be set free.****


Looks like you guys have a brand spanking new Mumia.

RW, do you know what the term "constitutional principle" means? How about "precedent"? How about "limitation on executive power"? These are all classical conservative concerns. There is no racial justice / identity politics at work here at all. Your Mumia analogy falls completely flat on its face.

I never understood the left's obsession with Mumia, since I always thought the evidence he killed that policeman was very strong. But if the government had put him in solitary for three years without filing any charges or giving him access to an attorney, that would have been a travesty of justice too.

Interesting about this is that the (correct) moral/political point you're making would, I'm guessing, work against Padilla in litigation. The incompetency bar for prosecution is very, very low, and Padilla's attorneys would almost certainly need to establish some sort of severe intellectual deficiency or delusions, and tie them into a traditional, widely-accepted account of mental illness. Trying to reach that result focusing only or even primarily on his trauma-induced psychological problems would be a lot harder than saying that Padilla has always been a low-functioning nutcase and has just been pushed further over the edge(I'm making this guess vis-a-vis courts' superficial application of psychology, not a sound, nuanced understanding of the medicine, which a court wouldn't have).

So, I'd be nonshocked to see Padilla's lawyers strongly distancing themselves from any assertion from them that a normal person would crack under his conditions. That's good for him - but it'll make him a less valuable popular data point.

This is an obvious lose-lose for the Government. There are two choices: first, if this conviction is "good," then wtf do we need "unlawful enemy combatant" status for? Gitmo is just a torture chamber. Second, if this conviction is "bad," then wtf is up with Bush's DOJ advocating the torture of Federal prisoners? Worst Administration in history, and the stupidest.

You raise a very interesting point, aeroman.

The argument that the psychiatrist was making is that Padilla has been completely dissociated from reality by extremely powerful "interrogation" techniques. That's not a fringe theory, or even a controversial assertion based on her clinical observations and standard psychiatric opinion.

The fact that she mentioned the term "Stockholm Syndrome" in the interview was probably unhelpful because associate that with the effect of trauma, as opposed to the consequences of a deliberate mind-killing regimen. People who have been kidnapped sometimes get irrationally attached to their kidnappers, even without the years of solitary confinement, systematic indoctrination, involuntary exposure to psychedelic drugs, sleep deprivation, etc.

Even the government wants to claim that the purpose of their elaborate ritual abuse is to create complete dependency and hopelessness in the prisoner so that he will voluntarily cede all agency to his interrogator. That's why they couldn't give him a lawyer while he was an EC. Any prospect of legal representation would disrupt the relationship of total trust and dependence that the government claimed to have induced in their prisoners.

I'll defer to you on the legal aspect. But logically, if both sides agree that the government has induced total (and rationally unfounded) trust and dependence in the accused, it seems like he couldn't be competent to participate in his own defense.

In practice, he's been observed not cooperating in his own defense--due in part to extreme anxiety and other symptoms, including the delusional belief that GWB will intercede on his behalf if he's "good."

It's hard to say whether not trusting anyone is paranoia, or just rationality from Padilla's point of view right now.

In any event, the psychiatrist wasn't even able to fully assess him because he was so distrustful of his own defense team.

I'll defer to you on the legal aspect. But logically, if both sides agree that the government has induced total (and rationally unfounded) trust and dependence in the accused, it seems like he couldn't be competent to participate in his own defense.

I don't really see a lot of doctrinal room for a consideration of the government's degree of culpability on a straight-up incompetency claim. That said, I think it's an interesting potential due process claim, though, to assert that the severe functioning impairments intentionally inflicted by the government substantially impaired his ability to avail himself of a proper defense. If the medicine is sound - and I'll defer to you that it is - it's hard for me to see how that, though factually novel, wouldn't fall into a fairly traditional due process paradigm. It's undoubtedly a due process deprivation if the state pumps you full of GBH every time you head to talk to your lawyer, or threatens to shoot you if your lawyer disrespects the prosecution. It's hard to see how this type of terror and engineered incompetence is any different. That said, attempting any even nominal expansion of due process protections might be a losing litigation strategy at this point in federal jurisprudence.

My initial point depends as much on my feeling out of courts' approach to psychology as any of the relevant hard doctrinal details. There seems to be a strong bias in favor of psychological conditions that seem, to a layperson, to have some experience-independent biological basis, as well as in favor of findings that are not only firmly within well-established orthodoxy, but within the public's superficial understanding of that orthodoxy. Certainly, if I were litigating it, I'd go for arguing that Crazy Joe Padilla Just Went Crazier In Custody.

In a really broad sense, this is true of a lot of criminal appellate litigation. There's always an incentive to try to trump up the degree to which your client got a uniquely shitty end of a stick. But when you do so, you provide some cover for the possibility that maybe everyone's gripping more shit than is justifiable.

I suspect that Padilla has no chance of being set free, regardless of how his claims and appeals are formulated. We're clearly not working under any sort of normal legal framework here, when it takes his lawyers several years to get to see him, and get him charged with a crime. People are terrified of terrorists (which seems essentially synonymous with accused terrorists in the public's eye), and that changes all the rules for Padilla even when he's nominally in the normal legal system. It would have to be an either very brave or very stupid judge, even on the lifetime-appointed federal courts, who set a convicted terrorist (no less the "Dirty Bomber") free on procedural grounds.

Padilla is no more likely to be set free than Charlie Manson and for the same reason. The public will have revenge. Padilla started out Hispanic, became a small-time criminal punk, had a jailhouse conversion to Islam, and then went to the Middle East apparently to consort with disgruntled Muslims possibly associated with al-Qaida. His case was dire when he was arrested and hopeless once Bush decided to make an example of him.

Read RW’s comment above: “Looks like you guys have a brand spanking new Mumia.” If there’s even a hint that Padilla gets anything less than a life sentence, the reactionaries will start having aneurisms. Anyone running for office on the Republican side that doesn’t support Padilla’s castration by rabid weasels is sunk. The general public will always support the government in this particular case, regardless of what sort of precedents it may set. The torture will stop, but they’ve already squeezed that lemon dry anyhow, Padilla has nothing further to offer.

So, no matter what his lawyers come up with, no matter how carefully crafted a defense; the government, with enthusiastic public support, will always come back with buckets of Kafkaesque legal gobbledygook and wash it all into the ditch. Witness the grounds used to dismiss his habeas corpus appeal:

1. Padilla's lawyer was not a proper "Next Friend" to sign and file the petition on Padilla's behalf;
2. Commander Marr of the South Carolina brig, and not U.S. Secretary Rumsfeld, should have been named as the respondent to the petition; and
3. the New York court lacked personal jurisdiction over the named respondent Secretary Rumsfeld who resides in Virginia.

Surreal and insane, but it worked. It will always work against Padilla, and no one but egghead lefties will object.

Check, check check, . . . Checkmate.

Aeroman, I'm probably not being clear about what I'm arguing.

I'm not saying that it's important who put Padilla in his current, sorry state. My point is that the government asserted in its official justification for initially denying him a lawyer, that Padilla was in a state of artificially induced total dependence and trust towards his captors.

If someone is in this condition, whether because they are mentally retarded or brain-injured or brain-washed, they can't participate in their own defense. How can you participate in your own defense if you've been rendered unable to trust your own defense team and unnaturally trusting of the government?

It's not just that Padilla is cagey around his lawyers, or that he's suddenly jumping to GWB's defense, nor even that he's delusional about the president interceding on his behalf.

These are just symptoms of a much more profound and far-reaching cognitive, affective, and behavioral deficit that has been induced.

So, to me there are two key issues here: That both sides agree that Padilla is in a severely compromised state, and that his current condition prevents him from participating in his defense. If both sides agree about the impairment, then it should just be a matter of squaring that with the legal threshold.

Maybe I need to know more about the classic case in which someone is considered unfit to participate in their own defense, short of being completely psychotic.

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