Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Torture is our business and business is good

Lenin's Tomb has this summary of Jose Padilla's treatment by our government and his current mental state:

The case of Jose Padilla, a US citizen held as an "enemy combatant" by the United States government, got some discussion in the New York Times yesterday. This is how they're breaking Padilla:

1) Solitary confinement.
One spring day during his three and a half years as an enemy combatant, Jose Padilla experienced a break from the monotony of his solitary confinement in a bare cell in the brig at the Naval Weapons Station in Charleston, S.C.

That day, Mr. Padilla, a Brooklyn-born Muslim convert whom the Bush administration had accused of plotting a dirty bomb attack and had detained without charges, got to go to the dentist.
2) Depersonalisation.
Several guards in camouflage and riot gear approached cell No. 103. They unlocked a rectangular panel at the bottom of the door and Mr. Padilla’s bare feet slid through, eerily disembodied. As one guard held down a foot with his black boot, the others shackled Mr. Padilla’s legs. Next, his hands emerged through another hole to be manacled.

Wordlessly, the guards, pushing into the cell, chained Mr. Padilla’s cuffed hands to a metal belt. Briefly, his expressionless eyes met the camera before he lowered his head submissively in expectation of what came next: noise-blocking headphones over his ears and blacked-out goggles over his eyes. Then the guards, whose faces were hidden behind plastic visors, marched their masked, clanking prisoner down the hall to his root canal.
3) Sensory deprivation.
In the brig, Mr. Padilla was denied access to counsel for 21 months. Andrew Patel, one of his lawyers, said his isolation was not only severe but compounded by material and sensory deprivations. In an affidavit filed Friday, he alleged that Mr. Padilla was held alone in a 10-cell wing of the brig; that he had little human contact other than with his interrogators; that his cell was electronically monitored and his meals were passed to him through a slot in the door; that windows were blackened, and there was no clock or calendar; and that he slept on a steel platform after a foam mattress was taken from him, along with his copy of the Koran, “as part of an interrogation plan.”
4) Torture.
His interrogations… included hooding, stress positions, assaults, threats of imminent execution and the administration of ‘truth serums.’
The result:
Dr. Angela Hegarty, director of forensic psychiatry at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, N.Y., who examined Mr. Padilla for a total of 22 hours in June and September, said in an affidavit filed Friday that he “lacks the capacity to assist in his own defense.”

“It is my opinion that as the result of his experiences during his detention and interrogation, Mr. Padilla does not appreciate the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him, is unable to render assistance to counsel, and has impairments in reasoning as the result of a mental illness, i.e., post-traumatic stress disorder, complicated by the neuropsychiatric effects of prolonged isolation,” Dr. Hegarty said in an affidavit for the defense.
Torture indeed has some nasty consequences. A reminder of what torture is would be in order. As I have written elsewhere:
The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Punishment or Treatment (United Nations, 1985) defines torture as: "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.” Acts that would be considered torture under the above definition include a variety of methods: severe beatings, electric shock, sexual abuse and rape, prolonged solitary confinement, hard labor, near drowning, near suffocation, mutilation, hanging for prolonged periods, deprivation of basic biological needs (e.g., sleep, food, water), subjection to forced constant standing or crouching, and excessive continuous noise (e.g. McCoy, 2006; Walsh, 2006). Torture may also include actions inducing psychological suffering such as threats against the victim’s family or loved ones (e.g., McCoy, 2006).

McCoy, A. W. (2006). A question of torture: CIA interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror. New York: Metropolitan Books.

United Nations, Department of Public Information (1985). Outlawing an ancient evil: Torture. Convention against torture and other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment. New York: Author.

Walsh, J. (2006). The Abu Ghraib files. Retrieved April 28, 2006 at http://www.salon.com/news/abu_ghraib/2006/03/14
/introduction/index.html.
I'd imagine it's safe to say that what Padilla has been experiencing is indeed torture, in multiple ways.

As we know now, Bu$hCo has authorized the abuse of detainees' genitals, which itself has consequences - not only the deep psychological ones for those victimized, but for the government itself. Read on:
After 9/11 the Bush administration decided to 'take the gloves off' and authorized the CIA to get medieval on suspected terrorists. Here's Mark Danner:

As you know, very shortly after 9/11, the then-White House counsel [Alberto Gonzales] proposed to President Bush that provisions of the Geneva Conventions had been rendered obsolete, even quaint, by this quote "new paradigm." The Geneva Conventions, the Convention against Torture, and the federal statutes against torture -- these undertakings by the U.S. -- represented restrictions that would unduly hobble the country in fighting the war on terror and, by extension, threaten[ed] the existence of the United States. And I think that's where torture -- "extreme interrogation" is the euphemism -- goes to the heart of the reaction against the way this country has observed human rights in the past, a reaction in a way against law itself. What we have here is a conflict between legality and power.

The problem is that 9/11 did not change the laws, nor did it change our treaty obligations. To be sure, some laws were changed domestically (for example, the Patriot Act), but none that dealt with torture. So, in effect, the CIA was authorized by the President to commit crimes. One crime they committed was to abduct Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr off a Milan street and fly him to Egypt where he "he was tortured by Egyptian agents under questioning...with electric shocks, beatings, rape threats and genital abuse." You may be surprised to learn that the Italians consider this a prosecutable offense. And they intend to prosecute.

Italian prosecutors on Tuesday asked a judge to order CIA agents and Italian spies to stand trial on charges of kidnapping a terrorism suspect and flying him to Egypt, where he says he was tortured, a court source said.

After a more than two-year investigation that has embarrassed Washington and Rome, prosecutors said they were ready to go to court over the 2003 "rendition" of a Muslim cleric in Milan.

An Italian judge must call a preliminary hearing to decide if there is enough evidence for a trial, but even defense lawyers say privately they expect the case to go to court.

There is a lot of investigative journalism on this case available on the web. I am not going to get into the details of the case except to note the following.

Suspects include 26 Americans, most believed to be CIA agents, as well as six Italians, including the former head of Italy's SISMI military intelligence agency, Nicolo Pollari.

Prosecutors believe the CIA agents, with help from SISMI, grabbed Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr off a Milan street, bundled him into a van and flew him out of Italy from a U.S. airbase.

Needless to say, the USA will not be turning over 26 CIA operatives to the Italians for prosecution. They already have European Union issued arrest warrants, but they will be tried in absentia. That will lead to permanent persona non grata status in Europe. So, if nothing else, 26 CIA operatives will no longer be of any use to us for any duty in Europe.
The repercussions for these serious human rights abuses will be felt for some time to come - not only for the US but for the EU as well, to the extent that several EU nations (Germany, Sweden, Italy, UK) have been implicated in renditioning people to other countries to be tortured. Whatever the ultimate fallout one thing remains clear: those responsible for torture either directly or indirectly (in the case of those who enabled the practice of renditioning) must be brought to justice. The victims deserve at least that much.

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