US terror interrogation went too far, experts say
Reports find that Jose Padilla's solitary confinement led to mental problems.
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Others with more significant interaction with Padilla say his brig experience has left him in a state of mental disorganization.Skip to next paragraph
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Some psychological tests place him on par with individuals who have suffered brain damage, according to the reports prepared by Hegarty, Grassian, and Patricia Zapf, a New York psychologist and psychology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
Padilla's treatment in the brig is classified as a state secret.
Ironically, no one knows this better than Padilla himself. When Hegarty, the psychiatrist, asked him about his interrogation in the brig, Padilla responded: "I can't talk about what happened to me because it is classified."
Although Padilla has been meeting with his Miami lawyers for more than a year and a half, he refuses to discuss his treatment in the brig in any detail.
The torture allegations made last year in the Miami court case were raised as a result of repeated sessions asking Padilla "yes or no" whether he'd endured the kinds of harsh interrogation tactics reported in the press. He reluctantly answered yes to some, and no to others. But his lawyers could pry no details or narrative from him.
They asked Hegarty for help.
He changed the subject and twitched
She spent days attempting to establish a rapport, days trying to get him to open up. "The first two hours were utterly useless each day. I got no data at all," Hegarty says. Eventually he would relax and talk about relatively minor subjects. When Hegarty tried to steer him toward the brig or the evidence in his criminal case "he would just stop, change the subject, and twitch," she said.
During her week-long effort, Hegarty would arrive each morning to discover Padilla once again unwilling to talk. She says the experience was like the movie "Groundhog Day," in which the same events repeat over and over. "The 22 hours I spent with him, it was like it never happened," Hegarty says. "It was chilling."
Grassian relates in his report that Padilla's mother found it emotionally difficult to visit her son in Miami because it involved observing his diminished mental condition. Padilla tried to reassure her that he was fine, that the government was treating him very well. At one point, Grassian says, Padilla suggested that his mother write directly to Bush to help her speed through red tape to arrange her next visit. The president was sure to help her out, Padilla assured his mother.
"It was utterly irrational," Grassian writes in his report. "After all, it was President Bush who had ordered him detained as an enemy combatant."
Padilla's mother became increasingly anxious. Finally she confronted her son: "Did they torture you?" she asked.
"He turned towards her, his face grimacing, his eyes blinking, and in panic and rage he demanded: 'Don't you ever, ever, ask that question again,' " the Grassian report says.
What makes Padilla's case especially challenging from a psychological perspective is that he denies having any symptoms of psychological distress. Experts say it is an attempt by Padilla to avoid being viewed in any way as mentally disturbed.
"He was told not to talk about what happened in the brig and that if he ever spoke about what happened, people would think he was crazy," Hegarty says. "This admonition has power over him," she says. "He becomes visibly terrified as he is saying it."
Critical focus on the brig
Hegarty, Grassian, and Zapf all agree that Padilla exhibits symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and that he has become psychotically disorganized. They say that Padilla's ordeal in the brig was so psychologically unsettling that it has left him terrorized. Any reminder of the ordeal through questions by his lawyers or others, triggers a recurrence of the disorganizing terror Padilla experienced in the brig, they say.
"As soon as you try to approach a subject related to the brig he starts grimacing and you can just see he becomes mentally disorganized. Anyone who watched this with a reasonably unbiased eye would find it so creepy," Grassian says. "You can see the terror come out of him."
Padilla has been on trial in Miami since May on charges that he became a willing Al Qaeda recruit. The government never presented any part of the alleged "dirty-bomb" plot in the case, and some analysts say the government's cobbled-together case against Padilla is weak.
Jose Padilla timeline
1970 Born in Brooklyn, N.Y.
1974 His father dies; the family later moves to Chicago.
1980s Several run-ins with the law, including gang involvement and convictions for battery and armed robbery. A robbery turns deadly after a friend stabs a victim. He enters a juvenile detention center and remains until age 18.
1989 Moves to Florida with mother.
1991 Serves 10 months in Broward County jail for firing a shot after a road-rage altercation. He becomes interested in Islam.
Mid-1990s Employed with his girlfriend, Cherie Maria Stultz, at a Taco Bell managed by the cofounder of an Islamic school. Eventually, they both convert. He changes his name to Ibrahim. They marry.
1998 Travels alone to Egypt to study Islam and Arabic with funds collected at his mosque. Eventually, he and Stultz file for divorce. He marries an Egyptian.
2000 Visits Saudi Arabia for the hajj, then Yemen and Pakistan. The US Justice Department claims he meets with Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan and attends a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan.
2002 Reportedly talks with Al Qaeda leaders about a "dirty bomb" plot. On his return to US to see family, FBI agents arrest him in Chicago. President declares him an "enemy combatant" and he begins 43 months of detention and interrogation in a naval brig.
2003-2006 Courts wrestle over whether the president has authority to order the military detention of a US citizen arrested on US soil. The administration indicts him in criminal court. The US Supreme Court dismisses a case challenging the legality of his military detention.
2007 Is tried in criminal court on terror conspiracy charges in Miami.
– Compiled by Leigh Montgomery
Sources: George Mason School of Law; FBI; court filings; news reports