Padilla sues US officials over confinement
Despite his conviction on terror conspiracy charges, his lawyers say he suffered 'psychological abuse' during military detention.
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"This is the American people's last chance to know what happened behind the closed doors in Charleston, and the last chance for a court to determine if what happened is consistent with our Constitution and values," says Jonathan Freiman, one of Padilla's lawyers who also works with the National Litigation Project at Yale Law School.Skip to next paragraph
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Unlike the Abu Ghraib scandal, which has involved the prosecution of a few low-level individuals, the Padilla lawsuit seeks to hold the chain of command accountable. In addition to cabinet-level officials, it seeks to identify and hold accountable key brig staff members, military and other government lawyers, medical and psychological staff members, brig guards, and Padilla's interrogators. Most of the prospective defendants have not yet been identified by name in the suit.
Padilla was subjected to sleep deprivation, stress positions, prolonged isolation, and sensory deprivation, among other interrogation techniques, the suit says. "These procedures were calculated to and actually did disrupt profoundly his senses and personality," the complaint says. It was done to "destroy Mr. Padilla's ordinary emotional and cognitive functioning and break his will, in order to extract information from him and punish him."
The government held Padilla for two years without any outside contact, including with his lawyers. When that policy changed, government officials warned Padilla not to reveal any conditions of his confinement to his lawyers. They told Padilla that his lawyers were not trustworthy and were actually working for the government, the suit says.
If true, this would amount to a government effort to undermine the ability of Padilla's lawyers to learn of Padilla's actual conditions of confinement and effectively challenge them in court.
Padilla was denied access to mental health care, the complaint says. Military officials "deliberately caused Mr. Padilla to undergo extreme psychiatric stress without providing any psychiatric care," the suit says. They denied this access even after Padilla's lawyers reported "signs of psychiatric distress in Mr. Padilla, such as involuntary twitching, and self-inflicted scratch wounds on his body."
The suit also says that two years into his military detention brig staff grew so concerned about Padilla's psychological distress from his prolonged isolation that they asked for permission to at least allow him to eat his meals with another prisoner. The request was denied.
One major hurdle for Padilla's civil suit is whether the government will ask Judge Floyd to dismiss it on grounds that any open-court discussion of Padilla's interrogation and treatment in the brig would reveal state secrets.
Legal analysts are divided on whether a judge would throw out Padilla's case should the government invoke the so-called state secrets privilege. A lawsuit filed by a German citizen mistakenly held and interrogated in secret locations overseas by the Central Intelligence Agency was dismissed on those grounds by a federal judge in Virginia. In March, the action was upheld by the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals, which also has jurisdiction over cases in South Carolina. That case has been appealed to the US Supreme Court.