Isolation and Torture

It says something about the extreme isolation in which many so-called high value detainees were held, and the extreme secrecy surrounding their circumstances and treatment, that something as simple as a detainee's signature can seem startling.

This week, reading through a sequence of documents that were released to the ACLU in 2008, I found myself staring at not one, but six copies of Jose Padilla's signature.

The first two are on documents he was required to sign on his arrival at the naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina on June 10, 2002, acknowledging the brig rules (“No sitting or lying on your rack between reveille and taps unless you are on medical bedrest; likewise, you may not lie on the floor”; “All meals will be eaten in your cell; you must partake of all meals”; “You may not drill or march in military formation for any purpose except as authorized and directed by the facility commander”; etc.). The other four sign documents with the subject “Approved Request for Telephone Use,” all of which begin “You have been approved the use of the facility's telephone to call your mother for the time period specified below.” The approvals contain a list of rules for the conversation such as “The entire telephone call will be monitored” and “No discussion of the interrogation process.”

The earliest of these is dated December 6, 2004—two and one half years after he'd signed in at the brig. For almost two years of that time, Padilla's lawyers have asserted in a lawsuit he has filed against John Yoo, “Mr. Padilla was deliberately denied all contact with persons outside the military brig, including his family and lawyers. During this period, Mr. Padilla's only human contact was with interrogators during interrogation sessions, or with guards when they delivered his meals through a slot in his cell door, or escorted him to the shower or the concrete cage in which he was intermittently permitted to exercise.”

To get a sense of the effect of those kinds of conditions, all you have to do is read through the rest of the documents in that same batch. These are emails between those who were guarding Padilla and Yasar Hamdi and Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri—the two other detainees the U.S. held as enemy combatants in naval brigs under similar conditions—and their superior officers. Many of these messages express serious misgivings about the conditions of their detention and implore their superiors to increase their privileges and contact with the outside world.

Against a backdrop of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, these are some of the most human, and humane, things that I have read so far. There are also a vivid illustration of why prolonged incommunicado detention is itself considered a form of torture.

Here is one particularly moving example, this one concerning Yasar Hamdi:

Tuesday June 03, 2003, 17:55
Subject: CARE OF DETAINEE USCIT [redacted]

I saw the detainee this morning during routine daily rounds and found him to be in low spirits and somewhat depressed. When I questioned him concerning his mood he indicated he was having problems sleeping again and continues to have the same re-occurring bad dreams as before. He indicated he feels very stressed due to the incarceration and being here now for almost (14) months, with no news pertaining to his future. He wanted me to know that he understands we are doing everything we can here at the facility to make him as comfortable as possible and that he has no complaints with my staff or their treatment of him, but that does not help how he feels and that he is finding it increasingly difficult dealing with the incarceration. I told him I had no new information pertaining to his length of stay, that we continue to push incentives as a means to keep his mind off the incarceration [redacted]…. He went on to indicate that he feels as if has been forgotten and that no one is working on getting him freed. I could only tell him this was not the case and that he needs to continue to put his faith in his god and that I and his family would view his giving up at this juncture, as being a failure and the last thing that I wanted to have happen was to send him anywhere from here as a “Basket Case,” of use to no one, to include himself. I continue to point to his family's support and the goals he has set for himself, as reasons to continue to be strong despite the circumstances and uncertainty. He indicated he would continue to endure, but he did not leave me with a good impression that he is capable of going on much longer…. Sir are there any new developments with regard to the detainee's fate that can be passed along. I know I can not give him any false hope, but I fear the rubber band is nearing its breaking point here and not totally confident I can keep his head in the game much longer. I will continue to monitor his behavior and get [redacted] and [redacted] aboard, but fear that once this individual decides to go south, there will be little if anything, I can do to bring him back around. I have directed my staff to pay close attention to his behavior, to pick up their discussions with him and that I will conduct evening rounds in an effort to assure him we are concerned about his state of mind and health and welfare.

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