Still video images of alleged terror operative Jose Padilla in chains and wearing headphones and blacked-out goggles demonstrate the harsh tactics used by U.S. interrogators while he was in military custody as an “enemy combatant,” his lawyers said in court papers.
The images, taken from an unclassified Defense Department video, show Padilla being chained hand and foot and led out of his cell by three guards dressed in camouflage and wearing riot helmets and visors. The video images are the first publicly released of Padilla’s 3½-year detention at a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C.
They were filed late Friday in federal court in Miami as part of an attempt by Padilla’s lawyers to get criminal terrorism support charges against him dismissed, based on what they claim was treatment that amounted to torture while in military custody.
“The extended torture visited upon Mr. Padilla has left him damaged, both mentally and physically,” Padilla lawyer Orlando do Campo said in one court filing. “The government’s treatment of Mr. Padilla has robbed him of his personhood.”
Existence of the filing containing the video images was first reported Monday by The New York Times. The court papers do not give details about the actual video, but the Times reported that it was made as Padilla was being taken out of his cell for dental work.
Several of his lawyers did not return e-mail and phone messages left Monday by The Associated Press. A spokeswoman for Miami U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta declined comment Monday.
Padilla claims, among other things, that he was forced to stand in painful stress positions, given LSD or some other drug as a “truth serum,” subjected to loud noises and noxious odors and forced to endure sleep deprivation, extreme heat and cold, and harsh lights.
The court filing includes an affidavit from Dr. Angela Hegarty, a New York psychiatrist who has met with Padilla for 22 hours over several days this year. Hegarty said that Padilla appears to suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome and is unable to adequately help prepare his legal defense.
“When approached by his attorneys, he begs them, ’please, please, please’ not to have to discuss his case,” Hegarty wrote. “He refuses to watch the videos of his interrogation and he refuses to answer questions pertaining to aspects of the evidence in his case.”
One of Padilla’s attorneys, Andrew Patel, said in court papers that his client fears being returned to the Navy brig if he discusses what happened there and that “he often exhibits facial tics, unusual eye movements and contortions of his body” when the subject of his detention comes up.
“Mr. Padilla remains unsure if I and the other other attorneys working on his case are actually his attorney or another component of the government’s interrogation scheme,” said Patel, who has represented Padilla for four years.
Federal prosecutors and Pentagon officials have repeatedly denied that Padilla was tortured, contending in their own court filings that he was humanely treated and that the tactics used were for “safety and security” reasons.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Comdr. Jeffrey Gordon, said Monday that Padilla’s claims of abuse are false and that shackles are used when necessary.
“Detainees are moved based on their threat. If they pose a threat to the individuals charged with transporting them, clearly appropriate measures must be taken to protect the guards and any other personnel involved,” Gordon said.
Padilla, a 36-year-old former Chicago gang member, was declared an enemy combatant by President Bush in June 2002, shortly after he was arrested upon arrival at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. U.S. authorities initially claimed he was on an al-Qaida mission to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a U.S. city.
Amid an intense legal battle over Bush’s wartime detention powers, Padilla was transferred to civilian custody in January to face federal terrorism support charges along with two others in Miami. Trial on those charges, which do not mention the “dirty bomb” allegations, is currently scheduled to begin Jan. 22.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke has not yet scheduled a hearing on the torture claims.