It is Advent, when we await the arrival of He who said
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
I have not written about politics for several weeks. I have been trying to not get sucked into dissections of the results of the election and what it means for the country, here or elsewhere on the ‘net. What will be, will be.
Sometimes, however, what is at stake is not politics but justice. What has happened to Jose Padilla transcends politics.
Jose Padilla was picked up in Chicago following 9/11 as a suspected member of Al-Qaeda. There were originally allegations that he was part of a plot to manufacture a dirty bomb. He was declared an enemy combatant, and shipped to Naval Brig in South Carolina.
Jose Padilla is an American citizen, arrested on American soil.
His lawyers fought his detention all the way to the Supreme Court. Two years ago, the Supreme Court agreed with him on the merits, but ordered him to refile in the proper Circuit. He did so. The Bush Administration fought to keep him in military control, up until earlier this year, when the case was on course to get back to the Supreme Court, when they quickly transferred him to a (civilian) federal penitentiary, charged him with conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists. Charging him with a crime means that he will be brought to trial, rather than languishing in military detention with no hope of a jury hearing his case.
During the time he was in the brig, he was alone in a ten cell wing of the facility, his counsel allege. He saw no one but his interrogators. His windows were blacked out, he had no clock or calendar, and had his Koran taken from him. He slept on a steel platform.
The military argues that none of this was inhumane, and that his basic needs were met, and that he never complained. He never complained? Maybe he was afraid.
In the course of his incarceration, Padilla needed a root canal. What happened next is captured on video. Armed guards — their faces completely hidden behind visors — entered the cell. They did not speak. Padilla was manacled — to be expected — and then…
He was given noise-blocking earphones, and blacked goggles. He was taken from his cell, without being able to see or hear what is happening around him, by completely anonymous figures. To get a root canal. It makes one wonder — did they even tell him what was going on?
He lived under these conditions for three and a half years.
His attorneys say he is incompetent to stand trial. He does not seem to understand the charges against him. He is unable to assist in his own defense, primarily because he seems to not believe that his attorneys are working for him — but that they are part of an interrogation scheme on the government’s part. He is afraid to talk about what happened in the brig because he is terrified he will be returned there.
He is a broken man.
Torture does not have to be physical to be torture. Sensory deprivation and isolation strike at the heart of the greatest human needs beyond food, water, and warmth. To be trapped with only your own mind for company for months on ends is terrible to contemplate.
All for a man who has not stood trial for any crime, and who even his jailers admit was not disruptive.
Not that it matters — since we should not treat any human this way — but it bears repeating that Padilla is a citizen. Before its passage, we were repeatedly told that the Military Commissions Bill would not be used against American citizens. Do you believe that?
In this season of Advent, I pray for Mr. Padilla. I pray also for his jailers, that one day they realize what exactly what they have done.
UPDATE: Terry Karney’s post about the situation is well worth reading.