Padilla: Guilty until proved guilty

The strange, terrible saga of Jose Padilla, the man once accused of being a "dirty bomber" in waiting.

Published August 16, 2007 6:26PM (EDT)

Jose Padilla may have been convicted Thursday, but his punishment began long before.

Padilla, once accused of harboring a desire to explode a "dirty," or radioactive, bomb in the U.S., was held as an enemy combatant in the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig in South Carolina for more than three and a half years. Salon has previously reported on the conditions he faced there, but more recently the Christian Science Monitor put together a must-read series on Padilla's detention.

Actually, according to the Monitor, today's verdict may have come as happy news to Padilla. He was terrified that if he were acquitted, President Bush would declare him an enemy combatant again and move him back to the brig. Angela Hegarty, a forensic psychiatrist who examined Padilla, told the paper that "there is no question in my mind that his first and most important priority is to not go back to the brig. This is what leaves me chilled, if one were to offer him a long prison term or return to the brig, he would take prison, in a heartbeat ... He told me more than once that if he went back to the brig he knew what he had to do." What he "had to do," Hegarty said, is commit suicide.

While in the brig, Padilla was broken down by the solitary confinement in which he was held. He had no reading material and no way to tell time, was allowed no contact with anyone other than his interrogators (even his lawyers were kept from him for two years), was deprived of basic comforts like a pillow, mattress and sheet, and, at arbitrary points, even a mirror, the only furniture in his cell other than a toilet and the steel platform that was his bed. This may seem less damaging than physical torture, but it can be worse -- the Monitor quotes Steven Kleinman, a retired U.S. Air Force Reserve colonel and former interrogator, as saying, "I'm not a psychologist, but if he is not profoundly psychologically disturbed from that experience then he is a stronger man than me."

By the time Hegarty got to examine Padilla, the Monitor says, tests put his mental abilities at the level of someone who had experienced brain damage. But asked what caused the trauma evident to all the defense experts who examined him, even Padilla wouldn't say.

"I can't talk about what happened to me because it is classified," Hegarty says he told her.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

MORE FROM Alex Koppelman

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

George W. Bush Torture War Room