American Values

What does the United States stand for in the 21st century?

1. The United States stands for human rights:
When suspected Al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla was whisked from the criminal justice system to military custody in June 2002, it was done for a key purpose – to break his will to remain silent.

As a US citizen, Mr. Padilla enjoyed a right against forced self-incrimination. But this constitutional guarantee vanished the instant President Bush declared him an enemy combatant.

For a month, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been questioning Padilla in New York City under the rules of the criminal justice system. They wanted to know about his alleged involvement in a plot to detonate a radiological "dirty bomb" in the US. Padilla had nothing to say. Now, military interrogators were about to turn up the heat.

Padilla was delivered to the US Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C., where he was held not only in solitary confinement but as the sole detainee in a high-security wing of the prison. Fifteen other cells sat empty around him.

The purpose of the extraordinary privacy, according to experts familiar with the technique, was to eliminate the possibility of human contact. No voices in the hallway. No conversations with other prisoners. No tapping out messages on the walls. No ability to maintain a sense of human connection, a sense of place or time.

In essence, experts say, the US government was trying to break Padilla's silence by plunging him into a mental twilight zone. Padilla was not the only Al Qaeda suspect locked away in isolation. Although harsh interrogation methods such as water-boarding, forced hypothermia, sleep deprivation, and stress positions draw more media attention, use of isolation to "soften up" detainees for questioning is much more common.

"It is clear that the intent of this isolation was to break Padilla for the purpose of the interrogations that were to follow," says Stuart Grassian, a Boston psychiatrist and nationally recognized expert on the debilitating effects of solitary confinement. Dr. Grassian conducted a detailed examination of Padilla for his lawyers. [...]
According to defense motions on file in the case, Padilla's cell measured nine feet by seven feet. The windows were covered over. There was a toilet and sink. The steel bunk was missing its mattress.

He had no pillow. No sheet. No clock. No calendar. No radio. No television. No telephone calls. No visitors. Even Padilla's lawyer was prevented from seeing him for nearly two years.

For significant periods of time the Muslim convert was denied any reading material, including the Koran. The mirror on the wall was confiscated. Meals were slid through a slot in the door. The light in his cell was always on.


So he had to twiddle his thumbs for a little while! Since when does boredom rise to the level of psychological torture?
Those who haven't experienced solitary confinement can imagine that life locked in a small space would be inconvenient and boring. But according to a broad range of experts who have studied the issue, isolation can be psychologically devastating. Extreme isolation, in concert with other coercive techniques, can literally drive a person insane, these experts say. And that makes it a potential instrument of torture, they add.

Interrogators say the whole point of an interrogation is to overcome a detainee's will to resist. Some try to build rapport. Others prefer a tougher approach.

"These are interrogations, they are not job interviews. So there has to be a certain amount of unpleasantness about it," says David DeBatto, a retired Army counter-intelligence agent and former interrogator. "You have to set the tone and the atmosphere. Some of that can include sensory deprivation, which means [the subject] is in a closed room, there is no sound, and he stays in there for various amounts of time." At that point, the interrogator must make a crucial judgment. "The question is: How long is too long? Is it a day? Is it a week? Is it a month?" Mr. DeBatto says.

When then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved isolation as an aggressive interrogation technique for use at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Defense Department lawyers included a warning. "This technique is not known to have been generally used for interrogation purposes for longer than 30 days," the April 2003 memo reads in part. Longer than that required Mr. Rumsfeld's approval.

By April 2003, Padilla had already spent 10 months in isolation at the brig. Ultimately, he was housed in the same cell, alone in his wing, for three years and seven months, according to court documents.

"I'm not a psychologist, but if he is not profoundly psychologically disturbed from that experience then he is a stronger man than me," says Steven Kleinman, a retired US Air Force Reserve colonel and former interrogator.

Oh, he has been damaged:
Padilla was visited by a military psychologist upon his arrival at the Charleston brig in early June 2002. The brief screening report says Padilla was not experiencing any mental-health concerns. But he didn't see another psychologist again for nearly two years, according to a report filed by psychologist Patricia Zapf of New York, who examined Padilla and his brig records at the request of Padilla's lawyers in his ongoing trial.

When the screening reports resumed in mid-2004, Padilla's mood is described as "anxious" and later as "elevated." There is no indication that he was given a full psychological evaluation, Ms. Zapf's report says. "In my opinion, it appears unusual that someone held in solitary confinement for upwards of three years would not have undergone a more thorough and regular evaluation of [his] mental state." The new Army Field Manual bars the use of isolation to achieve psychological disorientation through sensory deprivation. "Sensory deprivation is defined as an arranged situation causing significant psychological distress due to a prolonged absence, or significant reduction, of the usual external stimuli and perceptual opportunities," the manual states. "Sensory deprivation may result in extreme anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts, depression, and anti-social behavior. Detainees will not be subject to sensory deprivation."

Despite the tough words, the field manual offers only a general prohibition. So-called coercive interrogation methods – including isolation – have been specially authorized for certain units in the military and the Central Intelligence Agency.

The technique is not new. The Soviets used isolation and sensory deprivation to identify and discredit political dissidents. US prisoners of war confessed to nonexistent war crimes in the Korean War after similar treatment.

Fear of "brainwashing" prompted the CIA and Defense Department to underwrite research in the 1950s and '60s into the impact of isolation and sensory deprivation. The findings were included in a 1963 CIA handbook, later declassified. The book discusses the possible use of such techniques, including isolation. But it warns of the "profound moral objection" of applying "duress past the point of irreversible psychological damage."

That's what happened in Padilla's case, says Grassian. "It is clear from examining Mr. Padilla that that limit was surpassed."

2. The U.S. stands for the right to live our private lives without undue government intrusion:
In 2003, Room 641A of a large telecommunications building in downtown San Francisco was filled with powerful data-mining equipment for a "special job" by the National Security Agency, according to a former AT&T technician. It was fed by fiber-optic cables that siphoned copies of e-mails and other online traffic from one of the largest Internet hubs in the United States, the former employee says in court filings.

What occurred in the room is now at the center of a pivotal legal battle in a federal appeals court over the Bush administration's controversial spying program, including the monitoring that came to be publicly known as the Terrorist Surveillance Program.

Tomorrow, a three-judge panel will hear arguments on whether the case, which may provide the clearest indication yet of how the spying program has worked, can go forward. So far, evidence in the case suggests a massive effort by the NSA to tap into the backbone of the Internet to retrieve millions of e-mails and other communications, which the government could sift and analyze for suspicious patterns or other signs of terrorist activity, according to court records, plaintiffs' attorneys and technology experts.

"The scale of these deployments is . . . vastly in excess of what would be needed for any likely application or any likely combination of applications, other than surveillance," says an affidavit filed by J. Scott Marcus, the senior Internet adviser at the Federal Communications Commission from 2001 to 2005. Marcus analyzed evidence for the plaintiffs in the case.

In the first of two lawsuits before the court, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy group, alleges in a class action that AT&T collaborated with the NSA to operate a "dragnet" that illegally tracked the domestic and foreign communications of millions of Americans. The second case centers on the disbanded al-Haramain charity and two of its attorneys, who say they were given -- and then forced to return -- a Treasury Department document showing that they had been the focus of NSA surveillance.

Neither AT&T nor the federal government has admitted even the existence of a secret room, and the Justice Department is arguing that the cases should be dismissed because their subject matter is a state secret. The communications company, meanwhile, says it is prevented from properly defending itself because of national security reasons and dismisses the employee who briefly saw the room and worked on supporting equipment as a "line technician who . . . never had access to the 'secret room' he purports to describe."

The lawsuits are among dozens of challenges to the NSA surveillance program that have been consolidated in the San Francisco federal courts. The confrontation comes just days after the Democratic-controlled Congress acceded to the demands of the Bush administration for expanded NSA authority to conduct spying efforts on U.S. soil, effectively approving many of the practices at issue in San Francisco.

3. The U.S. stands for fairness, for openness in government, for impartial justice:
The Justice Department is putting the final touches on regulations that could give Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales important new sway over death penalty cases in California and other states, including the power to shorten the time that death row inmates have to appeal convictions to federal courts.

The rules implement a little-noticed provision in last year's reauthorization of the Patriot Act that gives the attorney general the power to decide whether individual states are providing adequate counsel for defendants in death penalty cases. The authority has been held by federal judges.

Under the rules now being prepared, if a state requested it and Gonzales agreed, prosecutors could use "fast track" procedures that could shave years off the time that a death row inmate has to appeal to the federal courts after conviction in a state court.

The move to shorten the appeals process and effectively speed up executions comes at a time of growing national concern about the fairness of the death penalty, underscored by the use of DNA testing to establish the innocence of more than a dozen death row inmates in recent years.

4. The U.S. stands for freedom of the press:
Five reporters must testify about their law enforcement sources in a former Army scientist’s lawsuit against the Justice Department, a federal judge in Washington ruled yesterday.

The suit, filed by Steven J. Hatfill, a bioterrorism expert, contends that the government violated the federal Privacy Act by providing journalists with information about him in the F.B.I.’s investigation of the deadly anthrax mailings in 2001.

The reporters — Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman of Newsweek; Allan Lengel of The Washington Post; Toni Locy, formerly of USA Today; and James Stewart, formerly of CBS News — have acknowledged receiving information from the Justice Department and the F.B.I. about Dr. Hatfill, the judge, Reggie B. Walton, wrote in his decision yesterday. But they have refused to name their sources.

5. The U.S. stands for respecting the voice of individual conscience:
WÜRZBURG, GERMANY - No one looked comfortable at the sentencing hearing. Not family and friends who packed the US military courtroom's straight-backed benches. Not the rookie Army prosecutor in stiff dress greens who flushed with every "Your Honor." Not Judge R. Peter Masterton, whose usually animated face was now grave.

And not the convicted deserter – Army medic Agustín Aguayo – on the stand in a US military court in central Germany last March, pleading for understanding.

"I'm sorry for the trouble my conscience has caused my unit," Private 1st Class Aguayo said, his voice thick with emotion. "I tried to obey the rules, but in the end [the problem] was at the very core of my being."

Colonel Masterton, a veteran military judge, stared down at his bench. The defense wanted him to free this man of conscience. The prosecution asked that he put the coward away for two years to show other soldiers that "they are not fools for fulfilling their obligation."

Aguayo craned to face the judge. "When I hear my sergeants talking about slashing people's throats," he said, crying openly, "if I'm not a conscientious objector, what am I when I'm feeling all this pain when people talk about violence?"

Next door in the press room, where reporters crowded to watch the proceedings on bleached, closed-circuit TVs, a soldier guarding the door wiped tears from his face.

And that is why I am so proud to be an American.

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