December 10, 2006

A Disintegration of Personality

A while ago I saved a link to Valtin's diary where he wrote about the now declassified CIA Torture Manual and how the CIA had studied the effects of torture in the 1950s when trying to understand what happened with US soldiers brainwashed by the Chinese Communists. Today I finally had time to read it and was struck by what it tells us about what has happened to Jose Padilla. (Emphasis throughout is mine.)

Farber says that the response to coercion typically contains "... at least three important elements: debility, dependency, and dread." Prisoners "... have reduced viability, are helplessly dependent on their captors for the satisfaction of their many basic needs, and experience the emotional and motivational reactions of intense fear and anxiety.... Among the [American] POW's pressured by the Chinese Communists, the DDD syndrome in its full-blown form constituted a state of discomfort that was well-nigh intolerable." (11). If the debility-dependency-dread state is unduly prolonged, however, the arrestee may sink into a defensive apathy from which it is hard to arouse him.


* Deprivation of Sensory Stimuli

The chief effect of arrest and detention, and particularly of solitary confinement, is to deprive the subject of many or most of the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and tactile sensations to which he has grown accustomed....

"The symptoms most commonly produced by isolation are superstition, intense love of any other living thing, perceiving inanimate objects as alive, hallucinations, and delusions." (26)

The apparent reason for these effects is that a person cut off from external stimuli turns his awareness inward, upon himself, and then projects the contents of his own unconscious outwards, so that he endows his faceless environment with his own attributes, fears, and forgotten memories....

The deprivation of stimuli induces regression by depriving the subject's mind of contact with an outer world and thus forcing it in upon itself. At the same time, the calculated provision of stimuli during interrogation tends to make the regressed subject view the interrogator as a father-figure. The result, normally, is a strengthening of the subject's tendencies toward compliance.

Compare this to Digby's piece earlier this month about the imprisonment of Jose Padilla, who according to Philip D. Cave, a former judge advocate general for the Navy, was extreme in it's severity of confinement.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Todd Vician, said Sunday that the military disputes Mr. Padilla’s accusations of mistreatment. And, in court papers, prosecutors deny “in the strongest terms” the accusations of torture and say that “Padilla’s conditions of confinement were humane and designed to ensure his safety and security.”

His basic needs were met in a conscientious manner, including Halal (Muslim acceptable) food, clothing, sleep and daily medical assessment and treatment when necessary,” the government stated. “While in the brig, Padilla never reported any abusive treatment to the staff or medical personnel.”

In his affidavit, Mr. Patel said, “I was told by members of the brig staff that Mr. Padilla’s temperament was so docile and inactive that his behavior was like that of ‘a piece of furniture.’ ”

This "piece of furniture" had to have blackout goggles and earphones, manacles and a force of men in riot gear in order to go to the prison dentist. I do not know if they made him wear the goggles and earphones when he had his root canal. But I'd be willing to bet they did. It would be so much more punishing not to be able to see and hear, but be able to feel. Why waste an opportunity to further dehumanize the furniture?

When the CIA studied coercive interrogation techniques, they recorded the results of experiments conducted to see what would happen with people subjected to extreme sensory deprivation. What they found was that the harmful effects lasted for decades.

From Hinkle's chapter:

The experiments of Hebb and others... who have concerned themselves with "sensory deprivation," have consisted of putting men into situations where they received no patterened input from their eyes and ears, and as little patterned input as possible from their skin receptors.... The subjects were deprived of opportunity for purposeful activity. All of their bodily needs were taken care of -- food, fluids, rest, etc. Yet after a few hours the mental capacities of the participants began to go awry. (pp. 28-29)

Alfred McCoy, author of A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror, and Professor of History at University of Wisconsin, Madison, gave an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Company, linking the torture of David Hicks in Guantanamo prison with the CIA researched, Hebbsian torture paradigm MHB explores.

Dr Donald O. Hebb at McGill University found that he could induce a state akin to psychosis in a subject within 48 hours. Now, what had the doctor done? Hypnosis, electroshock, LSD, drugs? No. None of the above. All Dr Hebb did was take student volunteers at McGill University where he was head of Psychology, put them in comfortable airconditioned cubicles and put goggles, gloves and ear muffs on them. In 24 hours the hallucinations started. In 48 hours they suffered a complete breakdown. Dr Hebb noted they suffered a disintegration of personality. Just goggles, gloves and ear muffs and this discovered the foundation, or the key technique which has been applied under extreme conditions at Guantanamo. The technique of sensory disorientation. I've tracked down some of the original subjects in Dr Hebb's experiments of 1952 and men now in their 70s still suffer psychological damage from just two days of isolation with goggles, gloves and ear muffs. David Hicks was subjected at peak to 244 days of isolation, the most extreme isolation in the 50-year history of these CIA psychological torture techniques. David Hicks has suffered untold psychological damage that will take a great deal of care, a great deal of treatment and probably the rest of his life to move beyond.

Jose Padilla's isolation has certainly been comparable to that of David Hicks and doctors who have studied him say he has been irreparably harmed.

Dr. Angela Hegarty, director of forensic psychiatry at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, N.Y., who examined Mr. Padilla for a total of 22 hours in June and September, said in an affidavit filed Friday that he “lacks the capacity to assist in his own defense.”

“It is my opinion that as the result of his experiences during his detention and interrogation, Mr. Padilla does not appreciate the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him, is unable to render assistance to counsel, and has impairments in reasoning as the result of a mental illness, i.e., post-traumatic stress disorder, complicated by the neuropsychiatric effects of prolonged isolation,” Dr. Hegarty said in an affidavit for the defense.

One has to wonder if there is anything left of Jose Padilla's personality today. It still horrifies me that we have people in power who see nothing wrong with these tactics despite the fact that decades earlier the CIA had studies that showed the consequences of this inhumane treatment.

Posted by Mary at December 10, 2006 05:43 PM | Human Rights | Technorati links |

Attention Comrades,
Please visit to learn about our creative protest against the Military Commissions Act.

Posted by: O'Brien at December 10, 2006 05:58 PM

I wonder how many Americans even know what's in the Military Commissions Act, let alone what Padilla supposedly did.

This is a great post. Ok, it's an odd word to use in this context-- but I mean in the sense that you've brought a lot of useful information together.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at December 10, 2006 11:17 PM