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EXCLUSIVE: An Inside Look at How U.S. Interrogators Destroyed the Mind of Jose Padilla

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In a Democracy Now! national broadcast exclusive, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Angela Hegarty speaks for the first time about her experience interviewing Jose Padilla for 22 hours to determine the state of his mental health. Padilla is the U.S. citizen who was classified by President Bush as an enemy combatant and held in extreme isolation at a naval brig in South Carolina for over three-and-a-half years. His case is now before a Florida jury. “What happened at the brig was essentially the destruction of a human being’s mind,” said Dr. Hegarty. “[Padilla’s] personality was deconstructed and reformed.” She said the effects of the extreme isolation on Padilla are consistent with brain damage. “I don’t know if he’s guilty or not of the charges that they brought against him,” said Dr. Hegarty. “But, already–before he was ever found guilty–he’s paid a tremendous price for his trip to the Middle East.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: A jury began deliberations on Wednesday in Miami in the case of Jose Padilla, a Brooklyn-born man accused by the Bush administration of plotting to set off a dirty bomb inside the United States. The FBI initially arrested him secretly in Chicago in 2002, after he got off a plane from Europe. For a month he was held as a material witness. Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft made a dramatic announcement: The U.S. government had disrupted an al-Qaeda plot to set off nuclear dirty bombs inside the United States. At the center of the plot, Ashcroft alleged, was Padilla.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush then classified Jose Padilla as an enemy combatant, stripping him of all his rights. He was transferred to a Navy brig in South Carolina, where he was held in extreme isolation for 43 months. The Christian Science Monitor reported: “Padilla’s cell measured nine feet by seven feet. The windows were covered over. … 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.”

JUAN GONZALEZ: According to his attorneys, Padilla was routinely tortured in ways designed to cause pain, anguish, depression and ultimately the loss of will to live. His lawyers have claimed that Padilla was forced to take LSD and PCP to act as sort of truth serums during his interrogations.

Up until last year, the Bush administration maintained that it had the legal right to hold Padilla without charge forever, but when faced with a Supreme Court challenge, President Bush transferred Padilla out of military custody to face criminal charges.

AMY GOODMAN: On January 3, 2006, the government charged him and two others with criminal conspiracy. The government claims Padilla, along with his mentor Adham Amin Hassoun and Hassoun’s colleague Kifah Wael Jayyousi, conspired to commit murder abroad and to provide material support toward that goal. Since May, the men have been on trial in Miami.

According to the Miami Herald, the overall case against Padilla is riddled with circumstantial evidence. Much of the case is built around an alleged form Padilla filled out to attend an al-Qaeda training camp. Prosecutors have introduced no evidence of personal involvement by Padilla in planning or carrying out any violent acts. There is no mention of Padilla plotting to set off a dirty bomb. Despite this, prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for Padilla.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Questions have also been raised about whether Padilla was mentally fit to stand trial. His lawyers and family say he’s become clearly mentally ill after being held in isolation for so long.

Today, we’re joined by one of the few medical experts who has spent time with Padilla since his arrest five years ago. Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Angela Hegarty spent 22 hours interviewing Padilla last year to determine the state of his mental health. She concluded that he lacked the capacity to assist in his own defense. Dr. Angela Hegarty is assistant profession of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University. She joins us today in our firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: And thank you for joining us for this first national interview, broadcast interview, that you are doing. How did you get involved in Jose Padilla’s case?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Well, his attorneys called me up. For many years, I have worked — I had an interest in working with religious fundamentalists of all stripes, actually. And over the years, I had worked with lawyers in Miami, as well as elsewhere in the country, and I guess they heard about me that way. And they called me up, because essentially he wasn’t really talking to them, and it was clear to them that something was very wrong, but they didn’t know quite what it was at this point. And the initial goal was for me to come down and see if I could help build a rapport with him, help him really begin to act, you know, with his lawyers to advocate for himself to help them defend his case. He wasn’t doing that. And so, I came down to spend some time with him.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you find? Where did you first meet Jose Padilla?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Well, I first met Mr. Padilla in the Miami detention center, where he is held under special conditions in a conference room with a double mirror. And we spent 22 hours in that room together.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And how did he react to you initially, because obviously after being in isolation and then with — he has not had a good relationship with his lawyers, as I understand, for quite a while, but how did he react to you?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Well, he really didn’t want to talk to a psychiatrist at all. He didn’t want to be evaluated at all. He was incredibly anxious. I remember the first day, after about the first hour, he smiled for a moment and said, you know, this really isn’t as bad as he thought it would be. He obviously was very, very anxious.

And in the course of the interview, he revealed to me that he essentially had been told that if he relayed any of what had happened to him, his experiences, people would quote/unquote “know he was crazy.” And he was very upset by this and very disturbed by it, and it’s just that his level of being so disturbed suggested to me that there was something more, but, you know, asking further questions, he wouldn’t reveal it to me.

He was resentful of his lawyers. He had left the brig thinking he was about to be released. He told me that he had been given regular clothing and was actually surprised to find himself incarcerated. He was very angry at his lawyers that they hadn’t gotten him out and that, in fact, his conditions in the Miami detention center under the special conditions in which he was held were actually somewhat more restrictive and more isolating than they had been in the later stages of his detention at the brig. So he was angry with them. He also felt that everything had been established, you know, that the government knew everything and that essentially they would — there was no need for him to be revealing things to his lawyers. And he was very uncomfortable.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the effect of over three-and-a-half years of isolation on Jose Padilla?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: I think there’s two things, really. Number one, his family, more than anything, and his friends, who had a chance to see him by the time I spoke with them, said he was changed. There was something wrong. There was something very “weird” — was the word one of his siblings used — something weird about him. There was something not right. He was a different man. And the second thing was his absolute state of terror, terror alternating with numbness, largely. It was as though the interrogators were in the room with us. He was like — perhaps like a trauma victim who knew that they were going to be sent back to the person who hurt them and that he would, as I said earlier, he would subsequently pay a price if he revealed what happened. So I think those would be the two main things.

Also he had developed, actually, a third thing. He had developed really a tremendous identification with the goals and interests of the government. I really considered a diagnosis of Stockholm syndrome. For example, at one point in the proceedings, his attorneys had, you know, done well at cross-examining an FBI agent, and instead of feeling happy about it like all the other defendants I’ve seen over the years, he was actually very angry with them. He was very angry that the civil proceedings were “unfair to the commander-in-chief,” quote/unquote. And in fact, one of the things that happened that disturbed me particularly was when he saw his mother. He wanted her to contact President Bush to help him, help him out of his dilemma. He expected that the government might help him, if he was “good,” quote/unquote.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In the affidavit you submitted to the court summarizing your examination of him, you also talk about the things he did say that happened to him, the sleeping on a steel bed with no mattress for all that time that he was isolated?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Yes. In the darkness or in the light — in the cells, the light would be all dark for a long time or all light for a long time. And for a very long part of his detention he had no mattress at all. And sometimes he would try to sleep on the pallet, if you will, the hard steel pallet, or other times he would be in essentially stress positions where he’s got shackles and a belt and is in an awkward and uncomfortable position for long periods at a time.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What other things did he say, tell you, were done to him?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Well, I think one of the things you have to realize is he was adamant that he would not reveal any quote/unquote “classified information.” He in fact refused to provide a narrative of his account. He essentially — on the second day, after spending four hours on the Monday and we developed some rapport, on the second day I brought him in a list of materials and interrogation tactics that had been already — you know, they were in the public record. And I asked him just merely to say yes or no to some of these things. And this included slapping, exposure to heat or cold for long periods of time, forcible showering. He was terrified, actually, about being taken to a thing called the “cage.” This was supposedly “recreation” — I’d like to put that in quotes. He spoke about the lack of sleep, the relentless clicking and then banging of the doors of other cells that would wake him up.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain that. Wasn’t he alone in the naval brig?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Yes, he was. In this very small cell, he was monitored 24 hours a day, and the doors were managed electronically. And between what Mr. Padilla told us and other sources, essentially it’s possible to open and close these doors electronically. And he would hear the click of the door opening, which is a loud click that sort of echoed, and then a very loud bang over and over and over again for hours at a time, possibly days. He had no way of knowing the time. The light was always artificial. The windows were blackened. He had no calendar or time, as you mentioned earlier. He really didn’t see people, especially in the beginning. He only had contact with his interrogators.

AMY GOODMAN: Did he recognize you when you returned the next day?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Oh, yes. Yes, he did. But he did have some memory problems, in that by about the fourth day, I asked him, “Can you just give me” — he had been very clear that there was a particularly bad time, and then there was a somewhat better time, and then after he had access to counsel things improved somewhat. And he really was unable to give me any kind of — beyond the most broadest brush strokes, he was unable to put anything in any kind of a chronological narrative at all. He was very, what we would call it in psychiatry, “concrete.” You would ask him, you know, how did you feel about something, or what have you, and he would generally resort to cliches. He seemed to have a great deal of difficulty recalling precise personal details about the interrogations or the experiences or particular incidents. He wouldn’t know when they happened or how long they lasted, and so forth.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you conclude he had been tortured?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Well, “torture,” of course, is a legal term. However, as a clinician, I have worked with torture victims and, of course, abuse victims for a few decades now, actually. I think, from a clinical point of view, he was tortured.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and then we’re going to come back. We’re talking to Dr. Angela Hegarty, a forensic psychiatrist, spent twenty-two hours interviewing Jose Padilla last year, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University. This is the first time she is speaking out on a national broadcast about her assessment of Jose Padilla. His case is now before a jury in Florida. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Dr. Angela Hegarty, forensic psychiatrist who spent more than 22 hours interviewing Jose Padilla last year. She’s an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University. Jose Padilla’s case is before a Florida jury right now. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, I’d like to ask you about some of the assessments by folks other than you in his case. I understand there was a Bureau of Prisons medical person who interviewed him and also concluded that he had mental problems, but that they really were not severe. And I think the judge, as well, in the case at one point acknowledged that he had some mental problems, but said that they should not be considered, the causes of them, as part of the process of the trial. Your sense of some of these other assessments?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Certainly. Well, first of all, there’s a big distinction between the diagnosis of a psychiatric or mental illness, on the one hand, and finding of legal incapacity to proceed with trial. That’s a legal term, and there are legal standards based on case law. And, of course, the judge relied on the legal standards and concluded that the defense had not met its burden in proving that he lacked capacity.

Now, of course, each interview that different people have is incredibly sensitive to a number of factors: the context, who the person is, their style, their interviewing techniques, their experience, and also, most importantly, who they are to the interviewee or the defendant, in this case. And, of course, from reading Dr. Buigas’s report it’s clear that —

JUAN GONZALEZ: He’s from the Bureau of Prisons.

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: That’s right. It was clear that he saw perhaps a different side of the defendant. Perhaps the defendant, Mr. Padilla, reacted somewhat differently to him. He was a government doctor. Dr. Buigas actually interviewed him in his own office, whereas defense experts had to use this conference room with the double mirror. So the whole interview occurred in a very different context. And that’s why we have adversarial hearings, where one group of experts will go and put their case and then the other group of experts, and then the finder of fact or the judge, in this case, decides.

But, yes, he agreed that he did have some psychiatric or psychological problems, but that they weren’t as severe as those the defense had seen. Part of the problem, though, with that — and I want to add this — is that Mr. Padilla was really very reluctant to cooperate. In fact, he refused to finish the psychological testing that I was administering and also what Dr. Zapf administered, because — so essentially he wasn’t exactly the easiest person to elicit the kind of clinical information we need.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the findings that he was, well, the equivalent, after his experience of three-and-a-half years in severe isolation and what happened to him during that period, of brain-damaged?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Well, during my time with him, some of his reasoning seemed somewhat impaired, some of his thinking seemed impaired, his memory certainly, his ability to pay attention seemed very impaired. I developed a differential diagnosis from this: severe anxiety. Post-traumatic stress disorder can do that. But also, we know from really basic neuroscience studies that extreme isolation for prolonged periods of time — and I’m talking, you know, the studies are on maybe days or weeks, and he had extreme isolation for years — really do, in fact, impair higher brain function. And I recommended that we get some neuropsychological testing. And, unfortunately, he wasn’t able to fully cooperate with that. However, the testing we did do was consistent with brain damage, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Brain damage.


JUAN GONZALEZ: And have you dealt with someone who had been in isolation for such a long period of time before?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: No. This was the first time I ever met anybody who had been isolated for such an extraordinarily long period of time. I mean, the sensory deprivation studies, for example, tell us that without sleep, especially, people will develop psychotic symptoms, hallucinations, panic attacks, depression, suicidality within days. And here we had a man who had been in this situation, utterly dependent on his interrogators, who didn’t treat him all that nicely, for years. And apart from — the only people I ever met who had such a protracted experience were people who were in detention camps overseas, that would come close, but even then they weren’t subjected to the sensory deprivation. So, yes, he was somewhat of a unique case in that regard.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’m thinking —- at one point in your affidavit, you talk about how he said that he felt at one point that a huge weight was crushing down on his chest. Did he -—


JUAN GONZALEZ: Explain that a little bit.

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Well, he thought he was having a heart attack, and he’s a young, healthy man. Now, one possibility is, yes, he was having a heart attack. Certainly with the kind of adrenaline that would be surging through his body, whether from what we call internal stimuli — hallucinations, panic, paranoia, and so forth — or as a result of what else was going on, it’s not unreasonable. However, more likely, he also felt his life was slipping away, he was going to die, and this actually is almost a textbook description of a major panic attack, which, if anybody has had one, the word “panic” doesn’t quite capture how terrible it is. You really feel like you’re dying.

And so, his perceptions of what was happening to him and himself, which is one of the most terrifying aspects, was really difficult to assess. For example, he reported very clearly that he had been given mind-altering drugs. And again, that is realistically, unfortunately, one serious hypothesis. However, another serious hypothesis —

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean? Given by who?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: By the government.


DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Drugged, yes. And clearly he had some terrible frightening experience to which he attributed these drugs. However, again, his — given what sensory deprivation and isolation of this scale does, it’s also entirely possible that he wasn’t given drugs, and it’s just the psychiatric effects of the isolation and the sensory deprivation, because the hallucinations can be incredibly vivid. People feel like they’re losing their minds, that they’re coming apart. It’s absolutely terrifying.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re interviewing Dr. Angela Hegarty, who is a forensic psychiatrist who saw Jose Padilla for more than 22 hours. The new Army Field Manual bars the use of isolation to achieve psychological disorientation through sensory deprivation. The manual states, “Sensory deprivation may result in extreme anxiety, hallucinations, as well as bizarre thoughts, depression, anti-social behavior. Detainees will not be subject to sensory deprivation.” But you say he was.

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Without question.

AMY GOODMAN: How afraid was Jose Padilla?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: How to capture that in an apt metaphor? He was terrified. For him, the government was all-powerful. The government knew everything. The government knew everything that he was doing. His interrogators would find out every little detail that he revealed. And he would be punished for it.

He was convinced that — I mean, I think in words he endorsed — even if he won his case, he lost, because he was going back to the brig if he managed to prevail at trial. And essentially, if hypothetically one were to offer him a really long prison sentence versus — with a guarantee that he wouldn’t go back to the brig — versus risking going back to the brig, the chance that he might go back to the brig, he would take the prison sentence for a very long period of time. I think he would take almost anything rather than go back to that brig.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened in the brig?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: What happened at the brig was essentially the destruction of a human being’s mind. That’s what happened at the brig. His personality was deconstructed and reformed.

And essentially, like many abuse victims, whether it’s torture survivors or battered women or even children who are abused by parents, as long as the parents or the abuser is in control in their minds, essentially they identify with the primary aims of the abuser. And all abusers, whoever they are, have one absolute requirement, and that is that you keep their secret. I mean, it’s common knowledge that people who abuse children or women will say, “Look at what you made me do,” putting the blame on the victim, trying to instill guilt. “People will judge you. People will think you’re crazy if you tell them about this. You will be an enemy. You will be seen as an enemy. You will be seen as a bad person if this comes out. There will be dire and terrible consequences, not only for you.” Jose was very, very concerned that if torture allegations were made on his behalf, that somehow it would it interfere with the government’s ability to detain people at Guantanamo, and this was something he couldn’t sign onto. He was very identified with the goals of the government.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Did he talk at all with you about his family and his concerns about what might happen to his family?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Yes. Essentially, when Mr. Padilla would talk about emotionally meaningful events or feelings, it would always be almost by accident. And he worried that his mother would be — her life would be somehow derailed by this. He told people that his family had been threatened. His family was terrified. So, again, always the tip of the iceberg with Mr. Padilla. He was very afraid for his family.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the Jacoby statement, declaration, and why the Bush administration did not want him to see attorneys?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Well, there was a quote in the Jacoby declaration that caught my attention as a forensic psychiatrist. And that — essentially it says that the purpose of keeping Mr. Padilla isolated was to foster a sense of dependence on his interrogators and to essentially foreclose in his mind utterly any hope of rescue. And it makes reference to the fact that, given that people who have had contact with the criminal justice system will expect to see an attorney and be rescued by an attorney, they want to essentially disabuse him of the notion that he will ever be rescued. They want him to believe that he is in their power forever. And I believe, in a sense, they succeeded.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What does all of this do to our notions or expectation of how the criminal justice system is supposed to operate in this country?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Well, essentially, based on the Jacoby memorandum, it’s — you know, almost it’s a cultural cliche. You know, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you. You have the right to an attorney. Essentially, what happened to Mr. Padilla was designed to reassure him that this was not in fact the case. The things we take for granted as American citizens, that we will not get off a plane and be spirited away for years at the hands of harsh interrogators, that that can happen in America.

And as a citizen myself, I find it very disturbing, especially in the light of the mistakes that have been made over the years. I recall a case of an attorney who was misidentified from the West Coast, and he had had a very tough experience as a result. And so, the possibility that an innocent — that this could happen to an innocent person, a person perhaps who is merely known to somebody who themselves perhaps are being tortured — you know, their name might come up in such a circumstance — could actually be spirited away and entirely deprived of their human rights, their rights as human beings, their ordinary dignity, is disturbing.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Angela Hegarty, we are headed to San Francisco today. Today, tomorrow, Saturday, Sunday, Monday is the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association. You’re a psychiatrist. But that’s the group of 150,000 psychologists. And they are having a showdown right now. A vote will happen on Sunday, whether the APA will take a position against the involvement of its members, of psychologists, in coercive interrogations, in, what many psychologists are saying, torture. There is a massive protest taking place tomorrow at 4:00 outside the Moscone Center. There will be a track of debates inside the conference. Unfortunately, we wanted to record these debates, and the APA is now saying that there will be no video recording of discussions between the psychologists, public discussions, where military psychologists debate others around the issue of whether psychologists should be involved in these interrogations. What are your thoughts? And what position has your organization, the American Psychiatric Association, taken?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Well, the American Psychiatric Association principles of ethics essentially follow the AMA’s, which is —

AMY GOODMAN: American Medical Association.

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: American Medical Association, yes — is, no psychiatrist is involved in torture ever under any circumstances. Period. Torture — there is no caveat that opens up the possibility by mentioning the Bush administration’s qualifications on the definition of “torture.”

That the psychologists are protesting and debating this is great news. Clinicians — our entire professional identity is clinicians. And if psychologists — psychologists certainly see themselves as clinicians, people who care for people. Our entire professional identity as people who help people is obviated by such involvement. And I entirely disagree with any caveat that would allow a clinician to be involved in torture at any time.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the argument that those who don’t want the moratorium are making, and especially high-level staff of the American Psychological Association, that for psychologists to be there is to bring ethics to the situation, to explain what is going too far?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Well, you know, I asked Mr. Padilla about that. He’d said that there were some decent people that he had come in contact with, you know, over the — especially in the latter part of his stay at the brig. And I asked him, I said, “You know, if I were in a situation like this as a clinician and I abhor what’s being done to you, would you want me to stay, knowing that there’s somebody who cares about you, who’s ideally, hopefully, ethical? Or would you — albeit powerless — or would you want me to leave?” And he actually gave me one of the first and only immediate and straightforward and direct answers: he would want me to leave. He would not want me there, because for him my presence endorses what’s going on, even though, as I said, in my scenario I would be powerless to do anything to change it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And did he talk about having interactions with medical people, either doctors, psychiatrists or psychologists, while in custody?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: No, he just mentioned staff, in general. He had some interactions with some kind of clinical staff around medication and evaluations, but it’s unclear to me what their credentials were.

AMY GOODMAN: So you don’t know if psychiatrists or psychologists were involved.

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: Oh, I know that some mental health professionals were involved, but — by the way this was designed — the sensory deprivation, especially, the leaving and taking of stimuli from his environment. For example, there was a mirror that was there, and then that was taken away abruptly, or he’d have a pillow or a sheet or something that made him a little more comfortable, and that would be taken away. One of the things that came out in the course of my evaluation was, he was required to sign his name John Doe. This kind of thing and the whole notion of dependency and the cultivation of dependency, the impact of sleep deprivation, stress positions, all of that was so coordinated it’s impossible for me to imagine that at least at some phase there wasn’t some mental health professionals involved.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what was the reason for wanting to have him sign his name John Doe?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: He’s no longer a person. He’s no longer an individual. There will be no record that he was ever there, that the interrogators — this is from my knowledge of torture around the world — that the interrogators essentially will be absolutely immune to any accountability.

AMY GOODMAN: After having met with him for 22 hours, as we wrap up, Dr. Hegarty, your conclusions about his case, Jose Padilla’s case, as it stands now before a jury in a Florida court?

DR. ANGELA HEGARTY: You know, I don’t know if he’s guilty or not of the charges that they brought against him, but he has certainly paid — already, before he was ever found guilty, he has already paid a tremendous price for his trip to the Middle East.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, Dr. Angela Hegarty, forensic psychiatrist, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, one of the forensic psychiatrists who met Jose Padilla, one of the very few, speaking out now for the first time. Twenty-two hours she interviewed him.

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