Was Jose Padilla Tortured?

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Jose Padilla was the first and only American citizen to be held without charge after being labeled an "enemy combatant" by President Bush. A 36-year-old former Chicago gang member, he was arrested in June 2002, following his arrival at Chicago's O'Hare airport. The U.S. claimed he had been sent by al-Qaeda to blow up a radioactive "dirty bomb" in an American city.

Now, after more than three years in custody, Padilla's lawyers are claiming that new images taken from a government video show that he received unduly harsh treatment while being held at a U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. The pictures, still shots from an unclassified Department of Defense video, show his hands and feet shackled as he wears headphones and blacked-out goggles while being escorted by three guards dressed in helmets and riot gear to a dental appointment.

The new material was filed in federal court in Miami late last week, and was first reported by the New York Times. The filing comes as part of an attempt by Padilla's lawyers to win dismissal of criminal charges against him for supporting terrorism. The lawyers argue that Padilla was subjected to the equivalent of torture while in U.S. military custody, and that the experience has left him psychologically damaged and unable to participate in his own defense.

After his lawyers contested the government's right to hold him without trial, Padilla last January was transferred from military to civilian custody. He is set to go on trial Jan. 22 in Miami, along with two codefendants, on charges of supporting terrorism. The charges do not include the "dirty bomb" allegations, which the government appear to have dropped.

"The extended torture visited upon Mr. Padilla has left him damaged, both mentally and physically," said one court filing by Orlando do Campo, one of Padilla's lawyers. Padilla's filing also says that he was subjected to sleep deprivation and extremes of heat and cold, forced to stand in "stress positions" that can be painful, and given "truth serum" to make him talk.

The filing includes an affidavit from a psychiatrist who said that he apparently is suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD, and cannot adequately assist his own lawyers in preparing his legal defense. According to the psychiatrist's affidavit in the court filing: "When approached by his attorneys, he begs them, 'please, please, please' not to have to discuss his case." The psychiatrist also reported that Padilla "refuses to watch the videos of his interrogation and he refuses to answer questions pertaining to aspects of the evidence in his case."

U.S. officials and spokespersons for the Department of Defense have long insisted that Padilla never faced torture, arguing in their own legal filings that he never experienced anything but "humane" treatment consistent with his safety and security.