Saturday, April 26, 2008

What Isolation Does

Imagine, if you will, being a criminal defense attorney trying to prepare your client's case for trial in which a guilty verdict could mean the death penalty. Then imagine that your client is of no help to you: he doesn't know why he has been arrested; he doesn't remember events, or, if he does, he doesn't remember their sequence; sometimes he can't even concentrate long enough to answer your questions because he can't remember what the questions even were. That's the scenario now playing out in real life for the lawyers assigned to defend the prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay. The NY Times has a gut wrenching article that provides some of the details of the impossible task facing the attorneys.

Next month, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who was once a driver for Osama bin Laden, could become the first detainee to be tried for war crimes in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. By now, he should be busily working on his defense.

But his lawyers say he cannot. They say Mr. Hamdan has essentially been driven crazy by solitary confinement in an 8-foot-by-12-foot cell where he spends at least 22 hours a day, goes to the bathroom and eats all his meals. His defense team says he is suicidal, hears voices, has flashbacks, talks to himself and says the restrictions of Guantánamo “boil his mind.”
[Emphasis added]

While the actual conditions these defendants are being held in are rarely described (thanks to the secrecy imposed by the Pentagon), we do know that those set for the first round of "trials" are kept apart from the other prisoners and from each other "for security reasons." The effect of that isolation should come as no surprise: we've long known that such solitary confinement for even short periods of time leads to mental deterioration, even madness. These men have been held for over six years, most of the time in the small metal cages. Well, it's possible that we're now going to get more of the gruesome details.

... the claim about Mr. Hamdan’s mental health could expose the workings of Guantánamo. According to military statistics, three-quarters of the detainees have been held recently in two “camps” that look much like American prisons. Camp 5 and Camp 6, heavily guarded concrete buildings, hold men who have yet to face trial. Behind a heavy door, each cell has a handful of sanctioned items including a cup and a Koran.

Officials concede that the daily two hours of recreation in a chain-link pen is sometimes offered in the dark. From inside their cells, detainees cannot see the outdoors. From the exercise pens they sometimes can see only a sliver of sky.

And the Pentagon response? A mix of creative euphemisms and truly bizarre comparisons:

Pentagon officials say that Guantánamo holds dangerous men humanely and that there is no unusual quantity of mental illness there. Guantánamo, a military spokeswoman said, does not have solitary confinement, only “single-occupancy cells.”

In response to questions, Cmdr. Pauline A. Storum, the spokeswoman for Guantánamo, asserted that detainees were much healthier psychologically than the population in American prisons. Commander Storum said about 10 percent could be found mentally ill, compared, she said with data showing that more than half of inmates in American correctional institutions had mental health problems.
[Emphasis added]

"Single-occupancy cells" ranks right up there with "intensive interrogation techniques" for gov-speak phrase of the millennium. And what Cmdr. Storum fails to note is that inmates in American prisons have already been tried, knew what the charges against them were, and had access to mental health evaluations to determine their competency to stand trial. Their current mental health problems are due, in large part, to the conditions in which they currently reside. Yes, the state of our civilian prisons are shameful, which is why comparing Gitmo to them is such a chilling, if unintentional, admission.

Mr. Hamdan has yet to be tried, doesn't know with any specificity the charges against him, and doesn't know precisely what evidence will be used at trial. After six years in a 6x12 foot metal cage, thousands of miles from his home and family with only the promise of one phone call a year to them, he has had his sanity wrenched away to the point that he can't even participate in a "trial" for his life.

And this has been done in our names, yours and mine.

I am deeply ashamed.



Blogger The Law Office of H. Candace Gorman said...

When I read the excuses/descriptions of the way these men are treated I sometimes feel that I too will go insane!... Most of these men have never been charged with any crime and yet they are held in conditions that are worse than those reserved in our "prison state" for the men and women who have been convicted of the worst crimes. Imagine, if you can, spending years by yourself in an 8 X 12 metal cell. One book per week. no blanket. no telephone. no tv. no magazine. no family. no fresh air. no natural light. no life.
When I complained to the military that my client.... Abdul Hamid Al-Ghizzawi (who not only has never and will never be charged with a god damn thing, and in fact was found by the military to NOT be an enemy combatant...)should not be kept in such conditions I was told that the military "likes to think of this as your client having his own apartment."
This is what I was actually told.

And yes, my client is losing his mind and body as a result of this confinement.

And you know what most american's will remember? "but the military said we kept them in better conditions than any soldiers were ever kept in by any country."
That of course is bullshit and we would never in a million years sit back and watch tv and yawn if our citizens were held in similar conditions....

1:00 PM  
Anonymous David Gould said...

Of all the hideous stupid things Bush has done, this is the worst. I assume they are killing thousands in Iraq because they think they are stealing the oil or giving graft to their cronies or just waving their big sticks around on the international stage or something. But keeping someone you can't and won't ever charge in a veal pen for years, what is the fucking point? What possible purpose does this serve? I've always understood that this country has done bad things for base reasons of perceived self interest in the past, but to go to such extremes to be so cruel for nothing? What does this make us? How will we ever recover?

10:04 PM  

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