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New light on Padilla's treatment

February 28, 2007|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — With no clock, watch or natural light to guide him, terrorism suspect Jose Padilla was jailed at a Navy brig in timeless isolation while anonymous jailers monitored him around the clock, a brig official testified Tuesday.

The disclosures in a federal courtroom by Sanford Seymour, technical director of the Navy detention facility in Charleston, S.C., confirmed for the first time some of the conditions of Padilla's detention. His defense attorneys contend that Padilla's sensory deprivation and treatment were tantamount to torture.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke called Seymour and two other brig officials to testify in a hearing on Padilla's competency to stand trial on charges of conspiracy and material support to terrorism.

Cooke cautioned defense attorneys that they could only question the witnesses about their conversations with a federal Bureau of Prisons psychologist. A separate defense motion to dismiss the charges due to "outrageous government conduct" may open the torture issue at a later hearing.

The forensic psychologist, Rodolfo Buigas, testified Monday that Padilla suffered from anxiety and a personality disorder but was otherwise fit to proceed. But his report referred to the brig officials, so the judge had to allow defense attorneys to cross-examine them.

Padilla had refused to submit to psychological testing by Buigas, claiming to have repeatedly undergone examination since his May 2002 arrest at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. U.S. officials contend he spent at least six years abroad recruiting, plotting and bankrolling terrorism.

Two competency experts hired by the defense said last week that Padilla, 36, had sustained mental injury and post-traumatic stress disorder from his brig experience, leaving him incompetent to assist in his own defense.

Seymour, a civilian who oversees correctional procedures at the military brig, appeared reluctant to disclose details of the "special care" ordered by the federal government for Padilla.

Prolonged silences by Seymour followed each of federal Public Defender Michael Caruso's questions, as the witness waited for prosecutor Stephanie Pell to object, which she did at least a dozen times. When Cooke said he should answer, Seymour said he had "no specific recollection," asked to hear the question again, or gave a cryptic response.

What emerged from the cross-examination was that Padilla had little human contact during his 3 1/2 -year incarceration in the brig, that both windows in his cell were covered to create a blackout, and that the electric light in his cell could only be activated by jailers and was, like his Koran, unavailable for unspecified reasons or periods of time.

Caruso was prevented from pursuing matters of Padilla's detention other than those that Seymour had discussed with Buigas in an hourlong conversation the witness said occurred "several weeks ago."

Seymour said he neither offered nor was asked about the removal of Padilla's cell mirror, his access to showers or the length and frequency of the prisoner's interrogations. He confirmed that he had on a couple of occasions observed Padilla weeping.

Asked by Buigas about Padilla's claim to have been administered LSD by his interrogators, the corrections chief said he told the psychologist that the prisoner had been given a flu shot.

As to the defendant's general torture allegations, Seymour said he told Buigas: "I know of no physical abuse that occurred."

Brig psychologist Craig Noble also testified, confirming that he told Buigas of his two brief interactions with Padilla. The first was a mental health intake assessment on June 10, 2002, when Padilla arrived; the second was two years later when he interviewed Padilla through the "cuff hole" his cell door.

Noble said he found Padilla's mental health "unremarkable" both times. A defense attorney asked, based on brig records, whether Noble's contact with Padilla had lasted no more than two minutes, but the witness was not allowed to answer the question because Buigas hadn't asked about the duration.

Maj. Andrew Cruz, a brig social worker who had monthly contact with Padilla, was also summoned to testify. But he was recently deployed to Afghanistan, and did not answer a call that had been arranged for him to testify by speakerphone.

Cooke said she would hear final arguments on Padilla's competency today, but gave no indication when she might rule.

If Padilla is judged fit to proceed, his motion for dismissal for outrageous government behavior could prompt a hearing at which the brig abuse allegations would be more thoroughly explored. Padilla's trial is set for April 16.

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carol.williams@latimes.com

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