The Reasoned Review

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US Holding 27,000 Secret Prisoners Around the World

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Many people think that since Guantanamo only holds around 700 prisoners, and since that’s the only US secret prison that happens to be in the news, our crimes when it comes to torture and indefinite detention only extend to a few hundred prisoners. But Clive Stafford Smith, a valiant defense lawyer for many of the innocent US ‘ghost prisoners’, claims that the US is holding more than 27,000 secret prisoners in undisclosed hell-holes around the world.

Remember, 95% of detainees in US custody were seized randomly and brought to us to us by bounty hunters – sold, essentially, for a few thousand dollars –  and ex-Bush officials are already on record saying that most of them are innocent. Everyone who has the rotten luck to end up in US custody gets tortured in some manner or another, be it by sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, “stress positions” (being forced to stand, arms outstretched for days at a time), or whatever else the soldiers decide to do with you. There are no exceptions.

And lest we forget, at least 100 of these detainees, and likely far more, were horrifically tortured to death. The most terrifying part about this is that there’s no law. None. You can be a US citizen, minding your own business one day, and the next be transported to an unknown location, placed in sensory deprivation for 1,301 days, pumped full of LSD and PCP, beaten within an inch of your life, shocked with electrodes, mock-executed, water-boarded, etc. The ‘interrogators’ are limited only by their imaginations. There are no written rules.

“Sensory deprivation” is a rather euphemistic phrase for what I am convinced is the most horrifying and brutal torture ever devised. The procedure is precisely as it sounds – you are “deprived” of your senses – but that description fails to convey the sheer terror involved. Imagine: you are sitting there with blackout goggles, thick ear-pads, and heavy gloves. You float in a sea of nothingness, seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling nothing. You don’t know how long this will last – maybe a day, maybe a week – but what’s more, you feel your sensation of time and space breaking down. Just imagine it! Total silence and darkness for days, weeks at a time!

Jose Padilla, who remained this way for 1,301 days.

Donald O. Hebb, the psychiatrist who pioneered the technique, found that his subjects experienced “acute hallucinations” after just one day in the “deprivation chamber” and “total psychosis” after only two days. He estimated that six to eight days would be the maximum anyone could endure while keeping their sanity intact, and later claimed he had “no idea what a potentially vicious weapon this technique could be”. Jose Padilla was kept in sensory deprivation for 1,301 daysthat is, 43 months. Can you imagine it – continuous silence and darkness for almost four years? They say “don’t try this at home”, but do try it! Sit in a room for just one day with blackout goggles and earmuffs on, wearing thick gloves, and preferably shackled to a fixed object. I have nightmares about this. But for Jose Padilla, a US citizen, it was all too real.

Finally, I should hasten to remind the Obama Administration, who has already endorsed kidnapping, interrogation by torture, and indefinite detention, that these practices are illegal via the Supreme Court’s Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision, which stipulates that all detention practices must conform to Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. I wonder if this constitutional lawyer cares with the Supreme Court thinks.

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