Yesterday morning, with the sun still low in the southeast and the temperature barely into the teens, two inches of fresh snow stretched beneath a cloudless blue sky. There was no hint of wind, and the smooth white surface was broken only by solitary animal tracks and the long, intricate shadows of the trees. There were no sounds but the intermittent chirping of birds, singing not with the exuberance of spring, but quietly, as if in awe of the day and grateful for life itself. A yellow wheelbarrow lay on its side, at rest from its seasonal labors. The world seemed totally still. At a wedding last summer, my son Daniel met one of Jose Padilla’s lawyers, who described to him a living man who no longer existed. Padilla, you may remember, was convicted of aiding overseas terrorists after being held for three-and-a-half years as an “enemy combatant” and subjected to a menu of “sensory deprivation” techniques that cut him off completely from the world in which he had once lived. Confined to a 9’x7’ cell without natural light, denied sleep, bombarded with loud noise and bright lights, he lost all sense of time and place and self. Whenever he was moved, he wore earphones and a blindfold. “I looked into his eyes,” the attorney told Daniel, “and there was nothing there. I was looking into a shell.”
To be severed from the beauty of a world that comes through our five senses seems the most unconscionable torture of all.