Thursday, August 16, 2007

Padilla convicted, U.S. shamed

Jose Padilla, originally advertised as the "dirty bomber," has been convicted along with two others on several terrorism-related charges. Although I paid attention I didn't attend the trial or follow transcipts, so I won't second-guess the jury. But besides demonstrating that Padilla could have been afforded due process and put on trial years ago, the outcome should be a deep source of shame for decent Americans.

I have little question that the former Chicago gang member who converted to Islam and probably to "Islamism" is a profoundly misguided and probably troublesome person. But that doesn't justify the way the government treated him. Remember that Ashcroft crowed about nabbing a "dirty bomber," (bomb plus radioactive material, more distraction than destruction), but the government never presented evidence of such plans. Instead it put him in a military brig where he was held incommunicado for more than three years -- no charges, no lawyer, no visits, pretty much no human contact. That's the kind of thing tyrannies do, not the United States we used to know.

Scott Horton in Harper's blog has some details on how he was imprisoned and probably why. It's pretty chilling. The Christian Science Monitor has more details. In essence, he was kept in isolation (which the U.S.defined as torture when the Soviets did it) to get him to talk. He must not have admitted anything incriminating -- because when he was finally charged the charges had nothing to do with dirty bombing. An alternative theory, of course, is that he wasn't charged with anything he admitted because that might have opened the can of worms in public court about how he was treated.

Remember, this wasn't somebody captured on a battlefield with a weapon shooting at Americans, but in an airport in Chicago on suspicion. The charges finally brought had to do with pre-9/11 jihadist sympathizing and probably with raising money for jihadists overseas -- and an application form for a training camp in Afghanistan with Padilla's fingerprints. He and his two co-conspirators seem to have been losers and stumblebums more than big dangers. Until the government needed something to charge Padilla with because it was becoming apparent the Supreme Court was going to insist eventually that he be charged or released, the conspiring prior to 9/11 hadn't been anything the government felt was worth charging.

Andrew Cohen at the WaPo, who watched the case more closely than I did, thinks the jury was stampeded. I'm not ready to endorse that yet, but there's little question Padilla was treated shamefully, making a tragic joke of the idea that this is a country governed by the rule of law. One more legacy of the Bush administration.

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