Wednesday, November 23


We've known for quite some time that the Bush administration's prized captive, accused "terrorist" Jose Padilla, was probably a nobody. We do know he was a former Chicago gang member AND AN AMERICAN CITIZEN. The intelligence that led to his arrest was provided by a captured Al Qaeda member whose information is reported by at least one U.S. law enforcement official to be less than truthful under interrogation (but torture is necessary to get information, right Big-Time?) and was being "treated with skepticism" as far back as 2002. The fact that the government has changed its story on Padilla's alleged offenses repeatedly is at least an indication that they just haven't got any real evidence against him.

The important part of the story is that Padilla, AN AMERICAN CITIZEN, has been held without charge, stripped of his constitutional rights, for over three years, simply because the president labeled him an "enemy combatant." Yesterday he was indicted for "being part of a North American terror cell that sent money and recruits overseas to 'murder, maim and kidnap.'"

The charges are the latest twist in a case pitting the Bush administration's claim that the war on terrorism gives the government extraordinary powers to protect its citizens, on one side, against those who say the government can't be allowed to label Americans "enemy combatants" and hold them indefinitely without charges that can be fought in court.

By charging Padilla, the administration is seeking to avoid a Supreme Court showdown over the issue. In 2004, the justices took up the first round of cases stemming from the war on terrorism, and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is retiring, wrote, "A state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."

Eric Freedman, a professor at Hofstra Law School, said the Padilla indictment was an effort by the administration "to avoid an adverse decision of the Supreme Court."

Jenny Martinez, a Stanford law professor who represents Padilla at the Supreme Court, said, "There's no guarantee the government won't do this again to Mr. Padilla or others. The Supreme Court needs to review this case on the merits so the lower court decision is not left lying like a loaded gun for the government to use whenever it wants."

Padilla's lawyers had asked the justices to review his case last month, and the Bush administration was facing a deadline of next Monday for filing its legal arguments.

Padilla's appeal argues that the government's evidence "consists of double and triple hearsay from secret witnesses, along with information allegedly obtained from Padilla himself during his two years of incommunicado interrogation."

If they can do it to him, they can do it to any one of us.

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