Monday, April 16, 2007

The Padilla Trial

Jose Padilla's trial begins today on charges of aiding terrorism. Fine. But when he was arrested in 2002?
In 2002, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Padilla’s arrest and said
authorities had thwarted an Al Qaeda plot to detonate a radioactive bomb in a major city. Those allegations have been dropped.

I've been outraged about the breach of constitutional rights that this case shows. Mr. Padilla is a U.S. citizen. The administration held him without charge for 5 years, may have used torture, and denied counsel for 3 years claiming that he is an "enemy combatant". That should scare the shit out of anyone paying attention. If the administration can detain someone without charge by simply accusing, none of us are free.

Jose Padilla is the U.S. citizen who supposedly plotted to detonate a "dirty bomb." Since his capture -- not on the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq, but at Chicago's O'Hare Airport -- he has not been charged with any crime.

Padilla's indefinite detention, without access to an attorney, has civil libertarians up in arms. That's why the Cato Institute, joined by five ideologically diverse public policy organizations -- the Center for National Security Studies, the Constitution Project, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, People for the American Way, and the Rutherford Institute -- filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Padilla v. Rumsfeld, now pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York.

Consider this specious logic, endorsed by the Bush administration: Under the
Sixth Amendment, the right to counsel does not apply until charges are filed.
The government has not charged Padilla. Ordinarily, U.S. citizens cannot be
detained without charge. But the administration has avoided that technicality by
designating Padilla as an "enemy combatant," then proclaiming that the court may
not second-guess his designation.

Essentially, on orders of the executive branch, anyone could wind up imprisoned by the military with no way to assert his innocence. That frightening prospect was echoed by J. Harvie Wilkinson, the respected and steadfastly conservative chief judge of the Fourth Circuit. In a case involving another U.S. citizen, Yaser Hamdi, Wilkinson warned, "With no meaningful judicial review, any American citizen alleged to be an enemy combatant could be detained indefinitely without charges or counsel." Judge Wilkinson upheld Hamdi's detention but pointedly noted that Hamdi's battlefield capture was like "apples and oranges" compared to Padilla's arrest in Chicago. "We aren't placing our imprimatur upon a new day of executive detentions," Wilkinson cautioned.

Mr. Padilla may be as dangerous as the administration claims. Fine. Charge and let a jury decide. But do it as our constitutional laws require.

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