Sunday, November 27, 2005

Self-imposed barriers to the prosecution of terrorists

Jose Padilla is an American citizen. He has been detained more than three years in a Federal DoJ facility without being permitted a trial in a court of law. This, in spite of the Bill of Rights stating that, "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial."

Senior Bush administration officials claim that Padilla conspired with al Qaeda to set off a "dirty [hydrogen] bomb" on American soil. He is alleged to have traveled to Afghanistan on a number of occasions to meet with al Qaeda officials to plot other attacks against the US. He supposedly also spoke to fellow detainees about plans to use natural gas lines to blow up apartment buildings and hotels in New York.

Padilla is such a danger to the US that president George W. Bush wrote a memo to his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, saying (among other things) that:
  • Mr. Padilla is closely associated with al Qaeda
  • Mr. Padilla possesses intelligence, including intelligence about personnel and activities of al Qaeda
  • Mr. Padilla represents a continuing, present and grave danger to the national security of the United States, and detention of Mr. Padilla is necessary to prevent him from aiding al Qaeda in its efforts to attack the United States
Even if Padilla is a heinous man, closely affiliated with al Qaeda, who is threatening to attack the US, he is still an American citizen. Although Bush has tried for years to deny him the basic rights afforded to all American citizens -- including mass murderers, child molesters, serial rapists, and the like -- an impending showdown with the Supreme Court compelled the DoJ to finally try Padilla as a criminal in a court of law.

He is being charged with participating in a "North American support cell" by providing material support for terrorists and conspiring to murder, kidnap, and maim persons in a foreign country. The indictment neither mentions Padilla's reported plot to detonate a "dirty bomb" nor his purported involvement with al Qaeda, even though those are grounds that Bush used to justify holding Padilla as an "enemy combatant." Government officials said that he is being charged with the less serious crimes because the Bush administration is unwilling to allow testimony from two senior members of al Qaeda who had been subjected to harsh questioning.

This directly contradicts Bush's claim that "We do not torture." However, the CIA inspector general found that they had subjected the man who could tie Padilla to the bomb plots to excessive "waterboarding," a technique that involves near drowning. The other al Qaeda member who could testify against Padilla is thought to be held in the CIA's secret detention system and the Bush administration doesn't want its existence to be revealed in a criminal court.

Padilla should be convicted of all the crimes he has committed, not just the less severe ones. However, the incompetent manner in which Bush is waging the war on terror is not only causing an increase in global terrorism, it's also now preventing us from being able to punish terrorists to the fullest extent of the law here at home.

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