Friday, September 09, 2005

Life in prison without a trial

Michael LuttigIn July, a Federal Appeals Court heard arguments about Jose Padilla, the "dirty bomber" (except the government now admits that that was a false accusation), who has been held in prison for more than three years without a trial. As I wrote then, it was pretty obvious which way the case was going to go. Now the three-judge panel, let by extreme conservative Michael Luttig, has made its ruling:

U.S. Can Confine Citizens Without Charges, Court Rules
By Jerry Markon, Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 10, 2005

A federal appeals court yesterday backed the president's power to indefinitely detain a U.S. citizen captured on U.S. soil without any criminal charges, holding that such authority is vital during wartime to protect the nation from terrorist attacks.

The ruling, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, came in the case of Jose Padilla, a former gang member and U.S. citizen arrested in Chicago in 2002 and a month later designated an "enemy combatant" by President Bush. The government contends that Padilla trained at al Qaeda camps and was planning to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. Padilla has been held without trial in a U.S. naval brig for more than three years, and his case has ignited a fierce battle over the balance between civil liberties and the government's power to fight terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. A host of civil liberties groups and former attorney general Janet Reno weighed in on Padilla's behalf, calling his detention illegal and arguing that the president does not have unchecked power to lock up U.S. citizens indefinitely.

Federal prosecutors asserted that Bush not only had the authority to detain Padilla but also that such power is essential to preventing terrorist strikes. In its ruling yesterday, the three-judge panel overturned a lower court.

A congressional resolution passed after Sept. 11 "provided the President all powers necessary and appropriate to protect American citizens from terrorist attacks," the decision said. "Those powers include the power to detain identified and committed enemies such as Padilla, who associated with al Qaeda . . . who took up arms against this Nation in its war against these enemies, and who entered the United States for the avowed purpose of further prosecuting that war by attacking American citizens."

Padilla is one of two U.S. citizens held as enemy combatants since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The other, Yaser Esam Hamdi, was released and flown to Saudi Arabia last year after the Supreme Court upheld the government's power to detain him but said he could challenge that detention in U.S. courts.

The ruling limits the president's power to detain Padilla to the duration of hostilities against al Qaeda, but the Bush administration has said that war could go on indefinitely.
Richard A. Samp, chief counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation, a conservative public-interest law firm, said the court "gave the government needed flexibility in dealing with the war on terrorism. You can't treat every terrorist as though they are just another criminal defendant."

But Avidan Cover, a senior associate at Human Rights First, said the ruling "really flies in the face of our understanding of what rights American citizens are entitled to." Opponents have warned that if not constrained by the courts, Padilla's detention could lead to the military being allowed to hold anyone who, for example, checks out what the government considers the wrong kind of reading materials from the library.
The government originally described Padilla as plotting with al Qaeda to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" but has since focused on allegations that he planned to blow up apartment buildings by filling them with natural gas. Prosecutors told the 4th Circuit that he worked with such senior al Qaeda leaders as former operations chief Khalid Sheik Mohammed on that plan.
Disgusting. Luttig is a judge who has no respect for the constition or the rule of law, or trials. He considers it a fact that Padilla has worked with Al Queda and taken up arms against the United States, despite the fact that the government has never formally accused Padilla of anything. Luttig has complete faith in the President's judgement and assumes if he has declared Padilla an enemy combatant, Padilla must be one. This although the President has repeatedly proved himself incompetent and untrustworthy. I make a different assumption. Given that the Justice Department has put other people on trial in civil courts as part of the "war on terror", it seems evident that they have an extremely weak case against Padilla.

Padilla may very well be innocent, and I will assume his innocence until proven otherwise in a court (unlike the New York Times). Consider the ramifications of Padilla's situation. Any of us could be held in prison for years, decades even, as long as the country is "at war".


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