Thursday, January 04, 2007

Why we need the rule of law

Jose Padilla, the United States citizen arrested in May, 2002 -- and held without charge for years -- will soon go to trial for engaging in conspiracy "to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas." The New York Times has an eye-opening story on the case, which will depend on wiretapped conversations. On one of these tapes, Padilla talks with a Palestinian activist who speaks of taking the family to "Busch Gardens" and "having a blast."

One certainly hopes that the government possesses stronger evidence than that. Gary Buell (no longer writing as Zontar) asks:
Could Padilla actually be innocent? As an American citizen he is innocent until proven guilty, of course, but then as an American citizen he has a right not to be tortured, and we know how that turned out.
In 1974, I saw Blow-up and War and Peace on the same day. If the NSA heard me say the previous sentence in a phone conversation, could I be charged? In a previous terror case, innocent video of a trip to Disneyland was introduced as proof of evil intent.

As far as I know, Padilla may indeed be guilty, but the outrageous and extra-legal treatment he received means that statements he made in rough detention cannot be admitted into evidence. We learn from the NYT piece that the government put the strong arm on a 28 year-old Gitmo inmate named Binyam Mohamed, who claimed that he and Padilla conspired in Pakistan to build a "dirty bomb."
Mr. Mohamed’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, said that these charges were based on a forced confession by Mr. Mohamed, who, he said, was tortured overseas into admitting to a story that was fed to him. “Binyam was told all along that his job was to be a witness against Padilla, Abu Zubaydah and Khaled Sheikh Mohammed,” Mr. Stafford Smith said, adding that his client “has no conscience knowledge that he ever met” Mr. Padilla.
None of Mohamed's information will be used in court.

By the way, note the reference to the strange story of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, reputed engineer of the 9/11 attacks, who was captured under very mysterious circumstances. (This piece remains a classic.) Why on earth would the United States Government need to salt the evidence against him? As long as the world knows that our forces use torture to wring dubious confessions out of captives, people will raise legitimate questions about all non-scientific issues surrounding 9/11.

The Bush administration's Stalinesque disregard for the rule of law -- for the very concept of reality -- has weakened our efforts against terror, and placed us all in danger.

By the way -- there's a conspiracy theory going around that Padilla is the infamous "John Doe #2" connected with Timothy McVeigh. The theory holds that Padilla was an undercover American intelligence agent. Perhaps. But if that were case, why the arrest? Why not leave him in the field? Why the harsh treatment and the trial? Why, if arrest were for some reason necessary (perhaps because he was turned?) would he be left alive? All told, the evidence for this conspiracy is about as weak as the "Busch Gardens" argument.


Anonymous said...

Great post--not sure if you've seen these videos of our military in Iraq...pretty amazing stuff

Anonymous said...

Since most of their information
about al Qaeda came from Khalid
Sheikh Mohammed, at some point the
9/11 Commission wondered if perhaps
they should interview KSM
themselves, or at least listen in on
the phone while he was being
interrogated. Naaaah, they
eventually decided, they'd just
rely on the transcripts so
thoughtfully provided by the US
intel agencies.

But here's another question. Jose
Padilla is allegedly in jail. How
do you know that's true? Witness
protection programs can apply to
more than witnesses, you know.