Bill Totten's Weblog

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Conviction of Padilla is Bad News for All Americans

... Including Journalists and Protesters

by Dave Lindorff (August 16 2007)

With habeas corpus a thing of the past, with arrest and detention without charge permitted, with torture and spying without court oversight all the rage, with prosecutors free to tape conversations between lawyers and their clients, and with the judicial branch now infested by rightwing judges who would have been at home in courtrooms of the Soviet Union or Hitler's Germany, for all they seem to care about common law tradition, the only real thing holding the line against absolute tyranny in the US has been the jury.

Now, with Jose Padilla - a US citizen who was originally picked up and held incommunicado on a military base for three and a half years, publicly accused (though never charged) with planning to construct and detonate a so-called "dirty" nuclear device (this a guy without a high school education!), all based upon hearsay, evidence elicited by torture, and a few overheard wiretapped conversations where prosecutors claimed words like "zucchini" were code for explosive devices - convicted on a charge of "planning to murder", we see that juries in this era of a bogus "war on terror" are ready to believe anything.

That last line of defense - the common sense or ordinary citizens in a jury box - is gone too.

The jury in this case apparently accepted the government's contention that Padilla was a member of Al Qaeda, and had returned from a trip to Pakistan full of plans to wreak mayhem on his own country. They cared not a whit for the fact that the government had used methods against Padilla (three years of isolation and total sensory deprivation that had driven him insane) which would have made medieval torturers green with envy. They cared not a whit that there was no real evidence against Padilla.

This was, in the end, a case that most closely resembled the famous Saturday Night Live skit in which witches were dunked underwater to "prove" whether they were in fact witches, and where if they drowned, they were found to be innocent. In the end, Padilla's jury simply bought the government's wild and wild-eyed story. They decided he hadn't drowned, so he must be guilty.

Padilla can now expect to spend what's left of his life in prison. Since the government has already driven him insane, he will have the added burden of being mentally unbalanced from the outset of his incarceration. His survival prospects are not good.

The president promptly thanked the jury for their "good judgment".

We can no doubt expect many more Padillas now that the way has been paved for this kind of totalitarian approach to law enforcement.

Beginning today, we can expect the government to begin arresting people on an array of trumped-up charges, locking them away in black sites, on military bases, or maybe even overseas, subjecting them to all manner of torture, and then finally bringing them to trial on trumped-up charges. We can also expect juries, made fearful by breathless warnings that "evil ones" mean us and our nation harm, to buy the government's stories.

Who is at risk? That's hard to say, but it's clear that it won't just be hardened terrorist types. A presidential executive order signed by Bush on July 17 declares that anything "undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction (sic) and political reform (sic) in Iraq" could be deemed a crime making the perpetrator subject to arrest. Would writing essays critical of the president, the war in Iraq, or the "reconstruction" effort in Iraq meet that standard? Who knows? Would being interviewed for commentary as part of a news story on English-language Al Jezeera TV (which Bush and Cheney have declared to be supportive of the Iraqi insurgency, and which Bush reportedly at one point considered bombing!)? And how about anti-war protesters? We already have Washington, DC, under pressure from Homeland Security, threatening the organization World Can't Wait with multiple $10,000 fines for posting flyers around the city announcing an anti-war march and rally on September 15. If they go ahead with the protest, will they be joining Padilla?

I have little doubt that this administration would love to lock up journalistic critics and protesters in military brigs, so the question is: how would juries respond to charges that American journalists and protesters against the war were treacherously undermining the Bush war effort?

I used to be confident that most juries would laugh such cases out of court. After the Padilla decision, I'm not so sure.

You want to think that your fellow citizens have at least some measure of common sense, but this case suggests otherwise - that they are easily frightened, gullible, and willing to believe the most fantastic claims of the government.

The future does not look good for freedom in America.


More on the Padilla Legal Atrocity

by Dave Lindorff (August 17 2007)

Maybe American citizen Jose Padilla really was anxious to become a fifth-columnist terrorist in America. But the US government never made that case. Unprincipled federal prosecutors simply won a conviction by playing on jurors' fears.

As the New York Times reports, the "only evidence" presented at Padilla's trial was a faded application form allegedly filled out by Padilla in the year 2000 to attend an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.

Now recall that in 2000, Al Qaeda was primarily supplying fighters to help the Taliban government in Afghanistan to fight warlords who were seen as still beholden to or allied with the Russians.

This puts Padilla in company with another American, John Walker Lindh, who in August of 2001, a month before the 9-11 attacks that suddenly made America a mortal enemy of the Taliban government, was actually in Afghanistan fighting with Al Qaeda troops against those same warlords.

Lindh, as I've written several times, was no enemy of America, as he was famously portrayed upon his highly publicized arrest in Afghanistan by American troops and by US Attorney General John Ashcroft, who called him "the American Taliban". Rather, he was a kid who had been caught in a bad place when American suddenly went to war against Afghanistan. Part of an Al Qaeda/Taliban force, he suddenly found himself targeted by American forces, but, stuck in the wilds of the Hindu Kush, he had no realistic opportunity to up and leave.

For that unfortunate bit of bad timing, Lindh, who was tortured by the US military and the CIA for weeks before being brought to the US to face trial, is now serving fifteen years of hard time in federal prison, with the added burden of a fifteen-year gag order barring him from talking about his ordeal.

Padilla, of course, suffered much worse at the hands of his American captors than did Lindh, who was only left severely injured and untreated, and duct-taped to a gurney in a dark, sealed shipping container for two weeks, save for an hour of daily torture, interrogation and feeding. Padilla was held incommunicado for three and a half years in a solitary cell of a US naval base in South Carolina. When he was removed for interrogations or medical treatment, he was blinded with opaque goggles and had ear muffs to blot out all sound, and shackeled hand and foot.

Under those conditions, he reportedly lost his mind. It is unclear whether he will ever regain his sanity, according to experts who have examined him.

All this abuse and unconstitutional treatment, and he may not be guilty of anything, except perhaps wanting to go and fight for Islam (a religion to which he had recently converted) in 2000 in Afghanistan, at a time that the US was actually cozying up to the Taliban regime. (One government intelligence report on the case even suggests that the idea of building and detonating a "dirty nuke" bomb in the US was something Padilla concocted as a ruse to allow him to get out of the Al Qaeda camp he was stuck in.)

After Padilla's conviction, President Bush, who ordered Padilla held without charge, without access to a court, and without access to even a lawyer, in contravention of all Constitutional requirements, had the audacity to congratulate the jury for "upholding a core American principle of impartial justice for all". (If, by some happy circumstance, Bush is ever actually impeached, removed from office, and indicted for his many crimes, he should pray that he isn't offered the same "justice" which he and his criminal administration afforded to Padilla.)

If Padilla's trial was the model for the justice that is in store for Americans henceforth, we're all in serious danger.

This trial was nothing short of an atrocity, from the day of Padilla's arrest to the day of his conviction. It will, I am sure, go down in history with the Dreyfus Case and other infamous miscarriages of justice, as examples of unalloyed tyranny.

Sadly, with the courts packed with Federalist clones, the likelihood of this being rectified on appeal is next to nil.

It is time for a new cry for justice: "Restore the Constitutional Right to a Fair Trial! Free John Lindh and Jose Padilla!"

Bill Totten


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