December 04, 2006

The Jose Padilla Case Takes A New Turn

That's our man Jose, poster boy for George Bush's War on the United States Constitution, on his way to a dental appointment down the hall in the South Carolina brig. Shackled, muffled and blindfolded, Jose shuffles toward a Navy dentist for a root canal, which for Padilla is nothing to be dreaded, since he'll actually be in human company for a change. Those of you who want to know more about the legal significance of the Padilla nightmare should read Jack Balkin's series of reprinted articles (originally written about the time Padilla was disappeared by the Pinochet Unit of Bush's Junta). Follow the link above to Balkinization and you can read them in all their frightening immediacy.

Padilla's case puts the lie to the idea that "it can't happen here" or it can happen only to evil people very unlike ourselves. Under the Bill or Rights, as it existed before George W. Bush happened to it, Jose Padilla is exactly like you and me, an American citizen entitled to a presumption of complete innocence; that is to say, then, that at this point, nearly five years after his arrest on the battlefield of O'Hare International in Chicago, the government has never proved anything against Jose Padilla. Nothing. It dropped the original "dirty bomb" allegations which supposedly justified his disappearance into the Bush gulag. Nevertheless, Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and the government lawyers who do Bush's dirty work, such as the uber-articulate Paul Clement, Solicitor General of the United States, have strained mightily to deprive Padilla of the rights to counsel, to an indictment, to confront his accusers, or to grant him his day in court. Finally, as some who have followed this sorrowful case know, Padilla was transferred into the criminal justice system in South Florida and added to an ongoing conspiracy case set for trial next month. The junta took this route in a cowardly attempt to avoid another unfavorable Supreme Court ruling on the extent of Bush's perogatives as the "unitary" executive, that is, his powers as a self-appointed tyrant.

Padilla's lawyers are now mounting a legal challenge to the government's right to try Padilla at all, on the grounds that his solitary confinement in a 9x7 foot cell, in a cell block emptied of all other prisoners, without a window, calendar or mirror, and while being subjected to the usual Torquemada routine of "stress" positions, volume ten Garth Brooks, and sleeping on a metal plank -- that all of this, "justified" solely by Bush's unilateral, sua sponte, unreviewable determination that Padilla, an American citizen, was nevertheless an "enemy combatant" without any of the rights we thought we took for granted -- drove Jose Padilla insane. The "government lawyers" (who I hope must mainline Ambien in order to sleep even an hour a night) of course maintain there is not a "shred" of evidence to support this claim. They probably trot out the usual legal cliche -- not even a "scintilla" of proof. Well, of course it might be hard for Jose to prove it. That's the advantage of solitary confinement without access to a lawyer or the Red Cross. Ask August Pinochet how many of his desaparecidos successfully resisted prosecution by claiming they were driven insane. Where is your witness other than the victim himself? Anyway, Pinochet (thank all that's good and decent) is now dead, and he didn't conduct trials in the first place. We're not there yet -- but let Bush get away with this atrocity and eventually we will be there.

The estimable Mr. Patel, counsel for Padilla, must be making the Bush administration sweat. This is not a favorable turn of events for Bush, especially given the recent changes in Congress. An American citizen is about to detail the "special interrogation techniques" made popular in Poland, Hungary and other CIA dungeons around the world. Unless, of course, he can be silenced again. Which may not be so easy this time - Padilla is just crazy enough to spill the beans, and the Bush Administration can thank itself for that.