Column: IT DID HAPPEN HERE

Here’s this week’s column, available for comment:

American Citizen Tortured, Convicted of Thought Crime

NEW YORK–“Just about everyone agrees that the recent conviction of Abdullah al-Muhajir, a.k.a. Jose Padilla, is a good thing,” wrote right-wing pundit Neil Kressel in The New York Post. Indeed, just about everyone did. “It is hard to disagree with the jury’s guilty verdict against Jose Padilla, the accused, but never formally charged, dirty bomber,” opined the liberal editorial board of The New York Times. (They went on to criticize the way the Bush Administration denied Padilla due process.)

Meet Mr. Not Everyone.

Padilla, a 36-year-old American citizen born in Brooklyn who converted to Islam, was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare airport in May 2002. Using the bombastic “1984”-style rhetoric of the post-9/11 era, then-attorney general John Ashcroft announced that Padilla had participated in an “unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive dirty bomb.” Padilla’s arrest, Ashcroft ranted, would have caused “mass death and injury” in an American city.

But there wasn’t any evidence. Or there wasn’t enough to convict him in court. Which was, under the system of justice citizens of Western countries have lived under for eight centuries, the same thing.

Before 9/11 and “preventative detention” and legal torture and scary new laws like the USA-Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act eliminated habeas corpus, Padilla would have sat in jail a day or two. He might have gotten roughed up. Then he’d have walked.

That was under democracy. In Bush’s neofascist security state, Padilla rotted in solitary confinement–in a military brig–for three and a half years. (Read Henry Charriere’s classic prison memoir “Papillon” if you doubt that solitary confinement is a form of torture.) No family visits. No lawyer. They subjected him to sensory deprivation, covering his eyes and ears to make him lose his mind.

And still no trial. Because the government knew Padilla was innocent.

By 2006 Bush was unpopular. Federal judges had begun to regrow their ‘nads, ruling that the Administration had to charge Padilla or release him. So the Bushies came up with a clever dodge whose narrow legalism was worthy of depends-on-the-meaning-of-is: they transferred Padilla to the civilian justice system and charged him with something else.

Or, to be specific, something less. They added Padilla to a case against two Middle Eastern men on trial for “conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people in a foreign country” and “material support” for Islamic terrorism. Padilla had met the two in Florida and, prosecutors say, traveled to Afghanistan in 2000 to join Al Qaeda. The key evidence presented was Padilla’s supposed Al Qaeda application form, which fingerprints proved he had handled.

Padilla’s public defenders claimed that their client was forced to pick up the “Al Qaeda form” in the brig. Who knows what happened while he was “disappeared” during those three and a half years?

“There is no need to show any particular violent crime [in a conspiracy trial],” said law professor Robert Chesney, of Wake Forest University. “You don’t have to specify the particular means used to carry out the crime.” Nevertheless, Padilla faces the possibility of life in prison.

Of course, the United States wasn’t at war with Afghanistan in 2000. Before 9/11 the Clinton and Bush Administrations both sent millions of dollars to the Taliban. The vast majority of Muslims who trained at Al Qaeda camps never plotted against the U.S. They planned to fight in places like Chechnya, Kosovo and Xinjiang. Padilla’s membership in Al Qaeda, even if proven, doesn’t prove anti-Americanism.

Post-9/11 conspiracy prosecutions are de facto attempts to make anti-Americanism–the mere thought, not any action–illegal.

“It is a pretty big leap between a mere indication of desire to attend a camp and a crystallized desire to kill, maim and kidnap,” said Peter Margulies, a law professor at Roger Williams University. The conspiracy count against Padilla, Margulies continued, “is highly amorphous, and it basically allows someone to be found guilty for something that is one step away from a thought crime.”

The charge was laughable and the standard of proof rock-bottom. But the masters of Padilla’s show trial didn’t miss a chance to cheese up the proceedings.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier never presented evidence that Padilla actually joined or was accepted by Al Qaeda. Nevertheless, reported the Associated Press, he “mentioned Al Qaeda 91 times in his opening statement and more than 100 times in his closing, according to court transcripts.” Padilla had nothing to do with 9/11. To link him to the attacks in jurors’ minds, Frazier had them watch a seven-minute video clip of Osama bin Laden. (There’s no evidence that Padilla ever watched the 1997 CNN interview.)

Padilla’s lawyers asked the judge in the case to dismiss the case because he had been denied a speedy trial. Marcia Cooke said no–and ordered them not to talk to the jury about the three and a half years the defendant had spent being tortured and deprived of his rights.

Reporters’ eyes rolled as Frazier said that government wiretappers heard Padilla and his two co-defendents use code words like “football” to mean jihad and “eggplant” and “zucchini” for weapons. “They wanted to recruit, fund and train fighters,” he told the jury. “Playing this kind of football was more important than anything else to these men. What they were doing was no game.” But, reported the AP, Padilla’s “voice was only picked up on seven of the FBI intercepts, [and] he never talked in code.” He shouldn’t have been convicted–even on those lame-ass conspiracy charges.

Osama bin Laden is an ends-justifies-the-means kind of guy. So, apparently, is Uncle Sam. Jeffrey Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University, said after the verdict: “It’s kind of a dirty victory because of the way the case came about, but still it’s a victory nonetheless.” Yeah. But for whom?

(Ted Rall is the author of the new book “Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?,” an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America’s next big foreign policy challenge.)
COPYRIGHT 2007 TED RALL

14 Responses to “”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    On a day when 14 U.S. soldiers are killed in chopper crash, Ted Rall publishes an article in defense of a convicted terrorist. Nice, but of course that’s par for the course when you’re Ted “hate the troops” Rall.

    Ted even goes after the attorney for doing his job well:

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier … “mentioned Al Qaeda 91 times in his opening statement and more than 100 times in his closing, according to court transcripts.”

    Who the hell should he refer to when trying to convict a terrorist? Barry Manilow?

  2. wlthaya Says:

    I was completely disgusted with the finding of Padilla guilty. I was foolish enough to think that the case should have been thrown out due to the torture of the defendant by the government. I was thinking about all those times the bad guys had escaped on TV because they didn’t have their Miranda rights read to them or some other technicality. This, I foolishly thought, would be a real reason to throw the case out.
    That’s what I was thinking. Well, it’s a good thing that people with a keener sense of justice are running this country.

  3. angelo Says:

    Just like they could not stand behind the Northern Alliance’s testimony in the Hamdi case (because they get paid for turning people in…your tax dollars hard at work), I’m sure the finer points were glossed over in the Padilla case. Manufacturing evidence is not rocket science after you’ve faked everyone into a war, and on and on.

    Remember that our best evidence against Bin Laden himself is his own bragging about it. I have watched the ‘smoking gun’ confession many times and still can’t believe anyone takes him seriously. Google ‘bin laden confession’. He is totally BS-ing and regurgitating year-old theories he heard from CNN pundits (like some of the hi-jackers did not know they were going to die). OOHH, like that that proves you planned it. My favorite part, as a former CE major, is the part where he says he was surprised the first building collapsed “all the way”! Like it was supposed to pancake down to the 73rd floor and *hey presto* it stops. He is described as having an engineering background in the media..what a disappointment. And we are supposed to believe this guy is responsible?

    This is precisely why we need to go about terror in a smarter way involving international bodies and courts.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    One of your best, Ted, Too bad Yahoo clipped 5 of your six final paragraphs.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Dear fellow anonymous,

    The argument that Ted is making is
    that there’s NO SOLID PROOF that Padilla is, in fact, a terrorist. So how can Ted be defending a terrorist?

    Do yourself and others a favor and go back to school and learn how to read articles, because you sure didn’t read this one correctly.

  6. Andy Says:

    Amem Ted. My thoughts exactly.

  7. Owen Says:

    A coworker and I discussed this, and his rational was that the system must work since Padilla got a trial…eventually. My reply was, “So did Sophie Scholl.” I got the deer in the headlights look.

    The problem with this case is that it plays right into America’s fears of terrorism. Padilla is a Muslim and the government claims that he’s a terrorist. That seems to be enough to convict anyone in the minds of many Americans. To me, the fact that he’s a Muslim is irrelevant. All we need to do is look at what the government did prior to Padilla’s transfer to civilian authorities. The federal government arrested and detained an American citizen for three and a half years without access to the most basic rights which are set forth in the U.S. Constitution. We are all innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law. This goes for the most petty wallet snatcher all the way up to those accused of engaging in international terrorist conspiracies. To be innocent unless proven guilty puts the burden of proof on the state, not the accused, and if the state does not have the evidence to make an arrest and publicly charge an American citizen, by the letter of the law that citizen must be set free. There is no debate here. It’s set in stone, in black and white.

    But few seem to care. Those who genuinely care are screaming into the wind.

    P.S. I loved the cute little anonymous reactionary who posted the first comment. They completely ignored the fact that an American citizen was denied the constitutional rights that NO ONE is allowed to take away from us, and instead mentioned…Iraq. Yay! Spinning and ignoring the truth is fun!

  8. Owen Says:

    I thought about this after i’d already submitted my previous comment:

    I don’t necessarily fear what George W. Bush can do with the new and abusive powers of the executive. I fear what a more brazen and intelligent executive might decide to do in the future. The power of congress is waning and power of the executive grows with every citizen whose rights are trampled. If they have to do it one person at a time, they’ll get to all of us.

  9. JT Says:

    You should take a close look at how this all unfolded. This ‘trial’ is a practice run, a test.

    When dubya gets the green light from the puppet-masters that it’s time for martial law (hence the next 9/11 has been executed; of which jerkoff err chertoff has a ‘gut feeling’ will be this summer). Who do you think will be the next batch of ‘enemy-combatants’? When martial law is declared, the constitution counts for two things, jack and squat.

    This whole practice of ‘do whatever I damn well please‘ then asking good ole boy wannabe gonzo to make it legal later has GOT to go! What the hell does Congress do these days anyway?

    I would recommend exercising your second amendment rights prior to this scenario playing out.

  10. Gus Says:

    As I said in 2000, George W. Bush is a sadist who uses the U.S. Government and taxpayer money to act out his sadistic impulses. The torture and deprivation tactics used on Padilla are what gets George W. Bush madly jerking off. If Bush could do the dirty deeds himself, he would. But Bush is the millenium’s coward of cowards. He hides behind respectiblilty of the Office he and his crew of thugs, war criminals and traitors hijacked. America will continue to go to the dogs as long as citizens allow the virus, Bush, to remain in power. America is, indeed, DOOMED!

  11. owen Says:

    j,

    Chertoff only has a few weeks left until he looks like an IDIOT whose “gut feelings” are about as meaningful as watching a dog pop a squat, maybe even less so… Summer ends in less than a month.

    Are they that brazen? Do they dare?

  12. Evil Kumquat Says:

    At this point, the Bush Adminstration could capture Bin Laden himself, and I would have a hell of a time cheering for a conviction. Not because I support the guy, but rather the justice system has been raped so badly by these idiots that no conviction can be trusted anymore.

    They lie about absolutely everthing. Nothing they do or say can be taken at face value.

  13. Russ Williams Says:

    Excellent article.

    The first anonymous comment is depressing, that many people just don’t get it, even when it’s so clearly explained as in your column. They just don’t see why it might be a bad thing for the government to imprison and torture a US citizen with no charges for years.

  14. Zoz Says:

    Right on as usual. I was disgusted at the outcome of this kangaroo court and couldn’t believe what I didn’t read in the press – that this “trial” was an obvious farce that led to a sickening conclusion. At least there’s one Mr. Not Everyone with a syndicated column out there.

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