Tuesday, November 29, 2005

More Thoughts on the Indictment of Jose Padilla

In May of 2002, the national news media were abuzz over the revelation of the Aug. 6, 2001 "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US" presidential briefing. Uncomfortable questions were being asked about the Bush administration's lack of response following that memo. Condi Rice had just made a complete ass of herself by famously declaring that no one could have imagined an attack like the one the US suffered on 9/11 taking place, when many intelligence and security officials had imagined exactly that sort of thing taking place.

And a man named Jose Padilla was arrested by the FBI in O'Hare airport.

A few weeks later, as things began to look ugly for the administration's so-called response to the pre-9/11 threat, and as the Justice Department was being forced to explain why Mr. Padilla had been arrested, Attorney General John Ashcroft hastily organized, via teleconference from a trip he was taking in Moscow, an announcement that Padilla had been plotting to detonate a radiological bomb in an American city, and therefore was being held as an enemy combatant -- which meant the charge against him never had to be proved to anybody, and he had no right to communicate with the outside world ever again.

The news media immediately dropped the Aug. 6 memo as the hot topic, and instead began reporting on the potential impact of "dirty bombs" on American cities. The parade of fear resumed, helping make more plausible all kinds of nightmare scenarios involving Saddam Hussein giving nuclear material to terrorists to attack the US. The holding of Padilla and labeling of him as a dirty bomber helped generate domestic support for attacking the governement of Iraq and helped defeat Democrats in the congressional elections a few months later.

The US government had been holding Padilla incommunicado ever since his arrest. For three and a half years, they never bothered to present to anybody any evidence supporting their claim that he was a threat to the US. Now, three and a half years later, we know why.

Lsat week the Justice Department announced an indictment against Padilla for training to kidnap and kill foreign citizens abroad. Nowhere in the indictment is there anything about dirty bombs, or any kind of threat to the US or its citizens. In fact, the only reason the Justice Department finally coughed up some kind of charge against Padilla is that the US Supreme Court was on the verge of declaring what the Justice Department was doing -- duh -- unconstitutional.

Every American should be furious that Padilla was apparently little more than a pawn in the Bush administration's efforts to keep us all very afraid. Even those willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt should be upset that the Justice Department doesn't have the evidence to nail Padilla on his alleged bombing plot. Because that means that the alleged other bombers allegedly working with Padilla haven't been identified. And that would mean America was allegedly still at risk.


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