Saturday, August 18, 2007

International Herald Tribune Editorial - The Padilla conviction

International Herald Tribune Editorial - The Padilla conviction
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: August 17, 2007

It is hard to disagree with the jury's guilty verdict against Jose Padilla, the accused, but never formally charged, dirty bomber. But it would be a mistake to see it as a vindication for the Bush administration's serial abuse of the American legal system in the name of fighting terrorism.

On the way to this verdict, the government trampled on the Constitution, and its prosecution of Padilla was so inept that the crime he was convicted of - conspiracy to commit terrorism overseas - bears no relation to the plot to wreak mass destruction inside the United States, which the Justice Department first proclaimed.

When Padilla was arrested in 2002, the government said he was an operative of Al Qaeda who had plotted to detonate a radioactive dirty bomb. Padilla, who is an American citizen, should have been charged as a criminal and put on trial in a civilian court. Instead, President George W. Bush declared him an "enemy combatant" and kept him in a navy brig for more than three years.

The administration's insistence that it had the right to hold Padilla indefinitely was its first outrageous act in the case, but hardly its last. Padilla was kept in a small isolation cell. He was denied access to a lawyer even when he was being questioned.

The White House is claiming victory, but the result in Padilla's case is still a mess. He will likely never be brought to trial on the dirty-bomb plot, a case that cries out for resolution. There is also the danger that Padilla's conviction will be reversed on appeal because of his alleged mistreatment before trial.

Nevertheless, there is still some good news: A would-be terrorist will be jailed. And the Bush administration was forced, grudgingly, to provide him with the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.


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