Monday, August 20, 2007

Padilla: Whose justice? Which rationality? full text

Whose justice? Which rationality?
The suspect conviction of Jose Padilla is a symbol of the straw-clutching weakness and cynical hysteria-mongering of the Bush administration.
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Ian Williams

August 17, 2007 8:30 PM | Printable version
Jose Padilla is no hero. He chose to associate himself with an organization whose methods and aims violated international law and the domestic laws of most countries. But just as in cases where police failed to give arrestees their rights, Padilla should have been allowed to go free after the illegal, constitution-breaking and mentally murderous routine that the US government put him through. The jury missed the chance to send a message to the administration that there is a penalty for depriving citizens of their rights.

Additionally, while editorialists intone solemnly that the court and the jury sent a message to the administration that they did not need to break the constitution to secure a conviction, no one should be happy at the looseness of conspiracy charges.

The jury found Padilla and his two co-convicts, who seem to have had precious little contact with him, guilty of conspiracy to "murder, kidnap and maim individuals in a foreign country, conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, and providing material support to terrorists." "Terrorism," is not really a legal construct. It is a cynical attempt to raise public hysteria. Murder or attempted murder charges are quite adequate - but they could not find a single case that the indicted were directly involved in.

The US government did not produce a single charge against him to substantiate the years of publicity about his alleged "dirty bomb" plot. Padilla's defence attorneys, already hampered because years of unconstitutional solitary confinement and illegal abuse had made their client, clearly not the full shilling before these events, mentally unfit to plead, could not address these unspoken but omnipresent charges. His application for al-Qaida training was enough to find him guilty by association of everything any other member of the organization ever did.

This application of "six degrees of separation" is dangerous and could easily implicate Kevin Bacon (despite his distinctly non-halal name). To put it in perspective, there should have been many more in that dock. Padilla was training with al-Qaida, which allied to the Taliban, who were financed, armed and supported by the Pakistani intelligence services, which was backed in its work by the CIA, and thus, one may presume, successive presidents.

One can hardly blame the jury. It would have taken very strong-minded individuals to have overcome the social pressures that have put Muslims and Arabs, even US citizens, in a free fire zone. The year after 9/11, at Newark Airport I watched a dapper elderly middle-aged man in a blazer and tie being led away by Immigration while his white American wife ran after him shouting: "What's up Mohamed?" In Padilla's case, it was not just generic, but particular accusations that flooded the airwaves, but were never tested in the court.

Even so, juries across the states have cavilled at such prejudiced charges, only to find the administration invents new charges to justify their persecution of the new pariahs. Nor is this just an American trait: one only has to think of the innocent men who spent decades in prison on trumped charges of IRA terrorism in Britain.

Which really brings us back to the ghost at the feast in the trial? Where is Osama Bin Laden? The US government went into Afghanistan to get him, against the background of millions of "Most Wanted" fliers for the turbaned poster boy. And then it took its troops out to concentrate on Iraq, having somehow given 70% of Americans the impression that Saddam Hussein was behind Bin Laden and 9/11.

Thousands of dead Americans and many more Iraqis later, an embarrassed White House hardly mentions Osama Bin Laden anymore and instead glories in a politically expedient Auto de Fe against Padilla that the Inquisition would have disowned.

Bin Laden is a fugitive from justice, Padilla has not seem much justice at all. And the Bush administration sadly seems to face no prospect of it at all.

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