Dahlia Lithwick in Slate has an interesting article on Jose Padilla, the homegrown alleged “dirty bomber” who has spent three and a half years locked in a military brig without charges: Public Enemy No. 43,527 – The government throws back another small fish.
Nobody disputes that small-fry terrorists must be caught and punished. After all, most of the Sept. 11 murderers were small fish with no real grasp of the big plan. Nor does anyone dispute that these terrorists should be questioned by the state if they can help foil big terrorist plots. But most Americans now dispute — and some have long disputed — that all this needs to be done outside the existing legal stratosphere. More than three years after the government began holding citizens in jails without charges, there is no proof that anyone in this country is safer for it. Nor is there any proof that ordinary criminal trials for Padilla, Hamdi, and the other terrorists we’ve tagged would have exposed vital intelligence information or resulted in acquittals. Yet with Hamdi sent home, and Padilla shuffled to the criminal courts, there may be no testing the addled theory that President Bush has boundless wartime powers, even after the Supreme Court has told him he doesn’t.
This story really burns me up. Not because I have any particular sympathies for Padilla. But because the wrong being committed by those who have locked him up without charges, using him as a poster boy to promote fear and civil liberties erosions, strikes me as more significant than anything he ever did himself.