Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

August 17, 2007

Padilla — Results Buttresses Bush & His Detractors

by Brad Warbiany

Jose Padilla was tried and convicted in a civilian court of law, and this result is being claimed as a victory for both sides.

The Bush administration can point to this victory as a sign of it’s ability to find and prove that Padilla was in fact guilty of being an active supporter of terrorism:

The guilty verdict against Jose Padilla showed the Bush administration could win a high-profile terrorism conviction despite questions over whether it acted legally in detaining the U.S. citizen for 3-1/2 years without charges.

Given the way that this case came down for the Administration, they should be happy to take what they can get. Had he been exonerated, it would have been a big black mark on their ability to prosecute the War on Terror here at home.

Even so, he was never charged with the “dirty bomb” plot for which he was originally apprehended, and only convicted for being a part of an existing terrorism investigation on other matters.

This has two implications. First, it shows that Bush need not rely on detaining suspects as “enemy combatants” and never bringing them to trial. It suggests that if he has enough evidence to consider someone a terrorist, it is possible to give that suspect a fair hearing in court. Second, it shows that this is possible in civilian court, not only in military tribunals. Both suggest a victory for habeas corpus and accountability of government. Both suggest a defeat for the secretive tactics– dangerous to liberty– that this administration used.

This result can be seen as a victory for the adminstration, but only so far as it was not a major defeat. On the other hand, the case can be seen as support for those who have always claimed that the detention of enemy combatants is illegal, by giving them cause to also claim that it is unnecessary. Even more importantly, to see that we can apprehend and convict terrorists without the attack on civil liberties that the Bush administration claims are necessary is a win for America and the rule of law.

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  • http://www.orderhotlunch.com Jeff Molby

    I agree with what you wrote, but there’s one more thing that needs to be said.

    The particular charge of conspiracy that was used is incredibly vague and the evidence used to gain the conviction was incredibly light.

    That precedent may turn out to be infinitely more damaging to civil liberties than the fight over habeas corpus. After all, a despot can gladly grant habeas corpus if he knows the burden of proof is extremely light.

  • http://unrepentantindividual.com/ Brad Warbiany

    Jeff,

    I’ll agree with you on that… My first thought when I read that he wasn’t actually convicted of the dirty bomb plot was “Martha Stewart” and “Scooter Libby”. I’m definitely a bit worried that the charges that he was convicted of were considerably watered down.

    That being said, the damage to civil liberties was already done on that one… After all, the two folks I just mentioned were convicted of giving false statements to investigators. Not perjury, just not being 100% truthful with the people trying to put you in jail. That seems like it really reverses the burden of proof, where the government doesn’t have to prove that you did what they allege, they just have to prove you lied (about anything) when trying to throw them off your trail.

  • http://www.orderhotlunch.com Jeff Molby

    Libby was convicted of perjury as well as obstruction of justice.

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