Maybe American citizen Jose Padilla really was anxious to become a fifth-columnist terrorist in America. But the US government never made that case. Unprincipled federal prosecutors simply won a conviction by playing on jurors' fears.
As the New York Times reports, the "only evidence" presented at Padilla's trial was a faded application form allegedly filled out by Padilla in the year 2000 to attend an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.
Now recall that in 2000, Al Qaeda was primarily supplying fighters to help the Taliban government in Afghanistan to fight warlords who were seen as still beholden to or allied with the Russians.
This puts Padilla in company with another American, John Walker Lindh, who in August of 2001, a month before the 9-11 attacks that suddenly made America a mortal enemy of the Taliban government, was actually in Afghanistan fighting with Al Qaeda troops against those same warlords.
Lindh, as I've written several times, was no enemy of America, as he was famously portrayed upon his highly publicized arrest in Afghanistan by American troops and by US Attorney General John Ashcroft, who called him "the American Taliban." Rather, he was a kid who had been caught in a bad place when American suddenly went to war against Afghanistan. Part of an Al Qaeda/Taliban force, he suddenly found himself targeted by American forces, but, stuck in the wilds of the Hindu Kush, he had no realistic opportunity to up and leave.
For that unfortunate bit of bad timing, Lindh, who was tortured by the US military and the CIA for weeks before being brought to the US to face trial, is now serving 15 years of hard time in federal prison, with the added burden of a 15-year gag order barring him from talking about his ordeal.
Padilla, of course, suffered much worse at the hands of his American captors than did Lindh, who was only left severely injured and untreated, and duct-taped to a gurney in a dark, sealed shipping container for two weeks, save for an hour of daily torture, interrogation and feeding. Padilla was held incommunicado for three and a half years in a solitary cell of a US naval base in South Carolina. When he was removed for interrogations or medical treatment, he was blinded with opaque goggles and had ear muffs to blot out all sound, and shackeled hand and foot.
Under those conditions, he reportedly lost his mind. It is unclear whether he will ever regain his sanity, according to experts who have examined him.
All this abuse and unconstitutional treatment, and he may not be guilty of anything, except perhaps wanting to go and fight for Islam (a religion to which he had recently converted) in 2000 in Afghanistan, at a time that the U.S. was actually cozying up to the Taliban regime.
After Padilla's conviction, President Bush, who ordered Padilla held without charge, without access to a court, and without access to even a lawyer, in contravention of all Constitutional requirements, had the audacity to congratulate the jury for "upholding a core American principle of impartial justice for all." (If, by some happy circumstance, Bush is ever actually impeached, removed from office, and indicted for his many crimes, he should pray that he isn't offered the same "justice" which he and his criminal administration afforded to Padilla.)
If Padilla's trial was the model for the justice that is in store for Americans henceforth, we're all in serious danger.
This trial was nothing short of an atrocity, from the day of Padilla's arrest to the day of his conviction. It will, I am sure, go down in history with the Dreyfus Case and other infamous miscarriages of justice, as examples of unalloyed tyranny.
Sadly, with the courts packed with Federalist clones, the likelihood of this being rectified on appeal is next to nil.
It is time for a new cry for justice: "Restore the Constitutional Right to a Fair Trial! Free John Lindh and Jose Padilla!"
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based investigative journalist and political columnist. His most recent book, co-authored by Barbara Olshansky, is 'The Case for Impeachment' (St. Martin's Press, 2006 and now available in paperback edition). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net