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C.I.A. Tapes a Smoking Gun on American "Enemy Combatant"

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Missing almost entirely from news coverage of the destroyed CIA tapes is the explosive fact that they involve Jose Padilla, the American citizen held incommunicado and without charges or a trial for nearly four years.  The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, the "Bill of Rights" states: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused, shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State."

On May 8th, 2002, the government seized Padilla on American soil on allegations, but not formal charges, of terrorism. George Bush ordered the military to take custody of Padilla as an "enemy combatant" in the June 9, 2002 Presidential Order to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, which said:

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"I, GEORGE W. BUSH, as President of the United States and Commander in Chief of the U.S. armed forces, hereby DETERMINE for the United States of America that...Jose Padilla, who is under the control of the Department of Justice and who is a U.S. citizen, is, and at the time he entered the United States in May 2002 was, an enemy combatant...you are directed to receive Mr. Padilla from the Department of Justice and to detain him as an enemy combatant. "

In military detention, Padilla was made to sleep on a metal cot, subjected to hooding, stress positions, assaults, threats of imminent execution, and the administration of “truth serums,” according to his lawyer. Padilla was not even allowed a lawyer until two years after his arrest. When the government released him to the civilian courts 3-and-a-half years later, Padilla was docile, and did little to assist in his own defense. The charges against him bore no resemblance to the original allegations.

What could be so important in the destroyed CIA tapes that, despite the firestorm which would surely follow, they were destroyed anyway? Abu Zubaydah, a subject of the tapes, is none other than the foreign national whom Padilla's lawyers say was tortured into linking Padilla with Al Qaeda. This was the lynchpin of the government's case against Padilla. We're talking about an American citizen who was deprived of his birthrights for nearly four years. In its legal argument, the government stressed that Padilla's legal team could not prove that Zubaydah had been tortured.

The CIA tapes involve the most audacious of the administration's many audacious extensions of Executive power: the power to lock up Americans indefinitely without a trial.  If the public were ever to understand this clearly, and internalize the implications, there could be calls for impeachment from both the left and right.

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Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff's recent, curiously-timed musings that the next terror threat might be "homegrown" makes it seem that they are already spinning us to view the enemy as ourselves.  This is damage control, in case Americans ever rise in outrage at the treatment of Padilla who, innocent or guilty, was presumed guilty from the start, against the most fundamental guarantee of American law.

Bush's elevation of the radical, never-before-seen doctrine of "wartime powers" in a war that lasts forever, and its placement alongside the Constitution, is like putting lipstick on a pig. Bush cites "a state of war" as his basis for overriding basic rights. But if the war has no end, doesn't that mean the Constitution itself has been overturned? And is this not a violation of the presidential oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution"? There is not one single, solitary word in the oath about pertekin' the American people, which Bush labels his "most solemn duty." The oath is to the Constitution alone.

New battle lines are appearing. We are seeing the emergence of what may be called "Constitutionalist" versus "corporatist" forces, and of alliances which cut across party lines. Unlikely allies such as Pat Buchanan and Naomi Wolf, Republicans like Bruce Fein, Ron Paul, and Democrat Dennis Kucinich are aligned on one side, and the money-machine candidates like Hillary and Giuliani are aligned on the other. The money-machines will spar on social issues, but never say a word about the subversion of our rights taking place before our very eyes.

At Iwo Jima the American death rate was a man per minute for the first 60 hours of the assault, about 3600 men dead in less than three days. At Omaha Beach, Normandy, the death rate was even more appalling. In both instances, we fought against forms of government in which you could be swept off the street, kept in secret, tortured, and either released or held indefinitely according to the whims of the government.

Thomas Paine said "These are the times that try men's souls." We must see the danger clearly, or else, rich, poor, conservative, liberal, powerful, ordinary, we relinquish forever those rights which have defined us as American.

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Ralph Lopez majored in Economics and Political Science at Yale University. He writes for Truth Out, Alternet, Consortium News, Op-Ed News, and other Internet media. He reported from Afghanistan in 2009 and produced a short documentary film on the (more...)
 

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