Jose Padilla, We’re All in Trouble Here

Jim Rinnert

The Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday by lawyers representing José Padilla, a client they have not been permitted to meet or talk to. Padilla’s public defenders argued that the High Court should let stand a decision by the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals that Padilla should be released or charged within 30 days of that court order. (The administration has asked for, and received, a stay of that release order pending the appeal to the High Court.)

José Padilla, you’ll remember, is that American-turned-al-Qaeda-terrorist detained in May 2002 as a witness in connection with the terrorist attacks of 9/11. But you’ll remember him more specifically for allegedly planning to detonate a dirty bomb.” For the 18 months since, Padilla has been held without charge, without a day in court and without access to his attorneys. The Justice and Defense departments claim in Rumsfeld v. Padilla that by declaring Padilla an enemy combatant,” the president has the authority to hold him indefinitely, or as long as the war persists, without charge or due process of law. The federal appeals court order challenges the Bush administration’s claim of such wide-sweeping authority to limit constitutional rights.

For these 18 months the Padilla case received little public notice — because little information was available to press, public or his lawyers. But back in June 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft staged a news conference that made Padilla’s arrest out to be a major event in the war against terrorism.

But in selecting and delivering Padilla to the press June 9, 2002, the Justice Department’s purpose was to break the legs of another big story that had been heating up the media for the previous two weeks. In giving up José Padilla to the press Ashcroft tipped the administration’s hand, showing how low Bush and his people would go in using fear to manipulate the people and the press for political gain — and how far they would go in suspending citizens’ rights in the name of fighting terror.

The Padilla case, then and now, is the Bush administration’s most blatant, cynical, destructive and telling use of the politics of fear. If you don’t count his later lying the country into an illegal pre-emptive war in Iraq.

A dirty trick

The morning we first heard the name José Padilla I was flipping through TV news channels as his name and picture and some carefully chosen if sketchy items from his resumé were ladled out piecemeal by the excited media.

Jim Rinnert is the art director at In These Times.
Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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