From the New York Times:
The Bush administration brought terrorism charges on Tuesday against Jose Padilla in a criminal court after holding him for three and a half years in a military brig as an enemy combatant once accused in a “dirty bomb” plot.
The decision to remove Mr. Padilla from military custody and charge him in the civilian system averts what had threatened to be a constitutional showdown over the president’s authority to detain him and other American citizens as enemy combatants without formal charges.
The administration had faced a deadline next Monday to file its legal arguments with the Supreme Court in the Padilla case, which the Justice Department said it now considers “moot.”
The administration had long resisted charging Mr. Padilla in a criminal court, as it created a new system for detaining enemy combatants and other terror suspects in military facilities.
But in Mr. Padilla’s case and in a number of other prominent ones, the administration has changed course after coming under pressure from lawmakers and the courts to re-examine the way it jails and interrogates terror suspects.
So they saved face for the moment and charged him with being a part of a conspiracy, and there’s no mention of the original charge breathlessly brought by then-AG John Ashcroft; that Padilla was planning to detonate a “dirty bomb.” More importantly, they dodged getting their head handed to them by the Supreme Court. The Justice Department knew the entire case against Padilla would have been kicked on the technicality: that “enemy combatant” status violates just about every Constitutional right a defendant has. This is their way out. Never mind about that “dirty bomb” thing.
I don’t care if Jose Padilla is really a terrorist or just some doofus who fell in with the wrong crowd. The idea of locking him up in the joint for three years without being charged with a crime is not what this country stands for and it’s one of the primary reasons we rebelled against British rule in 1776. Equal justice for all means just that, not what some administration decides. (After hearing all the right-wingers say that we should give the president “wide discretion” on executing the “war on terror,” I’d like to see what they have to say the next time a Democratic president decides to hold some poor schmuck in the brig for three years.)
To go around proclaiming that we are fighting the “war on terror” in order to bring freedom and democracy to the world rings pretty hollow when we can’t even afford to grant to one of our own citizens.