Citizen Padilla (Part II: Manufacturing a Terrorist Mastermind)
By Lewis Koch
January 23, 2008 - 5:54am ET
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Written with Brad Jacobson. Part II of a series. Read Part I.
The case of Jose Padilla came to public attention five years ago and concluded January 22 when he was sentenced to serve 17 years and four months for conspiracy. Along with Padilla, “conspirators” Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi were sentenced to 16 years and nine months, and 12 years and eight months, respectively.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke rejected the prosecutors' contention that the crimes deserved life prison sentences, noting that while they were "serious," there were no acts of terrorism on U.S. or foreign soil, no attacks on officials, nor any plot to overthrow the U.S. government. “There is no evidence that these defendants personally maimed, killed or kidnapped anyone in the United States or elsewhere," said Cooke.
Federal prosecutor John Shipley said the government will appeal the sentence as too lenient. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has the reputation of being the most conservative appeals court in the nation.
The prosecution’s appeal notwithstanding, Padilla’s sentence yesterday was the final act in the government’s five-year sideshow of unconstitutional bait-and-switches and Kafkaesque legal procedures, all beginning with the announcement of Padilla’s arrest on June 10, 2002. Not once did then Attorney General John Ashcroft use the words “alleged” or “reportedly” in his hastily convened news conference in Moscow, where he first leveled the implausible and ultimately unprovable charges.
“We have captured a known terrorist who was exploring a plan to build and explode a radiological dispersion device or ‘dirty bomb’ in the United States,” Ashcroft said, claiming Padilla’s arrest had “disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot,” one that would have caused “mass death and injury.” Charges that nuclear weapons experts would later confirm to be highly exaggerated.
Ashcroft, in earlier testimony before Congress, shortly after 9/11, laid down an iron curtain around any criticism of government policies and decisions concerning President Bush’s declared but never Congressionally sanctioned “War on Terror”:
We need honest, reasoned debate and non fear-mongering. To those who pit Americans against immigrants and citizens against non-citizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies, and pause to America’s friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil.
And with that one swipe, the American press stood at attention, saluted and, like lemmings, marched in lockstep off the cliff.
Thus it came as no surprise that newspaper headlines and lead stories on television and radio announced Padilla was “guilty” of planning to create and ignite a radioactive device or a so-called “dirty bomb.” Padilla’s “capture” at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, eight months after 9/11, proved to Americans and the rest of the world that the United States was capable of taking firm steps to win its “War on Terror.” Any serious questioning about the evidence or legality of the Government’s charges was effectively silenced, including voices dedicated to the protection of civil liberties, like those of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Claiming that Padilla showed “conduct in the preparation for acts of international terrorism,” President Bush declared him an “enemy combatant,” a concept inserted in the little read or understood USA Patriot Act that had recently been passed by Congress. (Later, the U.S. Supreme Court would judge that Bush’s actions were more in keeping with a “king” than a U.S. President.) Bush also denied Padilla the basic Constitutional rights accorded every U.S. citizen -- access to an attorney.
Padilla was then transferred to New York City, where his case came under the jurisdiction of Federal District Court Judge (now Attorney General) Michael Mukasey. Though Mukasey almost immediately -- much to the near hysterical distress of the Government -- ruled Padilla must be given access to an attorney and even assigned a specific federal public defender to assist in Padilla’s defense.
In an effort to persuade Judge Mukasey that Padilla was a serious and immediate threat who should be denied Constitutional rights granted to all U.S. citizens, the Government handed him an unsworn “declaration” by Michael H. Mobbs. This declaration later known as the “Mobbs declaration,” was a six-page, double-spaced document detailing Padilla’s alleged activities with al Qaeda. In part, it read:
Padilla and his associate conducted research in the construction of a "uranium‑enhanced" explosive device. In particular, they engaged in research on this topic at one of the AI Qaeda safe houses In Lahore, Pakistan...Padilla's discussions with Zubaydah specifically included the plan of Padilla and his associate to build and detonate a "radiological dispersal device” (also known as a “dirty bomb") within the United States, possibly in Washington, DC. The plan included stealing radioactive material for the bomb within the United States. The "dirty bomb" plan of Padilla and his associate allegedly was still in the initial planning stages, and there was no specific time set for the operation to occur.
Mobbs was a faceless Richard Perle acolyte, a Pentagon political waterboy-advisor to Douglas J. Feith, the under secretary of defense, the same Doug Feith who, according to General Tommy Franks in Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, is “the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth.”
Several days after the Mobbs declaration was delivered, when it became clear that Mukasey was holding to his decision to grant Padilla his own attorney, Padilla was spirited away in the middle of the night to a Naval brig in Charleston, S.C., out of the reach of civilian-judicial authority. In the brig, Padilla would be subjected to sensory deprivation techniques over the next three and a half years. Only in the last months of his solitary confinement would he be allowed to speak with his lawyer. By that time, his lawyers observed radical changes in his mental stability.
The five-and-a-half-year legal saga of Jose Padilla is unequaled in its denial of a U.S. citizen’s rights. It represents one of the most significant battles in a war on the Constitution masked by the “War on Terror.”
This war on the Constitution has been waged by a whole team (none of whom had served a day in combat): Ashcroft; Vice President Dick Cheney; his chief of staff David Addington, Cheney’s extra-smart bully and Èminence grise; and behind them a Department of Justice lackey, David Yoo, who churned out legal memos that supported every contention, including torture, all of which later were found to be unconstitutional concepts.
In Padilla’s case, a game plan was developed to convince a fearful American public that this low-grade thug, this simple-minded gang member from the Southwest side of Chicago, a recent convert to Al Qaeda, was capable of unleashing radioactive hell in the United States.
As it turned out, the government couldn’t have picked a better patsy.
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