So this week, after holding him for three years with no charges being filed, the Government finally filed charges against Jose Padilla (I would say, 'dirty bomb' suspect Jose Padilla, but none of the charges involves conspiring to use a 'dirty bomb,' a conventional bomb surrounded by radioactive materials designed to spread radiation.) The charges were conspiracy to commit murder and other crimes overseas, and providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy. If he is convicted on all counts, he could get life in prison.
Now, if Mr. Padilla is guilty of these charges, then he certainly needs to be put in prison for life.
But the issue regarding Mr. Padilla is not what he may have done or may not have done-- that will come out in court. The issue is that now, three years later, they file charges. The issue is that now that they have set a precedent that a U.S. citizen (as he is) can be held indefinitely with no charges being filed, who will be the next person held indefinitely. And based on what evidence.
I blogged about this on September 9, after Judge Michael Luttig had reversed a lower court decision and allowed the government to continue to hold Padilla indefinitely without filing charges.
At the time, I quoted Mr. Padilla's laywer, who succinctly summed up what the ruling meant:
Padilla's lawyer, Andrew Patel, responded by saying, "It's a matter of how paranoid you are... What it could mean is that the president conceivably could sign a piece of paper when he has hearsay information that somebody has done something he doesn't like and send them to jail — without a hearing (or) a trial."
This also brings up a couple of questions:
1. What happened to the 'dirty bomb' charge, the one which was used to scare everyone into supporting holding Mr. Padilla indefinitely? Apparently, there was not enough evidence to charge him with that one. So, they held him for three years, claiming he was planning something there was not enough evidence to file charges with. If lack of evidence is good enough, then in theory all it becomes necessary to do is to accuse someone of a crime, and then arrest them and hold them for years.
2. Why now? After all, Judge Luttig overturned the lower court ruling and ruled in the administration's favor, so for the moment they don't have to file anything. True, but perhaps that is why now. The precedent has been set, and since Mr. Padilla's lawyer had indicated that he was planning to appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court, which would be problematical (and a Supreme Court decision that went against them would permanently prevent them from doing this), so perhaps George Bush and Alberto Gonzales simply decided to call the game while they are ahead.
And of course, IF it turns out that Mr. Padilla is not guilty of what he is charged with, then the Bush admistration will face some very hard questions.