Saturday, September 10, 2005

AMERICANS CAN BE DETAINED INDEFINITELY WITHOUT CHARGES: A federal appeals court yesterday said it is perfectly legal and constitutional for the U.S. government to arrest and imprison U.S. citizens without charges for any length of time. This ruling is specifically for the case of Jose Padilla, who was arrested in Chicago in 2002 and has been held without charges and without trial for three years. The Bush administration claims that Padilla trained with Al Qaeda and planned to blow up apartment buildings in the U.S., but has never formally charged Padilla or presented any evidence against him.

Here is part of WaPo's coverage:

A federal appeals court yesterday backed the president's power to indefinitely detain a U.S. citizen captured on U.S. soil without any criminal charges, holding that such authority is vital during wartime to protect the nation from terrorist attacks.
Federal prosecutors asserted that Bush not only had the authority to detain Padilla but also that such power is essential to preventing terrorist strikes. In its ruling yesterday, the three-judge panel overturned a lower court.

A congressional resolution passed after Sept. 11 "provided the President all powers necessary and appropriate to protect American citizens from terrorist attacks," the decision said. "Those powers include the power to detain identified and committed enemies such as Padilla, who associated with al Qaeda . . . who took up arms against this Nation in its war against these enemies, and who entered the United States for the avowed purpose of further prosecuting that war by attacking American citizens."

This is not about whether the government is right about Padilla. This is about whether the U.S. Constitution protects Americans, and others under U.S. custody, from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. The presumption of innocence in our system; the right of accused individuals to be told the charges against them, to be given a trial, to face their accusers and see the evidence against them; are all for the purpose of protecting all of us against just such situations as this one. If governments could be trusted never to confine innocent people, never to abuse their power, never to arrest and detain people who did not do what the government said they did; then we would not need to set down in writing that no one can be imprisoned indefinitely without charges.

This is the point: To suggest that Americans should trust that Padilla was arrested because he is a terrorist, absent charges or evidence; to suggest that Americans should trust that it's legal and acceptable to hold Padilla indefinitely and without charges because our government would never detain someone indefinitely and without charges unless he really did do what the government says he did, or planned to do; is to spit on every principle of justice and freedom that this country was created to enshrine. Because if Bush's administration, or any administration, can do this to Jose Padilla, they can do it to you, and to me, and to any American, and to anyone.

The government says it is legal to do this in wartime, but this is not any kind of war that has ever happened before. This war is potentially endless, and even the Bush administration has said as much.

The ruling limits the president's power to detain Padilla to the duration of hostilities against al Qaeda, but the Bush administration has said that war could go on indefinitely.

And the cheerleaders for freedom and democracy everywhere else but here have this to say about the ruling:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales hailed the ruling as reaffirming "the president's critical authority to detain enemy combatants who take up arms on behalf of al Qaeda."

Richard A. Samp, chief counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation, a conservative public-interest law firm, said the court "gave the government needed flexibility in dealing with the war on terrorism. You can't treat every terrorist as though they are just another criminal defendant."

In other words, trust us, we're the government. If we say someone's a terrorist, they're a terrorist. We don't have to prove someone's a terrorist. If we say they are, they are; and you can't treat them like criminal defendants who are presumed innocent until proven guilty. TRUST US. WE'RE THE GOVERNMENT.

But Avidan Cover, a senior associate at Human Rights First, said the ruling "really flies in the face of our understanding of what rights American citizens are entitled to." Opponents have warned that if not constrained by the courts, Padilla's detention could lead to the military being allowed to hold anyone who, for example, checks out what the government considers the wrong kind of reading materials from the library.

Exactly. Is there anything here spelling out what constitutes terrorism? No, there isn't. Terrorism is whatever the government says it is.

In other words:


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