Jose Padilla: Jailed Without Charges

Dangerous New Assault on Legal Rights

Revolutionary Worker #1156, June 23, 2002, posted at

In early May, FBI agents in Zurich followed Jose Padilla onto a plane bound for Chicago. Padilla is a 31-year-old man, born in Brooklyn to a Puerto Rican family. He reportedly converted to Islam, took the name Abdullah al Muhajir and spent the last years living in Egypt and Pakistan.

When he landed at Chicago's O'Hare Airport on May 8, he was seized by U.S. government agents. He has been held in government prisons--in a blatant violation of standard legal rights for people accused under U.S. law.

No formal charges against him have been made. He has had no right to plead or to request bail. He is not facing trial. He is being held in solitary confinement, without contact with his lawyer. He is prevented from telling anyone on the outside his story, denied any right to face his accusers or present evidence in his own defense.

Padilla/Muhajir has been imprisoned without the "due process" called for by the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and subjected to the "unreasonable seizure" forbidden by the Fourth Amendment.

In fact, for a month, it was not even known publicly that he had been seized. He simply disappeared.

Throwing Away the Key-- Without Even a Trial

On June 10, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft chose to reveal the imprisonment of Jose Padilla (al Muhajir). Facing accusation from Congress that the FBI had not done enough to prevent September 11, Ashcroft bragged, "In apprehending al Muhajir as he sought entry into the United States, we have disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive `dirty bomb.' "

The government then made a shocking claim: they insisted they could hold Padilla without trial or charges or public contact--despite the fact that he is a U.S. citizen arrested by police on U.S. soil. The federal government is saying there is a special category of crime (i.e., the charge of "terrorism"), and anyone they accuse of that crime does not get any of the standard rights and protections guaranteed by U.S. law.

Held Without Chargesor Evidence

"Based on recent information, there no longer exists probable cause to detain Padilla for any reason. The evidence linking Padilla to the alleged `dirty bomb' plot is weak at best. There is insufficient evidence for the government to obtain an indictment against Padilla.''

Defense lawyer Donna Newman, in petition filed June 13

"If its positions are correct, nothing would prevent the president--even in the absence of a formal declaration of war--from designating any American as an enemy combatant. Without proving the correctness of the charge before a court, the military could then detain that person forever. And having done so, it could prevent that detainee from hiring a lawyer to argue that the government, in fact, has it all wrong. If that's the case, nobody's constitutional rights are safe."

Washington Post editorial

"They like to strike the moral posture of being the country of freedom and liberty and constitutional law. They are always emphasizing that `This is a government of laws, not of men.' Well, with their heightened police-state measures and overall repression, they are running into certain acute contradictions around this.... So essentially, just as they're saying with terrorism, `it's whatever we say it is,' now they're saying in effect and by their own logic, that due process is whatever they say it is."

Bob Avakian, RCP Chairman,"The New Situation and the Great Challenges "

As they denied Padilla basic legal rights, the government's argument was that since he was clearly involved in planning great crimes, he didn't deserve such rights. It was a classic case of "presumed guilty" and is itself a major undermining of existing legal protections.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced Padilla "was unquestionably involved in terrorist activities."

Within a day of Ashcroft's announcement, the government's claim of solid evidence started to unravel. Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, soon told a news conference: "There was not an actual plan. We stopped this man in the initial planning stages." Later on CBS News, Wolfowitz admitted: "I don't think there was actually a plot beyond some fairly loose talk."

One law-enforcement official said there had been no target chosen, no materials gathered and no plans for carrying out the "bombing." He added it was also not clear whether al-Qaida endorsed any plan, saying, "There is no indication he had the means to do it or was given the authority to do it."

The federal government appears to have arrested Padilla after he was named by Abu Zubaydah, an alleged al-Qaida leader. Zubaydah is being worked over by U.S. agents in a secret location within Pakistan- -and such "evidence," possibly extracted by torture, is unreliable.

The New York Times wrote in a June 12 editorial: "So far, the government has produced no evidence that a dirty-bomb plot existed, or of Mr. Muhajir's role in one. We do, however, have President Bush's assurance, given when he was meeting with members of Congress at the White House yesterday, that `This guy Padilla is a bad guy.' "

In short, the President insists that if his officials decide someone is guilty, then that person (even a U.S. citizen who is in the U.S.) can be seized, imprisoned, and interrogated indefinitely--without any legal rights, charges, hearing or trial. The president's agents are now a replacement for a judge and jury.

Bringing the Militaryinto "Homeland" Policing

On May 8, government agents seized Padilla using a "material witness warrant" -- meaning they believed he had information for a federal grand jury investigation. This is the same flimsy legal basis that has been used to round up and withhold the names of the hundreds of immigrant Arab and Muslim people in the U.S.--many who have been held without charges for months.

In Padilla's case, a federal district judge in Manhattan scheduled a secret hearing for June 11 and seemed prepared to order the government to charge Padilla or release him.

In response, the White House made a historic grab for police-state powers. President Bush, as military commander-in-chief, declared Padilla an "enemy combatant."

In short, because the government had no solid evidence to make charges on this man, they declared that they don't need to present any evidence but can just hold him forever on their own say-so.

Padilla was taken out of the Metropolitan Correctional Facility in New York City, handed over to the U.S. military, and flown to a military prison. His lawyer was not informed of this or allowed to talk to him. This too is a major violation of U.S. legal norms--since "posse comitatus" laws forbid the military to arrest U.S. citizens or act as police on U.S. soil.

In a closed meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, representatives of the Justice Department argued that they did not need to ever charge or try Padilla --not even before a military tribunal. They said the executive branch (meaning George W. Bush and the military he commands) can hold this prisoner until Bush decides the war on terrorism is over.

The U.S. president, as commander-in-chief of the military, has declared a war, then declared that the U.S. soil can be considered a battlefront of that war, then seized the right to arrest U.S. citizens without charges on his own suspicion of their involvement in that "war," and finally his representatives argue to Congress that this can go on as long as the command-in-chief wants.

This represents a major leap in the militarization of the U.S. "homefront"--and represents a major grab for unprecendented police-state powers.


"To say that this is a coup d'etat at this point is to overstate things, but it is accurate, and important, to note that there are significant aspects of a kind of `rolling coup,' that is a situation where certain forces which are very closely linked in with the top echelons of the military are increasingly bringing power unto themselves... It is good that many people have made statements of opposition and have mobilized, and are mobilizing, in various ways against this; and it is also good that many others are at least raising questions, concerns, and even criticisms; but there is a profound and increasingly urgent need for things to be developed to a qualitatively greater and more profound as well as broader level. What the powers-that-be are already doing and, beyond that, what they are clearly indicating they are planning on doing--both internationally and within the U.S., both in terms of war and in terms of repression--must not only be questioned, must not only give rise to the expression of concerns, must not only be criticized or just opposed. There must be an orientation of actively resisting and of stopping this, through the mobilization of hundreds of thousands and ultimately millions of people."

Bob Avakian, RCP Chairman,
"The New Situation and the Great Challenges"

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