Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Dirty Bomb Suspect Indicted - Supreme Court Involvement Avoided.

Jose Padilla, the alleged dirty bomb suspect who has been held in custody for three years without having been formally charged with a ny crimes, was indicted today. Among the charges in the indictment were that he conspired to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas. AOL News AP Wire excerpt:

WASHINGTON (Nov. 22) - Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen held for three years as an enemy combatant suspected of plotting a "dirty bomb'' attack in this country, has been indicted on charges that he conspired to "murder, kidnap and maim'' people overseas.

A federal grand jury in Miami returned the indictment against Padilla and four others. While the charges allege Padilla was part of a U.S.-based terrorism conspiracy, they do not include the government's earlier allegations that he planned to carry out attacks in America.

"The indictment alleges that Padilla traveled overseas to train as a terrorist with the intention of fighting a violent jihad,'' Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said at a news conference in Washington. Gonzales declined to comment on why none of the allegations involving attacks in America were included in the indictment.

Padilla, a Brooklyn-born Muslim convert, has been held as an "enemy combatant'' in Defense Department custody for more than three years. The Bush administration had resisted calls to charge and try him in civilian courts.

With the indictment, Padilla will be transferred from military custody to the Justice Department. Gonzales said the case would go to trial in September of 2006. Padilla faces life in prison if convicted on the charges. The indictment avoids a Supreme Court showdown over how long the government could hold a U.S. citizen without charges. The high court had been asked to decide when and for how long the government can jail Americans in military prisons.

"They're avoiding what the Supreme Court would say about American citizens. That's an issue the administration did not want to face,'' said Scott Silliman, a Duke University law professor who specializes in national security. "There's no way that the Supreme Court would have ducked this issue.''

Padilla's lawyers had asked justices to review his case last month, and the Bush administration was facing a deadline next Monday for filing its legal arguments. "The 'evidence' the government has offered against Padilla over the past three years consists of double and triple hearsay from secret witnesses, along with information allegedly obtained from Padilla himself during his two years of incommunicado interrogation,'' his lawyers said in their earlier appeal.

The Bush administration has said Padilla, a former Chicago gang member, sought to blow up hotels and apartment buildings in the United States and planned an attack with a "dirty bomb'' radiological device.

Full Story

The timing of this indictment is important because the Supreme Court would have had to make some sort of ruling on the status of American citizens arrested and confined without charge for indefinite periods. I think that this move wouldn't have made much of a difference in this particular case, despite the fact that much of the evidence is either circumstantial or involves hearsay.

Still, it is too bad that we will not get to see how the Supremes feel about such circumstances. The principle of arresting and holding suspects without formal charges, and without access to legal counsel is a sinister way to conduct whatever passes for the Bush administration's war on terror.

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