Did anyone really win in the Padilla case?

With characteristic overstatement, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales proclaimed the verdict in the case of Jose Padilla “a significant victory” in combating terrorism.

It was a victory in the sense that the jury quickly found Padilla and two others guilty but “significant” would be stretching matters.

But in another sense it was a setback for the Bush administration. The Padilla case, like the Moussaoui case earlier, proved that contrary to White House insistence terrorism cases can be prosecuted in the civilian criminal courts, obviating the need for the administration’s planned military tribunals with the president as final arbiter.

The Padilla case had a way of shrinking ever since then-Attorney General John Ashcroft interrupted his trip to Moscow for the dramatic announcement that Padilla, who had already been in custody a month, had been plotting to set off a radioactive “dirty bomb,” in furtherance of what was never specified.

Padilla was pronounced an “enemy combatant” and for 3 1/2 years held incommunicado in a military prison without charge while his lawyers tried to secure his basic rights of due process. Finally, faced with certain defeat in the Supreme Court, the administration abruptly relented and transferred him to the criminal court system.

The charges too were scaled down. Padilla and two co-defendants were convicted of one count of conspiracy to murder, maim and kidnap overseas, one count of material support for terrorists and one count of conspiracy to provide material support for which they face life in prison.

Padilla did attend a terrorist training camp in July 2000, and among the evidence is an application form with his fingerprints and personal information on it. Also in evidence were transcripts of seemingly coded messages between the other two defendants. Padilla’s brief appearance in the transcripts suggests that rather than a criminal mastermind Padilla was a rather dim follower. Lawyers for the three say they will appeal.

If anybody won a significant victory in the Padilla case it was the American people and their Constitution. The challenges to his arbitrary incarceration reestablished the fundamental constitution principle that the American president cannot throw an American citizen into a military prison without charge, without access to counsel and without the right to challenge his detention before a judge.


  1. Steve Horn

    yes – the terrorists who set out to destroy the American way of life won – the victory handed to them by Bush/Cheney/Rove. In fact it’s been just one in a series of victories for them since the invasion of Iraq and the passing of the “(anti)Patriot act”.



  2. Jellicoe

    Some victory for the American people and their Constitution! Held in solitary for years without charges, a lawyer, visitors, anything. Tortured. Placed on trial in a mental state where he was incapable of helping in his own defense. Only 21 of over 300,000 communication intercepts even mentioned Padilla, and he only personally participated in 7, and even then the prosecution had to rely on a theory that code words were used since they didn’t actually have conversations that were on their face incriminating. An FBI agent testified that there was no evidence that Padilla used any code words at all in his 7 communications (but, as your article points out, his two co-defendants were accused of using code words — guilt by association?) What the prosecution claimed was the most damning evidence, a 3 page form containing information about Padilla (which the prosecutors claimed, but did not prove, was an “application” to join Al Queda), had clearly different hand writing on different pages, and had an American style date filled in on the first page (month-day-year) and a European style date filled in on the third page (day-month-year). So it had his fingerprints all over it — how difficult would that be to arrange when you torture a guy for months and hold him in solitary for years? Further, the charges he was tried and convicted on were completely different from those that had been brought against him originally, had been hyped to the media and had formed the basis for years of inhuman and illegal incarceration. To top it all off, the charges themselves essentially constituted “thought crime” — no evidence whatsoever of any criminal acts or even plans — all based on a flimsy conspiracy charge that, because he supposedly wanted to join alQueda that, therefore, he is guilting of a conspiracy to commit all of the crimes that the Washington regime would lay at the door of this organization that, by the way, indisputedly was, and probably still is, supported by the DARK SIDE of American “foreign policy” that Mr. Cheney is so fond of.

    There is a famous saying that a good prosecutor can get any grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. Now, a jury of our numbnuts, red-white-and-blue-wearing “peers” has convicted one. Look out, there is nothing to prevent YOU from being next on their list if you just look at them the wrong way.