Justice Dept. Wants to Charge Padilla. Minor Hitch: No Dirty Bomb, No Admissable Evidence

Peter Junger alerts me to this damning report, MSNBC - Facing Defeat?

Justice Department lawyers, fearing a crushing defeat before the U.S. Supreme Court in the next few weeks, are scrambling to develop a conventional criminal case against “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla that would charge him with providing “material support” to Al Qaeda, NEWSWEEK has learned.

The prospective case against Padilla would rely in part on material seized by the FBI in Afghanistan—principally an Al Qaeda “new applicant form” that, authorities said, the former Chicago gang member filled out in July 2000 to enter a terrorist training camp run by Osama bin Laden's organization.

But officials acknowledge that the charges could well be difficult to bring and that none of Padilla's admissions to interrogators—including an apparent confession that he met with top Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah and agreed to undertake a terror mission—would ever be admissible in court.

Even more significant, administration officials now concede that the principal claim they have been making about Padilla ever since his detention—that he was dispatched to the United States for the specific purpose of setting off a radiological 'dirty bomb' has turned out to be wrong and most likely can never be used against him in court.

(bold added). Locked up for two years in solitary on charges that “turned out to be wrong.” Argued to the Supreme Court that the government should be able to label a citizen an “enemey” and hold him for ever with no court review. And the charges “turned out to be wrong”. How about that.

Call me cynical, but I've always suspected that a substantial part of the reason why Justice is so hell bent for leather to bury Padillia has to do with the very peculiar circumstances — quickly forgotten — that surrounded his arrest.

AG Ashcroft was in Moscow when Padilla was arrested in Chicago. The arresting agents said they thought he wanted to make a “dirty bomb”. There are in fact two kinds of bombs called “dirty bombs”: the first, the sort Padillia was talking about (and all the evidence is that it was all talk), is a conventional explosive with radioactive dust or material thrown in to further injure people in the blast radius. So instead of taking out, say, a building, you also hurt the people who breath in the dust. Nasty — very nasty — but of fairly limited scope compared to the other type of 'dirty bomb', which is a radiologically enhanced nuclear weapon, a city killer.

Somewhere along the route from Chicago to DC to Moscow, wires got crossed and Ashcroft got it into his head that Padilla was planning a city-killer. And he gave a moderately hysterical (in the frightened, not funny, sense) press conference about this in Moscow, which caused the US stock market to drop almost 2%.

Of course it turned out Ashcroft had got it all wrong, which had to be very embarrassing.

It's sad to even entertain the idea that pique explains a historic assault on the rights of American citizens, but these are sad times.

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