Pending case provides good test for court
The U.S. Supreme Court will take another swing at how anti-terrorism efforts are being implemented by the Bush administration when it reviews a case of an American captive.
The case involves Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member and Muslim convert who was arrested after returning from Pakistan. The government claims Padilla was involved with terrorist groups trying to harm America. Specifically, the U.S. government alleges he was part of a plot to build and detonate a so-called "dirty bomb" that spreads radioactive materials to surrounding areas when it explodes.
It is difficult to know fully whether the government has a good case against Padilla because after initial appearances in a regular court, he was whisked off by the government and incarcerated without benefit of a trial. He was not even given additional access to an attorney for two years.
Padilla's attorneys believe the Supreme Court review of the case is significant. One told The Associated Press, "I think the stakes are very high. Because the president said 'I think you're a bad man,' he's been in jail for two years. He hasn't had a chance to defend himself. That's not the way we do things in this country, when we're at war or when we're not at war."
The Bush administration disagrees, saying that terror suspects cannot be given traditional protections when we are at "war" and that those being held are special cases that must be held incognito to protect the security of the nation.
The Bush administration's position has been pretty much supported so far by the high court in regard to foreign prisoners who were captured during the Afghanistan battles, despite the fact that civil libertarians point out that all individuals have basic human rights which should not be violated whether they are foreigners or not.
The civil libertarians are right. Our Declaration of Independence does not distinguish between the "unalienable" rights of Americans versus other people. It states that everyone has individual rights which cannot be taken away from them by any government, including the American government.
The Padilla case may finally provide the clear test to convince our highest court - which is charged with protecting individual liberties - that the Bush anti-terrorism policies violate the nation's most basic principles.
There is no doubt that Padilla, as an American, has the rights bestowed on all of us by the Constitution to fair treatment under our legal system and to a timely trial. The Bush administration's attempts to circumvent these requirements are shameful and endanger the liberties of all of us - not just some unseen "enemy combatants."
If the Supreme Court agrees when it hears the Padilla case in April that the government can indeed swoop down and hold a citizen incommunicado for an indefinite time without benefit of trial, then our nation is in grave danger of turning into a totalitarian society. No one would be safe under such circumstances.