The Not-So-Dirty, Not-So-Bomber Comes to Court

Nearly five years after he was nabbed at O'Hare Airport in Chicago and identified to the world as a "dirty-bomb" plotter by an over-caffeinated attorney general, Jose Padilla finally is on the cusp of facing a jury of his peers. Nearly five years after he was designated an "enemy combatant" by President Bush and held incommunicado and without charges until the Supreme Court essentially forced his release from military custody, the American people finally will begin to learn precisely how strong is the case against this eerie American man, this former street thug, who is now charged with participating not in a radiological bomb plot but in a far less nefarious terror conspiracy of which he was, even by the government's own disclosed evidence, sort of a bit player.

Jury selection in federal court in Miami begins Monday and it shapes up to be a fascinating component to this terror trial of the year. Do jurors remember John Ashcroft's hastily-arranged, nearly-hysterical, mid-day media opportunity from Russia-- via satellite-- in which he labeled Padilla as a "dirty bomb suspect"? Do they remember Padilla as the latest "face of terror" on the cover of the weekly newsmagazines? Do they remember the tribunes of our government telling us, in court and on the airwaves, that Padilla was too sinister and too important a terrorist to be allowed into the custody of our civilian courts?

And, if they do remember these things, are jurors somehow going to be able and willing to put aside those first impressions and judge Padilla solely upon the evidence and testimony that the feds are able to haul into court? In other words, is this trial a foregone conclusion, a show-trial, in which the result already has been determined by the pre-trial workup that has taken place over nearly half a decade? Or, conversely, has the government promised so much for so long about Padilla-- have the feds built him up to this point to near mythological stature among terror suspects-- that they are bound ultimately to disappoint jurors with the evidence they can muster?

Ask me in a month or so and I will have an answer for you. Right now, all I am willing to say about this curious event is that the minds-eye impression potential jurors have of Padilla is likely to be far darker than is the evidence against him. Having covered the Padilla story since its inception in May 2002 I eagerly await this trial not just because I want to finally see and evaluate for myself the evidence the feds say demonstrate that Padilla is more than just a misguided punk. I await it because it is a test for the government, too, of its allegations against Padilla, original and current, its over-the-top exhortations about him, original and current, and its strategy, original and current, of detaining U.S. citizens as "enemy combatants" and holding them without due process. For both Padilla and his lawyers, and for the government, it is finally put up or shut up time.

By Andrew Cohen |  April 15, 2007; 4:00 PM ET
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The Supreme Court essentially forced Padilla's release from military custody? Are you delusional? For someone who claims to have followed this story fromt he beginning, you certainly know how to misrepresent the facts Mr. Cohen. Then again, that's just another day on the job for you isn't it? As someone who has followed this case from the beginning you should know that the reason he was transferred to the custody of the Department of Justice was because he was no longer of intelligence value and the Administration had no desire to detaine him militarily for the duration of hostilities. It could not prosecute him by military commission, as the President's Military Order only applied to alien enemy combatants, and it could not just "turn him loose." Mr. Padilla could not be charged with plotting to detonate a radiological devices because his confession to that plot would never have made it into evidence - it would have been thrown out because of the conditions of his confinement and denial of access to counsel. Moreover, there was no way the Administration was going to put other detainees on the stand - detainees who could corroborate Mr. Padilla's confession. As a result, the Administration had to settle for the less sexy plot to blow up apartment buildings. That doesn't mean he did not plot to detonate a dirty bomb in the U.S. Your spin on this that now this proves he was not a threat - implying that the Administration lied - is disingenuous at best, intentionally misleading at worst. I'm inclined to believe the latter.

Posted by: | April 15, 2007 10:19 PM

I see we have a supporter of torture commenting here. Always nice to see the 30% wingnuts represented.

Posted by: ajc | April 16, 2007 01:58 AM

Isn't it about time that at least some american people start to worry about american's violation of human rights? One cannot pretend to defend human rights in the world by violating them himselve..

Posted by: Mark | April 16, 2007 03:00 AM

I fail to understand why a trial is occurring. Since guilt is a foregone conclusion, why bother with due process or a sham of due process. Padilla has been held in isolation from the world, he could not participate in his defense. He will not be allowed to confront his accusers. He will not be allowed to question or see the evidence. He has been found competent to stand trial even after held in isolation for extended periods of time. He will not be allowed to bring up torture in court. Will the trial be shown to the country? Will trial transcripts be intact and shown to the country? President Bush has trampled on Padilla's human rights and constitutional rights including the right to a speedy trial. I predict a guilty verdict and a redacted transcript. Journalists will not be allowed to attend the trial and all we will get will be lies and spin. Mr Cohen, you will know in a month. But I doubt you will know the truth.

Posted by: Sandra Anderson | April 16, 2007 09:41 AM

Bush and Ashcroft have two of the most unreliable minds in the country. This is the kind of Justice that Joe McCarthy liked: suspicion = guilt. ...... These guys have a vigilante mentality: lynch the accused, then hold a trial in which he is convicted. Only in America or Communist Russia or Red China.

Posted by: Robert James | April 16, 2007 09:43 AM

How is a high school drop-out that cannot read, write, or do sums going to get or use a dirty bomb. Are you kidding me? He is like the boys in Miami that were going to destroy the Sears Tower but could not find it on a map.

Posted by: c. perry | April 16, 2007 09:45 AM

Who are those terrorist supporters in the SCOTUS? They don't trust the man JC personally chose to lead America? If Bush even suspects that you are a supporter of terrorist then, to protect America, you are GONE! Thats it! Gone. No argument. Send money to a charity? Dont know what it was used for, doesn't matter, gone. The new ambassador to Belgium gave fifty thousand bucks to an organization that attacks American war heroes! No problem, they asked for the money, he gave it to them, he didn't know. Tell it to donors to Muslim charities. How about some accountability here. Am American Citizen held in solitary for three years with No Charges? Not in my America.

Posted by: thebob.bob | April 16, 2007 10:31 AM

Another shameful chapter in a shameful period of American history.

Posted by: RBingham | April 16, 2007 05:02 PM

Hey AJC sounds like that wingnut was Cheney hemself...

Posted by: dcdoug | April 16, 2007 07:32 PM

Only in America, Communist Russia or Red China? What, that there would be a temporary over reaction that played out and was reconciled? Was it wrong in retrospect that this happened? Yep. Was it understandable? Seems so, since it has happened throughout American (and world) history. What is notable is that the mechanisms within the country righted the wrong, and quickly. It's certainly not chic to point to something that went *right* in the process, at least not on these blogs, but it did.

Sorry, you that want to find the dark in every cloud. I also note the immediate jump to *torture* and *human rights abuses* in the various rants.

Posted by: JDM | April 18, 2007 04:26 PM

At the Clintos era, the attorney General, Ms. Rino, used that Deparment as a DICTATOR. HIS FISRT STEP WAS TO FIRE ALL US Attorneys and she send the troops to take Elian Gonzalez in Miami Gestapo Nazi Style. Where was all the people talking about Alberto Gonzalez today. C'mon, go to the Doctor to get some prerscripcion for the memory. Enough is enough. And what about the gay was in Israel and get the Clinton pardon. I tell you, review your brain.

Posted by: | April 26, 2007 11:15 AM

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