If It Can Happen to Padilla, It Can Happen to You

Jose Padilla is a United States citizen. He was arrested over three years ago and he was finally indicted today. In the meantime, the government kept him in a Navy brig in South Carolina. They stripped him of all of his constitutional rights. No speedy trial, no access to a lawyer, no evidence presented against him, not even any formal charges. They said they could strip him of his rights as a citizen because the President had labeled him an "enemy combatant."

Jose Padilla is a United States citizen. For three years, Padilla could not challenge why he was being held or even know what he was being held for. He could not take his case to court. He did not even know what his case was.

At first, the government claimed he was a "dirty bomber." They claimed he was going to detonate a radiological dirty bomb within the United States. John Ashcroft interrupted a trip he was taking in Moscow to do an emergency press conference on this arrest.

Then, the government changed their story and said he wasn't going to launch a dirty bomb, but that he was going to blow up apartment buildings.

Today, they have changed their story for the third time and they now claim he was part of a plot to "murder, kidnap and maim" people OVERSEAS.

Overseas?! I thought this guy had to be held as a dangerous enemy combatant because he was about to launch an attack inside the United States?

The government is lying. They don't have any usable evidence against Padilla and they never did. They have never charged him before because if they did, people would recognize they have nothing on him.

But you think, "Hey, they just charged him, didn't they?" You want to know why? Because on Monday, they were facing a deadline to file legal briefs with the Supreme Court as to why they should keep him in indefinite detention without his constitutional rights. They knew that if they went to the Supreme Court they were going to lose -- and hence, lose their power to do this to other US citizens.

The court had already ruled against them in the case of Yaser Hamdi, another US citizen detained as an "enemy combatant" and stripped of all of his constitution rights. The administration wanted to avoid another showdown in the Supreme Court on this issue because they have subverted the constitution and have no leg to stand on.

The Supreme Court ruled over a year ago that the detention of Hamdi was unconstitutional. The Second Circuit ruled over two years ago that Padilla should be released from military custody within 30 days. The administration refused to listen to these courts as they dragged this case through more appeals so they could hold Padilla without charges for even longer.

Remember, the case that is making it through its way through the courts right now is not the criminal case against Padilla. It is the case to decide whether Padilla should even have a criminal case or whether the administration can unilaterally and indefinitely take away his right to a trial.

Up until today, I have never claimed the government was lying about why they were detaining Padilla in the first place. I thought he should have his constitutional rights as a US citizen whether he was rightfully detained or not. But now that the government has changed their story for the third time on why Padilla is so dangerous, there is no other conclusion left to draw -- they're making it up.

You see, that's what happens if you allow for secret detentions and no court review. This is precisely why we have the American justice system. It turns out, if you strip Americans of their rights, the government winds up committing heinous offenses. Three years they held this guy without presenting a shred of evidence against him. Jose Padilla is a United States citizen!

That used to mean something. What drives me crazy is how little attention people have paid to the Padilla case. The government took away the constitutional rights of its citizenry, and what did the media have to say about it? What did our elected representatives have to say about it? What did even the so-called liberals, some of whom still walk around with "Free Mumia" signs, have to say about it? Not much.

To be fair, a small minority of liberals were the only people who did fight on his behalf. And a small number of journalists did cover the case. The people who fought for Padilla will one day be seen as America's true protectors because they tried to protect what this country stands for. They weren't fighting for Padilla, they were fighting for all of us.

But most were afraid to speak out in favor of protecting Padilla's rights, especially the politicians, because he might have turned out to be a terrorist. They didn't want to be seen as fighting for terrorists.

But this isn't about whether we like Jose Padilla or not. I don't know a thing about Padilla (mostly because the government has never even tried to prove anything about Padilla). We're supposed to figure out if we should condemn him through an open and public trial. That's what the court system is for. If we abandon that idea now and castigate people based on rumors and innuendo, then we have lost the country.

Don't you get it? If they can take away Padilla's rights, they can take away our rights. Jose Padilla is a United States citizen. That used to mean something.

This administration has contempt for our constitution and the American justice system. We used to say our justice system was the best in the world. This government thinks it is inefficient and ineffective. Constitutional rights -- what a hassle!

The US constitution is under attack, not by al-Qaeda, but by our own leaders. And we slumber and our rights our stolen in the middle of the night. Jose Padilla is a United States citizen. That used to mean something.