Padilla II: The Times Speaks Out

The New York Times is not very happy today. While they profess to be glad that "a would-be terrorist" is going to jail, this venomous editorial on the Padilla case darkly suggests that the Bush Administration rode roughshod over the Constitution to get a conviction:

On the way to this verdict, the government repeatedly trampled on the Constitution, and its prosecution of Mr. Padilla was so cynical and inept that the crime he was convicted of — conspiracy to commit terrorism overseas — bears no relation to the ambitious plot to wreak mass destruction inside the United States, which the Justice Department first loudly proclaimed.

Even with the guilty verdict, this conviction remains a shining example of how not to prosecute terrorism cases. When Mr. Padilla was arrested in 2002, the government said he was an Al Qaeda operative who had plotted to detonate a radioactive dirty bomb inside the United States. Mr. Padilla, who is an American citizen, should have been charged as a criminal and put on trial in a civilian court. Instead, President Bush declared him an “enemy combatant” and kept him in a Navy brig for more than three years.
The reason that Padilla was not charged with the dirty bomb plot is so simple one would think even the editors at the New York Times could acknowledge it; prosecuting Mr. Padilla for that crime would have revealed classified information and exposed informants. Indeed, the entire matter of Paddilla's incarceration as "enemy combatant" is what the Times is bitterly complaining about:
The administration’s insistence that it had the right to hold Mr. Padilla indefinitely — simply on the president’s word — was its first outrageous act in the case, but hardly its last. Mr. Padilla was kept in a small isolation cell, and when he left that cell he was blindfolded and his ears were covered. He was denied access to a lawyer even when he was being questioned. The administration also insisted that the courts had no right to second-guess its actions.

It was only after the Supreme Court appeared poised last year to use Mr. Padilla’s case to decide whether indefinite detention of an American citizen violates the Constitution, that the White House suddenly decided to give him a civilian trial. It was obvious that the administration was trying to game the legal system and insulate itself from Supreme Court review. J. Michael Luttig, a federal appeals court judge who heard Mr. Padilla’s case, warned about the consequences “for the government’s credibility before the courts in litigation.”
I have seen good arguments on both sides of the issue of holding Americans as enemy combatants rather than as common criminals. The Times, of course, does not even mention that the issue is debatable. For them it is flat out wrong despite the fact that there are compelling national security reasons for keeping a terrorist like Padilla out of touch with his compatriots as well as giving the government a more flexible manner in which to interrogate him.

The Times also fails to acknowledge that we are at war and that treating Mr. Padilla as an enemy combatant is an extraordinary measure and one not likely to be repeated against say, a newspaper editor who sympathizes with terrorists.

For that, the American people's disgust at the actions of that editor is all that is necessary.

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