Jose Padilla finally had his day in court.
After nearly five years in federal custody, Padilla and two co-defendants were convicted Thursday on three terrorism-related counts. The months of trial in south Florida were remarkable for being relatively unremarkable: Prosecutors presented evidence that Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was a member of al-Qaida intent on using violence to advance that group's extremist goals. Defense lawyers tried to debunk those claims and offered an alternative interpretation of the evidence. A jury bought the government's case and delivered its verdict in less than 48 hours, leaving Padilla to face roughly 15 years to life behind bars, unless he prevails in an appeal.
What was extraordinary, and reprehensible, was how long Padilla had to wait for the kind of due process most Americans take for granted.
Padilla was detained in 2002 in Chicago on suspicion that he was trying to assemble a "dirty bomb." He was first designated a "material witness" and later an "enemy combatant" and held in federal detention cells or military brigs for years by a government intent on keeping him out of a federal court system where he would be endowed with rights — including access to a lawyer. In this alternative universe, government interrogators, with no checks from any other authority, used sensory and sleep deprivation, solitary confinement and other forms of abuse to squeeze information from the prisoner. Padilla was, in short, "disappeared" into a system with methods we object to in the strongest terms when they are used in police states around the world.
The administration finally agreed to prosecute Padilla in federal court only when the U.S. Supreme Court seemed ready to repudiate the government's treatment of Padilla and order his transfer to the federal courts.
Does the orderly disposition of Padilla's court case prove that every terrorism prosecution can and should be channeled through U.S. courts? No, although civil libertarians will make that case, there will be genuine enemy combatants who may not belong in civilian courts. But every person held by the government — U.S. citizen or not — must have due process to challenge that detention. The presumption must be that U.S. citizens can rely on the federal courts to oversee their prosecutions. And Padilla's abhorrent disappearance into limbo should come to be remembered as an aberration never to be repeated.
&byline;Los Angeles Times
Denial is a powerful survival mechanism. How else could the human race go on while confronted with daily evidence of its own unspeakable behavior? Yet some events are so tragic that they demand we stop blocking out the pain and try at the very least to respect the grief of others. And so today we ponder the evil of the five coordinated bombings in northern Iraq on Tuesday that killed more than 250 innocents and wounded perhaps 350 more.
We don't know who did it, but it's indicative of the breakdown of Iraqi society that there are multiple suspects in this mass murder. Was it a Sunni extremist group retaliating for the stoning of a Yazidi woman who had dated a Sunni Arab? Or could the motive be religious? The Yazidis are a culturally Kurdish group with a distinct, pre-Islamic religion and are considered heretics by some Muslims. In April, 23 Yazidi passengers were executed near Mosul by gunmen who first ordered all Christians off their bus. U.S. officials blamed the bombings on al-Qaida, which has fomented hatred between Iraqi sects and which might wish to provoke violence in the oil-rich north, where Sunni Arabs are clashing with Kurds.
But identifying the killers by sect or affiliation does not help us comprehend the incomprehensible: What kind of nihilistic monsters see a benefit to murdering and maiming hundreds of innocent men, women and children? No historic wrong, no ideological right, no religious calling could ever justify such crimes. Yet they do serve one purpose: to shatter trust and faith in human decency and so make reconciliation almost impossible.
After nearly five years of war, we cannot accurately count the Iraqi dead. One Web site, Iraqbodycount.org, puts the toll at a minimum of 69,513, although that figure, like so much else, is disputed. We do not know how many were killed by fellow Iraqis, by U.S. forces or by al-Qaida zealots. Nor can we apportion responsibility for the deaths caused by the havoc unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion. But that must not stop us from mourning the dead, sending condolences to the survivors and doing the Iraqis the fundamental courtesy of paying their terrible tragedy attention.