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Feds Finally Charge ‘Dirty Bomb’ Suspect

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He’s the “dirty bomber”! He plotted with Al Qaeda to blow up American apartment buildings! He’s a…fund raiser?!

After more than three years in a military prison, held as an enemy combatant without charge and without access to counsel, Jose Padilla was finally indicted on federal charges yesterday.

When this former-gang-member-turned-terror-suspect was picked up in 2002, the sensationalist allegations were that he was planning a radiological attack on an American city. In 2004, the Justice Department suggested that the so-called “dirty bomber” also planned to use natural gas to blow up American apartment complexes.

Neither of these allegations surfaced in the indictment of Padilla announced by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales yesterday. Instead, he is being charged with “being part of a violent terrorism conspiracy rooted in North America but directed at sending money and recruits overseas.” Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t sound too good, but a dirty bomb it’s not. The Bush Administration may like to sex up intelligence reports, but it doesn’t seem to mind presenting indictments without makeup and high heels.

So, why only this after three years? Is this really all we got? Here’s an eyebrow-raising paragraph from the Washington Post:

The Bush Administration hopes that the indictment will effectively derail the possibility of an adverse ruling from the Supreme Court in the Padilla case, which could decide to limit the government’s ability to detain US citizens as enemy combatants.

Now, it makes sense! The Bush Administration is presenting these (comparatively) bland charges not because it thinks Padilla has the right to a trial, but because it wants to ensure that it can deny the same to any other US citizen it might happen to charge as an enemy combatant in the future. Pretty sneaky, sis!

As soon as the charges were filed, Gonzales argued that because Padilla “has now been charged in a grand jury in Florida, we believe that the petition [to the Supreme Court] is moot and that the petition should not be granted.” This is yet another example of the government fighting tooth and nail against any limitations (or even scrutiny) whatsoever of its treatment of terror/war detainees. But the administration is treating them just fine, mind you. We can take its word on that (and we have to, thanks to the veil of secrecy).

And what of the value of holding Padilla in the brig as an enemy combatant nigh these three years?

The new charges rely on evidence gathered separately from Padilla’s confinement and interrogation in military custody, meaning the government does not have to worry about the admissibility of such evidence in civilian courts, Justice officials said.

In short, nada. Whatever our government “learned” from Padilla during his controversial incarceration is not part of this indictment —vin part because it may not be admissible in court. And yet Bush wants to make sure that this option — one that has obviously proved so useful — is still open to him.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch is guardedly optimistic about this turn of events, proving once and for all that the group is totally incapable of putting two and two together.

Originally published as Feds Get Down & ‘Dirty’

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