I am obligated as a journalist to use the word “alleged” when writing about
Jose Padilla, the former Chicago gangbanger the government says turned
terrorist. He allegedly received terrorist training in Afghanistan. He
returned to the United States as an alleged al Qaeda operative. He
allegedly planned to detonate a dirty bomb and also allegedly hoped to use
natural gas to bring down some apartment buildings in New York or another
city. There, I have done my journalistic duty.

The government, on the other hand, is not similarly constrained. Although
it has locked up Padilla for two years, although for a long time he was
held in isolation and not allowed to see a lawyer or anyone else, he has
never been charged with a crime or found guilty in a court of law. The
worst I can do is libel the man. The government, though, has cast him into
the contemporary version of a dungeon.

This is not to say that Padilla is innocent. The government not only
maintains he is a dangerous terrorist but now says he has confessed to much
of the above — and, if it matters any, I believe the feds. But while I
accept the government’s case, I cannot accept the insistence that it can,
when it so chooses, keep a U.S. citizen — and Padilla is one — detained
for as long as it sees fit. If the man committed a crime, then try him.
It’s the American way.

The Bush administration takes the position that it can hold Padilla, and
others it designates as enemy combatants, for as long as it wants, where it
wants and, within reason, how it wants. Torture and summary execution are
out of the question, the government conceded in April when it argued its
case before the Supreme Court — but not what could amount to life in
prison without trial. In fact, until March, Padilla was not even able to
see a lawyer..


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