Jose Padilla’s Conviction

One could almost feel the collective, mournful groan of the Left when Jose Padilla was convicted by a jury of “of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim individuals in a foreign country, conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, and providing material support to terrorists.” Padilla’s complex legal case had come to symbolize for the Left what they view as lawlessness by the Bush Administration in its pursuit of terrorists. Given this symbolism, there is an extreme element of the Left that has demonstrated, as in the case of Alger Hiss, that it is possible for some to cling to protestations of innocence in the face of persuasive evidence to the contrary.

Padilla’s case is legally interesting because Padilla is an American citizen who was arrested on May 8, 2002 at O’Hare Airport, a port of entry, not quite in the United States. Should Padilla be treated conventionally as a criminal or as an combatant at war with the US? Was Padilla engaged in war against the US? Was he captured outside or inside the United States? On June 9, 2002, President Bush declared Padilla an “illegal enemy combatant” and the Administration held him in military custody on this basis. It is reasonable to ask what rights does a person so designated have to challenge the designation.

Rather than test the authority of the President in this case at the Supreme Court, the Administration formerly charged Padilla in civilian court on November 22, 2005 with the crimes of which he was ultimately convicted. Padilla’s attorneys fruitlessly tried to argue that Padilla’s incarceration had so damaged Padilla mentally that he was not fit to stand trial. The judge ruled otherwise perhaps convinced of the disingeniousness of the psychiatrists hired by Padilla’s defense. Dr. Angela Hegart testified that Padilla was unfit to stand trial because he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. She was forced to concede during cross examination that Padilla had scored a zero on Hegarty’s post-traumatic stress disorder test and that this test result was omitted from her report to the court.

Padilla’s guilt does not demonstrate the legitimacy of the illegal-combatant-doctrine that he was originally held under. That question is orthogonal to the question of Padilla’s specific guilt or innocence. The Left should have been satisfied when Padilla was charged in a civilian court. However, it would have been rhetorically convenient for some on the Left if Padilla had been acquitted. It would have been evidence that the Bush Administration had not exercised its disputed authority in good faith. In this case, the Administration judgment about Padilla has been vindicated if not the legal doctrine under which he was originally held. It was a tactical mistake for those opposed to doctrine that the commander-in-chief can designate a person as an illegal combatant to tie the case so closely to the deeply flawed Padilla.

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