3 October 2014

“Anti-Terror” Show Trial Victim

Court Orders More Prison Time for Jose Padilla

On September 9, U.S. district judge Marcia Cooke resentenced Jose Padilla to 21 years in prison. Padilla was the victim of a 2007 show trial in which he was railroaded to prison on flimsy “terrorist” conspiracy charges, having already suffered nearly four years of detention as an “unlawful enemy combatant.” Following the trial, Cooke sentenced Padilla to 17 years behind bars. “Too lenient,” cried the Feds, who appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. In 2011, that court sent the case back to Cooke for harsher sentencing. Bowing to the higher court’s order, Cooke added the time he had been detained without charges, extending his release date to some time in 2026—if ever.

A U.S. citizen who had converted to Islam, Padilla was effectively stripped of his citizenship rights in the name of the “war on terror.” He was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare airport in May 2002 as a “material witness” in a September 11 grand jury investigation. Weeks later, Padilla was accused of planning to set off a “radioactive bomb” and disappeared into a Navy brig in South Carolina. There he was subjected to extreme sensory deprivation, hooded and forced to stand in stress positions for long periods of time, drugged, deprived of sleep and threatened with imminent execution. While undergoing this torture, Padilla was forbidden to meet with his family and, for almost two years, had no access to lawyers.

In the lead-up to the resentencing, the Justice Department extorted a promise by Padilla’s lawyers not to introduce in the court proceedings any records of his years of torture. In return, the government agreed not to seek a life sentence, promising to ask for no more than a 30-year hit. Nevertheless, the government has announced that it may appeal the latest sentence yet again.

Padilla’s case is of vital importance because it exemplifies the government’s insistence that when the “war on terror” is invoked, basic rights of U.S. citizenship go by the wayside. By those lights, anyone labeled a terror threat can simply be disappeared. What this ultimately means was seen in the case of Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen blown away in a 2011 drone missile attack in Yemen on orders from the Obama White House. So much for the supposed constitutional right to confront and answer allegations against the accused. In Padilla’s case, when the government finally moved him from military to civilian custody in 2005 and filed ludicrous “conspiracy” charges against him, it was to head off an anticipated Supreme Court decision ordering his release. In this way, the Bush White House sought to preserve the legal precedent giving the government the right to declare U.S. citizens “enemy combatants” and to lock them up indefinitely.

The conspiracy indictment of Padilla made no mention of the chimerical “radioactive bomb” or any single specific terrorist attack or plot, in the U.S. or anywhere else. Instead, Padilla and co-defendants Adham Hassoun and Kifah Jayyousi were accused of conspiracy to support “violent jihad” around the world by raising money for Islamic charities or traveling abroad. In the words of the federal prosecutor, the accusations involved an “inchoate crime” rather than a “completed operation.” In plain English, Padilla’s “crime” was to harbor animosity towards the U.S. imperialists, the greatest force for terror on the planet.

From the beginning, the persecution of Padilla represented an escalation in the attacks on basic civil liberties—the right to counsel and trial, the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment—that are at the core of the “war on terrorism.” Employed in the first instance against immigrants and others caught up in the terror scare, the enhancement of the government’s repressive arsenal will be used to suppress the struggles of black people, other oppressed sectors and the multiracial working class, the only force with the social power to sweep away capitalist rule.

In 2002 and 2003, the Spartacist League and the Partisan Defense Committee submitted amici curiae briefs in Padilla’s defense, challenging his detention without charges as a fundamental attack on the rights of citizenship and due process supposedly guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. We stated:

“The case of Jose Padilla tests the very existence of the fundamental rights of due process—liberty of the individual from the arbitrary, discriminatory power of the state—and the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. It poses the evisceration of the rights and privileges of citizenship embodied in the first ten Amendments to the Constitution and secured on the battlefield of the Civil War and in class and social struggle over the past hundred and more years. If the imperial President is upheld, Padilla’s detention threatens to become the Dred Scott case of our time, a declaration that ‘Citizens have no rights that the government is bound to respect’.”

It is in the interests of all workers, minorities and defenders of civil liberties to demand an end to the persecution of Jose Padilla. Free him now!

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1053, 3 October 2014)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.