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Context of 'December 21, 2005: Appeals Court Judge Excoriates Bush Administration Over Padilla Ruling, Refuses to Allow Padilla to be Transferred from Military Custody'

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A three-judge panel of the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York votes two to one that the military must either charge alleged al-Qaeda terrorist Jose Padilla with a crime, or release him within 30 days. “The government,” the court says, “can transfer Padilla to appropriate civilian authorities who can bring criminal charges against him.” Until now, no court in the US has ruled against the government’s contention that even American citizens arrested on US soil can be held indefinitely based on wartime government prerogatives. Neither the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (see September 14-18, 2001) nor the president’s “inherent power” as commander in chief is enough to hold Padilla without a trial, the court finds: “The president, acting alone, possesses no inherent constitutional authority to detain American citizens seized within the United States, away from a zone of combat, as enemy combatants.” The two judges in the majority are a 1998 Clinton appointee and a 2001 Bush appointee; the dissenter, who advocates granting the president new and sweeping powers, is a 2003 Bush appointee. “So far,” Office of Legal Counsel lawyer John Yoo comments, “the Second Circuit is the only court that has rejected the idea that the war on terrorism is, in fact, a war.” Because this ruling conflicts with the Fourth Circuit’s ruling in favor of the Bush administration, the Supreme Court will be forced to resolve the issue (see June 28, 2004); in light of the appeal, the court later agrees to suspend its 30-day ruling. [Knight Ridder, 12/29/2003; Savage, 2007, pp. 153]

Entity Tags: Jose Padilla, John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rules that President Bush, as commander in chief, can continue to hold Jose Padilla (see June 9, 2002), a US citizen arrested on US soil (see June 8, 2002), indefinitely as an enemy combatant. Padilla is to be treated the same as an American captured on a foreign battlefield (see June 28, 2004). The majority ruling is written by Judge J. Michael Luttig, often thought of as a potential Bush Supreme Court nominee. Luttig rules there is “no difference in principle between [Yaser Esam] Hamdi (see June 28, 2004) and Padilla.” Bush’s “powers include the power to detain identified and committed enemies such as Padilla, who associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime, and who entered the United States for the avowed purpose of further prosecuting [terrorism] by attacking American citizens and targets on our own soil.” Luttig ignores the fact that Padilla has never been charged, much less convicted, of any crime. When the Bush administration later charges Padilla as an ordinary criminal—and does not charge him with with any of the terrorist activities it had long alleged he had committed—many administration critics will conclude that, just as in the Hamdi case, the administration had used inflammatory rhetoric and baseless charges to obtain a judicial decision it wanted (see October 10, 2004). When Luttig learns of the administration’s actions, he will issue a supplementary opinion excoriating the White House (see December 21, 2005). [Savage, 2007, pp. 200]

Entity Tags: Jose Padilla, J. Michael Luttig

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jose Padilla being escorted by federal agents in January 2006.Jose Padilla being escorted by federal agents in January 2006. [Source: Alan Diaz / Associated Press]Jose Padilla, a US citizen and “enemy combatant” alleged to be an al-Qaeda terrorist (see May 8, 2002) and held without charges for over three years (see October 9, 2005), is charged with being part of a North American terrorist cell that sent money and recruits overseas to, as the indictment reads, “murder, maim, and kidnap.” The indictment contains none of the sensational allegations that the US government has made against Padilla (see June 10, 2002), including his supposed plan to detonate a “dirty bomb” inside the US (see Early 2002) and his plans to blow up US hotel and apartment buildings (see March 2002). Nor does the indictment accuse Padilla of being a member of al-Qaeda. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says, “The indictment alleges that Padilla traveled overseas to train as a terrorist (see September-October 2000) with the intention of fighting a violent jihad.” He refuses to say why the more serious charges were not filed. Some provisions of the Patriot Act helped the investigation, Gonzales adds: “By tearing down the artificial wall that would have prevented this kind of investigation in the past, we’re able to bring these terrorists to justice,” he says. The Padilla case has become a central part of the dispute over holding prisoners such as Padilla without charge; by charging Padilla with lesser crimes, the Bush administration avoids the possibility of the Supreme Court ruling that he and other “enemy combatants,” particularly American citizens, must either be tried or released. Law professor Eric Freedman says the Padilla indictment is an effort by the administration “to avoid an adverse decision of the Supreme Court.” Law professor Jenny Martinez, who represents Padilla, says: “There’s no guarantee the government won’t do this again to Mr. Padilla or others. The Supreme Court needs to review this case on the merits so the lower court decision is not left lying like a loaded gun for the government to use whenever it wants.” Padilla’s lawyers say the government’s case against their client is based on little more than “double and triple hearsay from secret witnesses, along with information allegedly obtained from Padilla himself during his two years of incommunicado interrogation.” Padilla will be transferred from military custody to the Justice Department, where he will await trial in a federal prison in Miami. He faces life in prison if convicted of conspiracy to murder, maim, and kidnap overseas. The lesser charges—providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy—carry maximum prison terms of 15 years each. [Associated Press, 11/22/2005; Fox News, 11/23/2005]
'Dirty Bomb' Allegations 'Not Credible,' Says Former FBI Agent - Retired FBI agent Jack Cloonan, an expert on al-Qaeda, later says: “The dirty bomb plot was simply not credible. The government would never have given up that case if there was any hint of credibility to it. Padilla didn’t stand trial for it, because there was no evidence to support it.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Issue with CIA Videotapes - In 2002, captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida identified Padilla as an al-Qaeda operative (see Mid-April 2002) and the government cited Zubaida as a source of information about Padilla after Padilla’s arrest. Yet, sometime this same month, the CIA destroys the videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogations from the time period where he allegedly identified Padilla (see November 2005). The Nation’s Aziz Huq will later comment: “Given the [Bush] administration’s reliance on Zubaida’s statements as evidence of Padilla’s guilt, tapes of Zubaida’s interrogation were clearly relevant to the Padilla trial.… A federal criminal statute prevents the destruction of any record for a foreseeable proceeding, even if the evidence is not admissible.… [I]t seems almost certain that preservation of the tapes was legally required by the Jose Padilla prosecution.” [Nation, 12/11/2007]

Entity Tags: Jenny Martinez, Jose Padilla, US Supreme Court, Jack Cloonan, Eric Freedman, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Aziz Huq, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Federal appeals court judge J. Michael Luttig, widely considered to be such a reliably conservative supporter of the Bush administration that he is a potential Supreme Court nominee and the author of a highly favorable ruling in the Jose Padilla detention case (see October 9, 2005), is infuriated by the administration’s decision not to charge Padilla with the lurid array of terrorism-related charges it had alleged in Luttig’s courtroom (see November 22, 2005). Luttig believes that he and the rest of the appeals court judges were misled into making a ruling favorable to the administration. Luttig issues a supplementary opinion accusing the White House of manipulating the judicial process to ensure the Supreme Court could not review the precedent his opinion set. The Padilla indictment raises serious questions about the credibility of the government’s accusations against Padilla, and, Luttig writes, leaves “the impression that Padilla may have been held for these years, even justifiably, by mistake.” Luttig and his colleagues take the unusual step of blocking Padilla’s transfer from military custody into the hands of the Justice Department. The move is aimed at attempting to keep the possibility open of a Supreme Court hearing on the Padilla matter, and giving the Court the chance to reverse Luttig’s precedent. The Court will quickly overrule Luttig’s attempt to keep Padilla in military custody and will dismiss Padilla’s appeal because he is no longer classified as an enemy combatant. Author and reporter Charlie Savage will later write: “Just as Luttig had feared, the maneuver ensured that his precedent—written on the assumption that the administration was telling the truth when it said it had good evidence that Padilla was plotting attacks on US soil—was left intact.” Luttig’s move sours his relations with the White House and dooms whatever chance he may have had to be nominated for the high court. He will soon resign from his life-tenured position on the appeals court and take the position of general counsel for Boeing. [Savage, 2007, pp. 200-201]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Bush administration (43), Charlie Savage, J. Michael Luttig, Jose Padilla

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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