Skip to comments.Jose, Interrupted: Where Is Terrorist Jose Padilla?
Posted on 07/28/2002 7:11:43 AM PDT by Suzie_Cue
Jose, Interrupted: Where Is Terrorist Jose Padilla?
By Matt Taibbi (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Padilla: Notorious for 15 Minutes!
Forget the Pledge of Allegiance. Forget Elizabeth Smart. Forget the new Bills uniforms, even. Where in the world is Jose Padilla?
In a sequence of events that should turn every American literally white with terror before the awesome power of our media apparatus, a former gang member-turned-would-be terrorist was dug up out of a pit after being held illegally for a month, offered to the entire world as public enemy number one for about ten minutes, and then tossed back into purgatory, apparently to be officially forgotten for the rest of eternity.
Ask anyone, even the people youre sitting with right now, what associations come to mind when you mention the name Jose Padilla. In 100 cases out of 100, the answer youll get will run along the following lines: terrorist, suspected Al-Qaeda member, ringleader in a plot to explode a dirty bomb in Washington. As for visual images, the only one ever offered for anyone to recall later on was the notorious mugshot, a single grainy picture of a clearly nonwhite person that on June 11th was plastered on the front page of every major daily newspaper in America, as a crude but chilling portrait of the Dark Threat looming over our good society.
All of this is the frightening result of the continuing union between a ruthless, space-age propaganda machine and a pliant consumer population with an attention span of about eight seconds. Because the Padilla story will never be revisited, neither the accusations we associate with his name, nor the emotional effect of the mugshot image, will ever be undone. We all bought the story but should we have?
Even the most cursory review of the timeline of the Padilla story reveals that, far from being a simple story of a foiled terrorist plot, this was in fact a masterpiece of orchestrated propaganda, a brilliant manipulation of the biography of a common criminal for a variety of dramatic political objectives. From Willie Horton to Iran-Contra to Watergate, the lessons of almost every major political snow job of the past quarter-century were mined to yield a bag of tricks used flawlessly and compellingly for three short weeks three weeks that ended with an American citizen still in jail, without any possibility of a trial, for what may be the rest of his life.
Here is a timeline of the Jose Padilla story, stretched out to cover a period slightly longer than fifteen minutes:
May 8: After returning from Pakistan, Padilla, an American of Puerto Rican descent who now calls himself Abdullah al Muhajir, is detained by the FBI. No charges are filed, but he is nonetheless transferred to a jail in New York, where, in clear violation of the law, he will remain in custody without a charge until June 9.
No word of Padillas arrest is leaked to the media at this time, and there appears to be no hurry to make the matter public. He is simply an anonymous person rotting quietly behind bars. But within a few weeks, a few interesting seemingly irrelevant events coincided to seemingly push Padilla to the surface.
The first development was an earlier May 1 ruling by a New York Federal Judge named Shira Scheindlin, who on that date released a Jordanian-born college student named Osama Awadallah. Awadallah had been held in jail for three months without a charge on the grounds that he had lied to investigators about knowing one of the Sept. 11 hijackers. Scheindlin ruled that Relying on the material witness statute to detain people who are presumed innocent under our Constitution in order to prevent potential crimes is an illegitimate use of the statute.
The judges ruling was pretty clear it declared Minority Report-style policing illegal. In order to detain someone, even as a witness, Scheindlin ruled that the detention had to be in connection with a crime already committed, not one that the suspect might commit in the future.
This statute applied directly to Padilla, who, as fate would have it, was being held within Scheindlins jurisdiction. Whether or not his case would be made public, it was fairly clear that Padilla would eventually have to be moved.
The second thing that took place was a May 30 announcement by John Ashcroft that the Justice Department would now follow new rules in determining how investigations into the lives of individuals might occur. The new set of rules threw out the old standard of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, and allowed agents to conduct fishing expeditions for up to a year into the private lives of individuals. This was not immediately relevant to Padilla, but in time, it would become relevant.
The third thing that happened was the emergence of a whistleblowing FBI agent named Colleen Rowley, who on May 21 sent an open letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller outlining a series of bureaucratic oversights that led to a failure to pursue valid leads on terrorist activity prior to September 11. Rowley would eventually testify before Congress on June 6 and 7 in other words, on the Thursday and Friday before news of Padillas arrest was made public.
What Rowley was alleging was that American field intelligence agents were working fine as is (among other things, Rowley described her Minneapolis offices frantic attempts to obtain permission to arrest would-be twentieth hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui as early as August, 2001) , and that the real security gaps were caused by bureaucratic incompetence in the agencys upper echelons. Her testimony, which made front-page headlines all across America, directly contradicted the earlier assertions by Ashcroft that what was needed were vastly expanded police powers of the type he proposed in his May 30 announcement.
At the end of the week of June 7, and throughout that weekend of June 8-9, the Bush administration briefly came under fire for apparently failing to act in the face of serious terrorist threats last summer.
All of that ended when, on June 10, John Ashcroft announced from Moscow (where he was meeting to discuss multilateral security issues with Russian officials) that the United States had Padilla in custody. On the heels of accusations that it had previously failed to prevent major acts of terrorism, the Bush administration was suddenly announcing... that it just had prevented a major act of terrorism. It was significant that the foiled plot Ashcroft revealed involved a weapon far worse than a jetliner crashing into a skyscraper; the prevention of a radioactive dirty bomb explosion suddenly turned, as Joseph Heller might have called it, the black eye of Rowley into a big fat feather in the administrations cap. In the blink of an eye, the Rowley story disappeared from the newspapers.
It may seem gratuitous to point out that just thirteen years before, George W. Bushs father waved the face of a menacing-looking black inmate named Willie Horton at voters at the very moment his poll numbers seemingly approached the point of no return. But I dont think it is. People like John Ashcroft know exactly what theyre doing when hand out a grainy mugshot of an angry-looking Puerto Rican criminal to the national press, and announce that this is the face that was plotting to nuke Washington. This is not the kind of thing that is going to inspire a reasoned response from most middle-class Americans.
It also may seem gratuitous to point out that a) Bushs fathers administration once withheld documents from Iran-Contra prosecutors on the grounds that they would compromise national security b) Dick Cheney has withheld documents pertaining to the Enron story on the grounds that they would compromise national security, and c) that Bush himself withheld what it said was proof of Osama bin Ladens guilt in the Sept. 11 bombings, on the grounds that it would compromise national security. But I dont think so here, either. On June 14, the Bush administration announced that Padilla an American citizen would not be tried in a criminal court, or even given a military tribunal. The reason? Evidence offered in public might compromise national security. If it looks like a duck, and acts like a duck, its probably a duck and the administrations decision not to try Padilla looked very much like an excuse to avoid admission that there was not much in the way of evidence against their suspect.
Padilla, meanwhile, had been declared an enemy combatant by Bush on June 9, and moved from New York to a military detention center at the Charleston Naval Weapons center in South Carolina. Soon after his detention became a public matter, the administration issued a series of seemingly insane statements about their intentions regarding their American suspect. Donald Rumsfeld came right and made a flat announcement: Were not interested in trying him at this time. Other Bush spokesmen told reporters that Padilla would remain in jail until were done with Al-Qaeda. The right to due process, the right to face ones accuser, all of this was tossed out the window in this series of alarmingly casual statements by Bush officials.
This unprecedented rollback in civil rights scored scarcely a blip in the national media, however. Although the idea that the government can take any American and simply throw him in jail indefinitely should have been extremely alarming to the public, it was never much of a story. About the strongest statement that the press could muster on the matter was a blasИ filler line like this one at the end of a June 11 Reuters story:
Civil rights groups have criticized the way the government was treating [Padilla].
The lack of uproar over Padillas detention was presumably due to the fact that the suspect himself appeared impossible to sympathize with; it was hard to think of Padillas experience applying to any of us, since none of us were flying around the world, meeting with Al-Qaeda officials, and plotting to explode radioactive bombs.
Then again, maybe Padilla wasnt, either. Just days after his detention was made public, the government quietly leaked word through a number of channels that the Padilla threat was maybe not all it was cracked up to be.
On June 11, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz even told CBS: I dont think there was actually a plot beyond some fairly loose talk.
A day later, government officials admitted that they had no physical evidence linking Padilla to a bomb plot no bomb materials or even documented attempts to obtain bomb materials, no diagrams, not even a chemistry textbook.
Soon after that, it came out that most of the governments case against Padilla rested on information given to them by Abu Zubaydah, a former Al-Qaeda operative who had been feeding U.S. investigators with a steady string of warnings and doomsday predictions none of which ever came to pass ever since his capture in late March. Zubaydahs status as a Guantanomo songbird had become the stuff of such legend that even before the news of the Padillas arrest was made public, observers began to question the information he was feeding us. Even a dumb reactionary glossy like Time magazine was confident enough to be publicly skeptical of Zubdayah. Here is that magazines assessment of him on May 24, two weeks before the Padilla story broke:
Now Zubaydah resides in that aforementioned undisclosed overseas location, where the U.S may or may not be using torture to extract information. The problem: How do we know if hes telling us the truth? This is, after all, Zubaydahs last dance: as long as he keeps tossing out things, stringing us along, hes useful, privileged, treated with respect by his interrogators, like a Cold War era captured agent. Once thats no longer true, his life will turn very, very nasty. Zubaydah has every reason to lie, to throw his captors off the trail, to sow fear and doubt, to poke the U.S. so that his al-Qaeda fellows can observe how we react.
What all of this meant, really, is that the Bush administration was now enthusiastically taking the word of admitted Al-Qaeda operatives to throw Americans in jail.
The flimsiness of the case against Padilla did not make the papers much, either. Not that it would have mattered. They could have given both sides of that story equal time, and Padilla still would have lost out. Case Against Padilla Called Circumstantial is no match, effect-wise, for Suspect in Dirty-Bomb Plot Held. Once you let a genie like that out of the bottle, you cant ever get it back in, even if you want to. And the press made it clear that nobody wanted to.
The political benefits provided to the Bush administration by the Padilla business were both obvious and not so obvious. The immediate benefit, obviously, was in defusing the Rowley story. But a more abstract benefit was Padillas usefulness in providing another excuse to expand police powers. I would bet the Rigas familys offshore holdings that before this year is over, the Bush administration will use the Padilla story to make an explicit connection between urban American street gangs (read: poor nonwhite criminals) and terrorism.
The mere thought of this should send chills up every black or Hispanic spine in America especially since the government has already established through Padilla that, in the wake of 9/11, it can get away with detaining indefinitely even American citizens without bringing them to trial. These people now have the power to make the drug war look like a silly frat prank. And as long as every network and 500 newspapers are lining up to help the cause, they will basically be unstoppable.
Where do you draw the line? How do you define the difference between a foreign enemy and an American with rights? The answer is that, after Jose Padilla, there is no line anymore and no one now can really pinpoint when and how it disappeared, since none of our journalists covered its passing.
(Matt Taibbi is a Fellow at the BEAST Institute in Buffalo, New York. Read this and more BEASTLY articles at www.buffalobeast.com)
Padilla is probably John Doe #2 from Oklahoma City. He was the FBI man on the inside who let the FBI know at every step what was going to happen. He is mentioned in the thousands of pages NEVER released before McVeigh's execution. He should never have surfaced!
But, he did. That he did is, I believe, proof that the FBI isn't talking to other agencies (actually, how could they in this case) but, once the issue was public, it will have to go away quickly and, maybe, permanently.
Really? I remember seeing the allegedly infamous "Willie Horton" ad. What I saw didn't show his face. It didn't mention his race. There was a voiceover on a grainy b&w image of people passing through a revolving barred turnstile. I thought Willie Horton was white, until the democRats revealed otherwise.
For me, this colors the entire article. Not that the media can be trusted. But I'm not sure this guy can be either.
He's in the witness protection program. He's now a utility infielder for the Tigers or the Devil Rays.
Our authorities would do well to keep a close eye on Puerto Rico. It has been a breeding ground for terrorists in the past.
Remember the 17 Puerto Rican, FALN terrorists that Clinton pardoned on his way out?
Why aren't there similar complaints from the liberal media about how this story was hushed up???
How do you know you're not an unlawful enemy combatant? Have you asked GWB lately?
The main issue here is not of guilt or innocence it is summed up in one paragraph This unprecedented rollback in civil rights scored scarcely a blip in the national media, however. Although the idea that the government can take any American and simply throw him in jail indefinitely should have been extremely alarming to the public, it was never much of a story.
None of us know the real story here. Anyone of us can make all the assumptions we wish. The fact is that this is an issue for a Judge and Jury whether its Civil or Military to decide. The other point that should be considered is the source of the information that has put Padella in this situation and is causing a real Constitutional Crisis. What all of this meant, really, is that the Bush administration was now enthusiastically taking the word of admitted Al-Qaeda operatives to throw Americans in jail. I can just imagine what can happen if the TIPS program is actually set in motion.
The statement that But a more abstract benefit was Padillas usefulness in providing another excuse to expand police powers. also has merit. The Patriot Act and the new Homeland Security Bill and even the new legislation on Corporate Crime have already shown that Congress and the Administration are indeed attempting a power grab
Yes the press focuses on just Headlines and could care less about the Constitution. They ather put the focus sensationalizing news than protecting Americans. Lastly it is the Constitution that is under a major assault and that mean We The People are under a major assault. As far as posters here that are just quick to draw rather than see the larger picture, you too are no better than what the Government is doing to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. You should be ashamed.
If anyone thinks that we had a Constitutional Crisis during the 2000 Elections does not know what a Constitutional Crisis is. THIS IS A CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS!
Wake up America!
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