“Where there is injustice for one, there is injustice for all.”
-- Martin Luther King
In the three years that Jose Padilla has been locked away in solitary confinement, the government has been unable to cobble together enough evidence to even charge him with a crime. They have nothing on him, just the ever-changing claims of a Justice Department that shows less respect for justice than it does for personal liberty.
Originally, Attorney General John Ashcroft claimed that Padilla was a “dirty bomber” who intended to detonate nuclear material within the US. Two years later, Ashcroft reversed his claims saying that Padilla was planning to blow up apartment buildings with natural gas pipelines. Just recently, the government changed its story for a third time, saying that Padilla was “on the battlefield” in Afghanistan which made him an enemy combatant. This last twist to the story came in response to the ruling in Hamdi vs. Rumsfeld which allows the government to indefinitely detain any American citizen “picked up off the battlefield” while fighting the US.
It’s a fabrication, of course, but the DOJ doesn’t mind the sloppiness of the deception as long as their goals are achieved; in this case, the permanent imprisonment of an American Muslim.
The Padilla case is of particular interest now that we have a genuine case of domestic terrorism we can use for comparison.
Last week, Earl Krugel was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in a plot to bomb a mosque and a US congressman’s office near Los Angeles. Krugel was an active member in the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a radical Jewish organization founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane who “advocated the forceful removal of Arabs from Israel.” The JDL received considerable negative attention in 1994 when one of its members, Baruch Goldstein, went on a shooting spree in a mosque in Hebron killing 29 Muslim worshippers and wounding approximately 100 others. Goldstein had gained notoriety earlier as a physician in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) for “refusing to treat non-Jews, even those serving in the IDF.” This history of violence and bigotry helps us to understand the background for Krugal’s homicidal intentions. He emerged from a culture of religious and sectarian hatred.
Krugel was caught red-handed in “a conspiracy to violate the civil rights of worshippers at Culver City’s King Fahd Mosque and one count of carrying an explosive device in connection with a conspiracy to impede or injure Republican US Rep. Darrell Issa.” (Seattle Times) The evidence against him was overwhelming.
US District Court Judge Ronald Lew threw the book at Krugal saying that his actions “promoted hatred in the most vile way.” He sentenced Krugal to the maximum of 20 years. Unfortunately, the unrepentant Krugal knows a great deal more about the conspiracy then he is willing to admit and has failed a polygraph test five times.
“You are not a changed person,” said Judge Lew. “You have more to give.”
Regrettably, only a handful of newspapers published this appalling story of domestic terrorism. It is impossible to explain why the Jewish Krugal escaped the media’s attention while the uncorroborated allegations against the Muslim Padilla attracted widespread coverage in both TV and the print media.
It is even more difficult to grasp why one man is locked away without any chance to defend himself against baseless accusations, while another is given full access to the legal system. We can only assume that there are no longer any objective standards for measuring guilt or innocence, just the fickle inclinations of the men in power. The cases of these two men were decided on the basis of religion alone, a clear indictment of the existing system. By Bush’s standards, Krugal should have been promptly shunted off to Guantanamo to join the countless other terror suspects who have been completely denied due process. Instead, he was granted a lengthy trial and given every opportunity to acquit himself. Padilla, on the other hand, has been arbitrarily stripped of his civil liberties, with no prospect of establishing his innocence.
Krugal is a radical, a terrorist, and a murderer. Nevertheless, he has every right to be charged with a crime, to face his accusers, to have an attorney for his defense, to produce witnesses on his behalf, and to be tried by a jury of his peers. These same principles were honored when Timothy McVeigh was charged in the bombing at Oklahoma City and the system worked effectively. Padilla is entitled to these very same rights.
The law is more important than Krugal or the injury he might cause, just as the presumption of innocence is more important than the loss of innocent lives. The law is the only shield the citizen has against the terror of the state, which has traditionally been the greatest threat to humanity. The ongoing imprisonment of Jose Padilla shows that that shield has been removed and replaced with an apartheid system that operates capriciously and without set standards. The president now has full authority to rescind the constitution at will and declare any man an enemy combatant at his own discretion. There can be no justice when the fate of men like Padilla depends on the subjective judgment of one man alone.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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