Jose Padilla — Just a Nice Kid from Brooklyn

How did a nice kid from Brooklyn end up like this — arrested and imprisoned. He was subjected to the most inhumane torture for more than three years, then tried, and convicted. Now he faces a possible life sentence. What did he do, what crime did he commit? How many people did he murder? None, zero, nada, not even one. He never injured anyone.

The June 14, 2002 issue of Time named Padilla, Person of the week. “Padilla entered public life via an announcement from Moscow on Monday, by Attorney General John Ashcroft, that an al-Qaeda operative had been captured at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, en route to contaminate a U.S. city with a radiological bomb. Within minutes panicky cable news channels were running file footage of mushroom clouds. They then spent much of the next two days atoning via a more sober explanation of dirty-bomb scenarios — and why they’re not nearly as scary as they sound . . .”

Padilla’s crime was that he lacked a PR representative who could discredit the propaganda that the government was using against him. He needed an agent. Celebrities use them every time they get into trouble.

Government prosecutors took steps to make sure that Jose Padilla became known as the “Dirty Bomber.” The intensity of the government smear campaign against Padilla would have made Mother Teresa look like a mass murderer. Padilla was tried and convicted in the press long before his trial in court. In fact, Padilla never had a bomb. He never had the materials necessary to build a bomb.

A jury decision is only as good as the information upon which it is based. Too often, the most important evidence is withheld from the jury. Political viewpoints and personal prejudices of jurors are often more important than the facts of the case. The August 17, 2007 Concord Monitor reports that Peter Whoriskey of the Washington Post states, “…The jury did seem to be an oddly cohesive group. On the last day of trial before the July 4th holiday, jurors arranged to dress in shirts so that each row in the jury box was its own patriotic color — red, white or blue. . . ”

In the Padilla case, did the jury know that the defendant was the victim of extreme torture for more than 3 years? That information might have made the jury sympathetic toward Padilla. On the August 16, 2007 broadcast of Democracy Now, forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Angela Hegarty, stated that, “What happened at the brig was essentially the destruction of a human being’s mind. Padilla’s personality was deconstructed and reformed.” She said the effects of the extreme isolation on Padilla are consistent with brain damage. “I don’t know if he’s guilty or not of the charges that they brought against him,” said Dr. Hegarty. “But . . . he’s already paid a tremendous price for his trip to the Middle East.”

This case has important legal implications for all of us, our children and grandchildren. Legal history is made every day but this case is different. If something like this can happen to a US citizen — a good kid from Brooklyn, it can happen to anybody. Jose Padilla today, Johnny Jones tomorrow. Yes, Jose was at one time a member of a street gang — so were millions of other young men and women.

The Courts in the United States leave a lot to be desired and this case proves that it is time to clean up the judicial system, end torture, and shut down the secret prison system. In addition reparations should be paid to Padilla for the years that he suffered extreme torture at the hands of the US government.

In the meantime, there is not a better case that is crying out to be made into a movie. It has it all — intrigue, secret prisons, violence, and torture. Hollywood are you listening? This is a film that might result in saving a life. The life that is saved might be yours.

Rosemarie Jackowski is an advocacy journalist living in Vermont. Read other articles by Rosemarie.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Deadbeat said on August 18th, 2007 at 8:57am #

    The judicial system is nothing more than an extension of politics. Liberal, especially during the activism of the 1960’s, tried to convince the public that the “court” is some sort of “independent” entity where “justice” is served. Liberal really did this to diffuse direct action. We saw people like Ralph Nader seemly be able to use the courts as a “change agent”. “Activist” (ie reform) group sought to “change the law” rather than society as altogether. Clearly what the Padilla case does is to expose this flawed strategy. No “reform” will ever alter the political nature of the courts. The courts are really ENFORCEMENT arms of exploitation and capitalism. The “genius” and the REAL threat of the courts is that it ATOMIZES everyone and allows the rulers to dismantle solidarity. In other words how many people went out and stormed into the courts to FREE Padilla?

    The Padilla case is not a “tragedy” or “cause for concern”. It is business as usual.

  2. rosemarie jackowski said on August 18th, 2007 at 10:35am #

    Deadbeat…Thanks for the comments. I agree with everything you say. But, I point out the even Nader’s attempt to use the Court to allow his participation in the debates was unsuccessful. I like your very eloquent way of saying what I meant in the article. Thank you. My only question is, how did we become “atomized”. I don’t think that we can place all of the blame on the government. There is some aspect of individual responsibility that comes into play – and why is there no call to “free Padilla” and so many other political prisoners being held by the usa. To me, it is shocking that so few seem to be shocked by the fact that that we have a secret prison system dedicated to torture.

  3. Deadbeat said on August 20th, 2007 at 10:22am #

    Ms. Jackowski you are absolute correct to clarify that we cannot “blame” government for our atomization. The ruling class has a variety of methods to breakdown solidarity that leads to atomizing citizens. Racism, carrots, identity politics and most importantly stereotypes and indoctrination means that citizens atomizes themselves.

    My point however is to highlight the Liberals notion of how the courts are supposedly the “last bastion” to seek “justice”. Or that the courts are “agencies of change”. As the Padilla case and our own mutual experiences with the court reveals that Liberal notion is patently untrue.

    The courts like other political institutions only responds to power derived from mass movements and agitation. The true “tragedy” of the Padilla case is the lack of organizing and direct action around his case.

  4. rosemarie jackowski said on August 20th, 2007 at 12:56pm #

    Deadbeat…Again, I agree with everything you say. I feel a deep compassion for those in other countries who are being killed and exploited by the usa. I have less compassion for those in this country because “we” could fix things. If a large number of people in the usa just did nothing, for a period of time, long enough to affect the economy, things would change. If everyone just stayed home from work and boycotted all except medical and fire emergencies, we would create a different country.
    The people in the usa have the kind of country that they vote for and support. It is only a small minority of us who are dissatisfied resisters. We were born in the wrong country at the wrong time. We are the misfits – not the other way around.