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The Law of the Jungle

I don’t blog very often about heavy-duty political issues; a lot of other bloggers and print writers do it so much better than I. When presented with instances of outrageous injustice, I tend to go into stuttering rages that render me incoherent. Every once in awhile, though, some news item affects me beyond the point where shouting at the TV or muttering into my paper can fully satisfy my need to vent, and I’m compelled to pull myself together. A New York Times Quotation of the Day from last week is such an instance.

“This demonstrates, at least for now, that the United States is fully capable of prosecuting terrorism while affording defendants the full procedural protections of the Constitution.” So proclaimed Michael Greenberger, a professor of terrorism law at the University of Maryland law school, on the conviction of Jose Padilla. {Emphasis added}

Sputter sputter. Rage rage. Mmf mmf. How can someone possibly say such a thing?!? Does he live in a cave? Can I possibly be more well-read than a law professor? (Answers: I don’t know, apparently yes, and ditto.)

Jose Padilla, popularly known as the “dirty bomber,” was last week sentenced to life in prison for allegedly collaborating with Al Quaeda operatives to commit terrorist acts in the U.S.–and while in custody Padilla was tortured. Dr. Angela Hegarty, a forensic psychiatrist who spent 22 hours with Padilla prior to his trial at the request of his lawyers, described his condition on Amy Goodman’s Democracy NOW: after nearly four years in a military brig in South Carolina, most of it in solitary, Padilla, she said, was broken down to the point where he lost all semblance of self-identity. “What happened at the brig was essentially the destruction of a human being’s mind,” said Dr. Hegarty. “[Padilla’s] personality was deconstructed and reformed.” She said the effects of the extreme isolation on Padilla are consistent with brain damage.

Out of fear or disorientation, Padilla would not, or could not, describe everything that was done to him, so the following is, we can assume, only a partially complete list: keeping his cell all dark or all light for long periods of time; sleeping on a steel bed with no mattress; forced to wear shackles; slapping; exposure to heat or cold for long periods of time; forcible showering. He told Dr. Hegerty he was terrified of being taken to a thing called the “cage.” He spoke of his lack of sleep, the relentless clicking and banging of doors and other loud noises, and never knowing the date or time of day. For a long time his only contact was with his interrogators. Dr. Hegerty concluded, “I have worked with torture victims and, of course, abuse victims for a few decades now, and I think, from a clinical point of view, he was tortured.”

By designating Padilla an “enemy combatant,” the Administration was able to deny him the rights usually afforded prisoners. During the first three years of custody, he was denied legal consultation: lawyers took his case to the Supreme Court, and organizations as diverse as the Cato Institute and the ACLU filed amicus briefs supporting the appeal. (For more on the appeal, see this article by the Cato Institute.)

Now, having read and absorbed the above, re-read the NY Times Quotation that got me started, published the day after Padilla’s conviction:

This demonstrates, at least for now, that the United States is fully capable of prosecuting terrorism while affording defendants the full procedural protections of the Constitution.

If what Jose Padilla got was the full procedural protection of the Constitution, then I’ll take the law of the jungle myself, thankyouverymuch.


I’ve just read a blog about the Jena 6, another case of outrageous injustice. Click here. 


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