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June 1, 2004
Why This Is War And Not Crime

The Justice Department released documentation on the Jose Padilla case, the only US citizen seized outside the battlefield being held as an enemy combatant, showing the scope of the al-Qaeda contacts and plans with which Padilla was involved:

Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member held as a terrorism suspect for two years, sought to blow up hotels and apartment buildings in the United States in addition to planning an attack with a "dirty bomb" radiological device, the government said Tuesday.

The Justice Department, under pressure to explain its indefinite detention of a U.S. citizen as an "enemy combatant," detailed Padilla's alleged al-Qaida training in Afghanistan and contacts with the most senior members of the terrorist network, his travel back into the United States and preparations to rent apartments and set off explosives.

The DoJ shows how Padilla signed an application to join al-Qaeda and worked with known AQ leaders like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydeh while training in Afghanistan. The plans for Padilla included renting apartments in multiple high-rises with natural-gas utility service -- as many as 20, if possible -- and use the apartments as huge gas bombs with which to destroy the entire buildings simultaneously. In addition and as reported earlier, Padilla wanted to contruct a nuclear device or, failing that, a dirty bomb, although the DoJ claim that his AQ handlers held out little hope for either and told him to focus on the natural-gas bombings instead.

What the DoJ outlines is not a criminal conspiracy, as some claim; foreign agents trained an American to conduct sabotage missions on our soil. These foreign agents had already conducted massive attacks on civilians on 9/11 and earlier on our embassies, acts of war all. Any American allying with foreign forces for the purpose of attacking the US does not merely commit a crime -- treason -- but becomes part of the war which they wage. And since Padilla came to the US in civilian clothing, intending to commit sabotage and murder, he not only can and should be held as a military asset and not a criminal defendant, he can be summarily executed as a wartime spy after a military tribunal, if so desired.

The DoJ notes that most of their information came from Padilla himself during his long detention as an illegal combatant:

Comey told a news conference that when Padilla stepped off a plane in Chicago in May 2002, he was a highly trained and fully equipped "soldier of our enemy" who had accepted his al-Qaida assignment to kill hundreds of innocent people in apartment buildings.

"We have decided to release this information to help people understand why we are doing what we are doing in the war on terror and to help people understand the nature of the threat we face," he said. He asserted that if Padilla had been handled by the usual criminal justice system, he could have stayed silent and "would likely have ended up a free man."

New York City was on Padilla's target list, as well as Florida and Washington, DC. One wonders how the residents of those areas view the idea of the Islamofascist War being "primarily a law-enforcement problem," and whether they preferred getting this information from Padilla or having to watch Johnny Cochran make his bail.

UPDATE: CNN carries his lawyer's response (not Johnny Cochran, BTW):

But Donna Newman, Padilla's defense attorney, called the information "a one-sided expos of their version of the events without Mr. Padilla having the right to put forth his version of the events."

"As they concede, he denies all this," she said, referring to a footnote on page six of the seven-page document. ... "There is a dispute. That's what the courts resolve," Newman said. "If Mr. Padilla is as dangerous as they say, why not have a trial?"

In order to hold him as an illegal enemy combatant, they've already had to show probable cause in court. Once that determination was made, then a military tribunal is the only proper course of action. As the Moussaoui case already demonstrated, civil courts do not meet the security needs of wartime determination of enemy combatants regardless of where they were born. Military tribunals have a long, rich history of providing justice while defending American security. I have no problem with Padilla's lawyer working on his behalf to argue for civil-justice jurisdiction, but she's just wrong.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 1, 2004 2:01 PM

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