A covert CIA officer who was permitted to testify wearing a disguise and using an alias described in court Tuesday how U.S. officials in Afghanistan obtained a truckload of al-Qaeda documents, including a form later linked to suspected operative Jose Padilla [standing trial for conspiracy.]

The officer, whose true identity is classified, gave his name as Tom Langston. He appeared in court with a beard and glasses, although the nature of the disguise was not obvious or made public. Prosecutors declined to say whether any concealment was even used. — CURT ANDERSON Associated Press Writer (emph. added)

What? A "form?" A piece of paper Padilla may or may not have signed linking him to al-Qaeda? That's it? What happened to the radioactivity from the exploding device that was going to engulf us? What about all those gas stoves exploding high rise apartment buildings?

This is what we wind up with after spending $20 million in prosecuting Padilla — a goddam form handed to a CIA agent by a stranger appearing out of nowhere in Afghanistan? We are to believe that the stranger just happened to come upon piles and boxes of papers in an abandoned building. So he loaded it all up, in search of an American he might find and make a new buddy. He came upon a someone who just happened to be a CIA agent (Allah works in mysterious ways) and offered the American all these paper documents. The good Samaritan, henceforth to be known as the Good Afgan, didn't even ask for a reward.

The CIA off-loaded all this material from the Good Afghan's truck and spent several hours leafing through the papers. The agent didn't read or speak Aimaq or Ashkun or South Azerbaijani, or Western Balochi or Brahui or Darwazi or Domari, not a word of Eastern Farsi, Gawar-Bati. Grangali was unfamiliar to him as was Gujari, Hazaragi, Jakati, not even Kamviri, Karakalpak, Kati, Kazakh, Kirghiz (known as the five K's.) He didn't know Malakhel, Mogholi, Munji, (also known as the three M's) not even Ormuri, Pahlavani, Parachi, Parya, nor Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, Southeast Pashayi. Northern and Southern Pashto were unfamiliar and so too was Prasuni, Sanglechi-Ishkashimi, Savi, Shughni, Shumashti, (the four S's), Tangshewi, Tirahi, Tregami, Turkmen, Uyghur, Southern Uzbek, Waigali, Warduji, and Wotapuri-Katarqala. Nevertheless, this CIA agent finds a piece of paper that links Jose Padilla to al Qaeda.

"Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…"

* * *

Perhaps it's appropriate that the Padilla trial smacks of 40's Hollywood — or the 50's and 60's Theater of the Absurd. Just take one of the plot lines from the case — that of Yasser Hamdi.

There is only one thing Yasser Hamdi and Jose Padilla have in common. Hamdi was captured in Afghanistan while fighting on behalf of the Taliban against both U.S. and Northern Alliance troops in 2001. Padilla was arrested at O'Hare International Airport in 2002. Both of them are American citizens. Both their legal odysseys would wind up at the United States Supreme Court at the same exact moment. But today, Hamdi is free and living the good life in Saudi Arabia. And Padilla is in a Federal jail, as he has been for five punishing years, standing trial in Miami.

* * *

Back in 2001, Hamdi was taken prisoner and moved with other foreign fighters to the Qala-e-Jagi prison complex near Mazari Sharif. Six hundreds prisoners had been herded together, some of whom hid grenades in their clothing. A three day riot quicky ensued and U.S. AC-30 gunships and Black Hawk helicopters had to be brought in to quell the uprising. More than 500 Taliban prisoners were killed. Among the awful carnage two young Americans survived: Hamdi and another United States citizen, Marin County California-born John Walker Lindh, who the media quickly dubbed the "American Taliban." While Lindh was carted back to the United States in a coffin-like crate, still in pain from his wounds, Hamdi was shipped off to Guantanamo Bay where he stunned interrogators by informing them he was a U.S. citizen.

Joseph Margulies, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center and law professor at Northwestern University Law School takes up the tale of Hamdi in captivity in his book "Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power." Catch-22 worthy of Kafka and Dickens as well as Joseph Heller that was cooked up by the military and the Department of Justice. (As Dave Berry used to say, "I am not making this up.")

According to Margulies, when attorneys, hired to consult with Guantanamo Bay detainees, attempted to actually meet with their clients, authorities denied access on the grounds that the prison and prisoners resided on foreign territory — Cuban territory. Thus Cuba retained "ultimate authority"over Guantanamo Bay. Permission had to be obtained from Cuban courts. But, as Margulies notes, the lawyers were deterred from seeking relief from Cuban courts because "a Cuban court was wholly powerless at that [Guantanamo] base." (That's the point when you see Kafka nodding his head., of course, of course.)

The FBI agent in charge of gathering intelligence from the growing group of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay was Michael Rolince, assistant director, heading the Bureau's International Terrorism Operations Section. This was the same Michael Rolince who, the 9/11 Commission learned, had been warned about Zacharias Moussaoui by FBI agent Coleen Rowley seven days before 9/11. Rolince told the Commission (9-11 Commission p. 275) that he "recalled being told about Moussaoui in two passing hallway conversations but only in the context that he might be receiving telephone calls from Minneapolis complaining about how headquarters was handling [the Moussaoui] matter."

Now, in 2002 with the barn doors in ashes, it was do-or-die-time-for-the-FBI — to-connect-the dots. Rolince waxed poetic about the need to keep people (like Hamdi) in preventative detention so they could be questioned whenever the FBI wanted.

…the business of counterterrorism intelligence gathering in the United States is akin to the construction of a mosaic… the FBI is gathering and processing thousands of bits and pieces that may seem innocuous at first glance. We must analyze all that information, however to see if it can be fit into a picture that will reveal how the unseen whole operates… What may seem trivial to some may appear of great moment to those within the FBI or the intelligence community who had a broader context within which to consider to consider a questioned item or isolated piece of information… ( Margulies, p.22 ).

From this vantage point Margulies points out that to construct this so-called mosaic, the maximum amount of intelligence must be gathered from individuals through "secret arrests and closed courts, [something] virtually unheard in this country."

Interrogators at Guantanamo were unnerved to discover that the colors in Hamdi's mosaic were red, white and blue — an American citizen's colors. He was quickly shipped stateside to a Naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina, for questioning. Hamdi's father hired a lawyer who, naturally, insisted on seeing his client. That request was refused until the Pentagon was satisfied that it had wrung dry any intelligence from Hamdi. Finally, after two years, Hamdi's attorney, Frank Dunham, was allowed to meet with his client. The Miranda provision you know, "You have the right to an attorney, blah, blah, blah," under the Patriot Act, wasn't applicable. Miranda rights had been suspended by a Congress, that hadn't even read the legislation. There was some "give" on Hamdi by authorities — the Justice Department insisted military observers attend and record the client-lawyer communications. So much for lawyer-client confidentiality. In addition certain information couldn't be disclosed to his attorney — like the conditions under which Hamdi was being treated in prison.

Hamdi's case worked its way to the Supreme Court in April of 2004, right along side of Padilla's case. (I told you we'd get back to Padilla — you know, the one where he was imprisoned as a "dirty bomber," denied access to an attorney, not allowed to know the evidence against him — all the unconstitutional goodies Ashcroft-Gonzales' attorneys could dream up.)

The Justice Department was confident about the Hamdi-Padilla cases. This was Bush's Supreme Court; this was the court that had, after all, handed him the presidency. He was a wartime Commander-in-Chief and he expected a two word response from his court: "Yes sir!"

On June 28th, 2004 however, by an 8-1 vote, the Supreme Court openly and eloquently defied Bush and rejected the contention that the President or his Justice Department could unilaterally suspend the constitutional protection of any United States citizen when ever it choose and under any circumstances they deemed appropriate. The decision on U.S. citizen Yaser Easam Hamdi was unequivocal: there were to be no more declarations from President Bush or anyone at the Justice Department that a United States citizen was an "enemy combatant" and therefore be denied his right to an attorney, refused a hearing in an open courtroom, refused the right to examine and challenge all evidence against him, or unable to call witnesses on his behalf, or publicly pronounced guilty before a trial had been held. No one, not the President or the Attorney General or the Secretary of Defense had any right to suspend a citizen's Constitutional rights.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor nailed it, "We have long made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."

So, if American citizen Hamdi was now free, enjoying the warmth of Saudi Arabia. It followed, naturally, that American citizen Padilla would be set free, right? And in the next column we discover why Jose Padilla — whose citizen's rights were equally violated — is sitting in a Miami Federal Court, standing trial, facing life in prison.

(With Rachel M. Koch)

Lew can be reached at lew dot koch at gmail dot com.

(Still from Exhibit E, Docket No. 695, Filed December 1st, 2006 – USA et al vs. Hassoun et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida;)

Lewis Z. Koch

Lewis Z. Koch