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Hysteria on Trial

tmpphpjyqqux.jpg In Chicago, we don’t have many stars. Al Capone was a star criminal. Almost single handedly, with a baseball bat and machine gun, he created the nation’s first permanent criminal enterprise which almost eighty years later runs smoothly. Mayor Richard J. Daley (the older guy) was a star politician, creating, maintaining and even strengthening the nation’s smoothest running political machine, so powerful that it could hand John F. Kennedy the Presidency by holding back the vote in Chicago precincts till he knew exactly how many ballots would have to be created out of thin air to win. Michael Jordan was a star athlete, the Baryshnikov of basketball, bringing millions of Chicago victory-starved sports fans trophy and trophy after trophy.

But when Assistant United States Attorney Brian K. Frazier called Jose Padilla, Chicago’s not-very-bright–wanna- be, a star recruit for Al Qaeda, he gave hyperbole a whole new meaning. Then the prosecution dug back in their paltry bag of cookies to the original indictment to proffer three chilling acts, telling jurors that Mr. Padilla attended a training camp in Afghanistan “to learn how to kill, kidnap and maim according to Al Qaeda’s techniques.”

In case the jury had forgotten 9/11, the prosecutor produced this outrageous bit of bigot-theater:

On Monday, the prosecution set up a a slide projector showing black and white pictures of the three defendants wearing kaffiyeh, an Arab headdress, as 12 jurors heard the closing arguments.

”What al Qaeda did writ large, these defendants did on a smaller scale,” Frazier said.

Get it?

Al Qaeda big! Twin towers collapsing. Defendants: small: zucchini Busch Gardens. All wearing kaffiyeh.

There was not one shred of testimony, not one witness who testified to Al Qaeda drill sergeants teaching Padilla anything.

Worse, was the crime of being evasive.

Mr. Frazier recalled how the F.B.I. agent who arrested Mr. Padilla at O’Hare International Airport had testified that Mr. Padilla had been evasive. Mr. Padilla acknowledged living in Egypt, the agent said, yet claimed not to remember simple details of his time there, including his wife’s phone number.

“Why wouldn’t he give simple information at O’Hare?” Mr. Frazier asked. “Why would an official Al Qaeda document be recovered from Afghanistan with his prints on it? These are not coincidences.”

No, they are not coincidences. They are the normal kinds of responses almost any kind of American citizen would give when abruptly arrested and taken into custody without being allowed – as is his constitutional rights – the Miranda warning.

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you at interrogation time and at court.

I didn’t read about the Supreme Court ruling that Miranda applies to everyone except for Padilla.

Did prejudice enter into the indictment? Yes, said William Swor, attorney for Kifah Wael Jayousi.

“Why use the word Islam?” Swor asked jurors during closing arguments in Miami federal court Tuesday morning. “Because it’s frightening. We have a recent history. We have fears and we have a cultural prejudice going back almost 1,000 years.”

There’s one story that summed it up for me by Warren Richey of the Christian Science Monitor.

As Richey tells it, it becomes a tale that makes implicates all those who participated – from the lowest ranking military person to the highest ranking officials of the Justice Department and the White House, with the President himself knowing what was occurring under his watch. Read this..and weep.

For a month, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been questioning Padilla in New York City under the rules of the criminal justice system. [Note: without an attorney.] They wanted to know about his alleged involvement in a plot to detonate a radiological “dirty bomb” in the US. Padilla had nothing to say. Now, military interrogators were about to turn up the heat.

Padilla was delivered to the US Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C., where he was held not only in solitary confinement but as the sole detainee in a high security wing of the prison. Fifteen other cells sat empty around him.

The purpose of the extraordinary privacy, according to experts familiar with the technique, was to eliminate the possibility of human contact. No voices in the hallway. No conversations with other prisoners. No tapping out messages on the walls. No ability to maintain a sense of human connection, a sense of place or time.

In essence, experts say, the US government was trying to break Padilla’s silence by plunging him into a mental twilight zone. Padilla was not the only Al Qaeda suspect locked away in isolation. Although harsh interrogation methods such as water boarding, forced hypothermia, sleep deprivation, and stress positions draw more media attention, use of isolation to “soften up” detainees for questioning is much more common.

“It is clear that the intent of this isolation was to break Padilla for the purpose of the interrogations that were to follow,” says Stuart Grassian, a Boston psychiatrist and nationally recognized expert on the debilitating effects of solitary confinement. Dr. Grassian conducted a detailed examination of Padilla for his lawyers.

We are no longer in a situation where we are waiting for the barbarians. The barbarians have arrived and they are us.

I don’t give a damn what the jury says about these three hapless wannabes. I want to know what we’re – you and me — going to do to protest this terrible injustice perpetrated by the nation’s most powerful leaders Rather than a “star recruit” for Al Quada, our “leaders” have made Jose Padilla a star victim of civil rights and Bill of Rights abuses.

Regardless of the verdict, which should come the middle of next week, the name Padilla will now go down around the world, next to those of Sacco and Vansetti and Koramatsu and Gideon and Miranda as people who put our United States Constitution to the test.

(With Christopher Austin)

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Lewis Z. Koch

Lewis Z. Koch