Have we suspended the Constitution?

A software engineer and graduate student who lives in Cohasset

If you are a U.S. citizen, imagine yourself imprisoned indefinitely because “unnamed government officials” have accused you of being a terrorist. You can’t face your accusers, speak with an attorney, or have your case heard in a court of law.

Impossible? It’s already happened, it’s unconstitutional, and no one seems to care.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft placed a U.S. citizen, Jose Padilla, under arrest more than one month ago as a terrorist, but charges have yet to be filed against him. The U.S. government is essentially refusing to present evidence in a court of law to support its claims. Two days before Padilla was scheduled to appear before a civilian judge to hear his case, Ashcroft transferred him to a high-security military prison and has refused to allow his lawyer to meet with him. Ashcroft has labeled Padilla an “enemy combatant” as a way to justify these actions. His lawyer has now filed a motion in federal court challenging his indefinite military detention. Padilla is now in complete legal limbo.

Padilla was born in Brookyn and raised in Chicago. He changed his name to Al Muhajir and is accused of plotting to explode a dirty radioactive bomb. He obviously deserves this treatment, right? But if the government officials refuse to present evidence against him and refuse to press charges (possibly because there isn’t enough evidence), why are we so certain he’s guilty? Where do we get our information? Do you trust “unnamed government sources” that much?

These “unnamed government sources” are sharing large amounts of information with the media regarding what they believe. But if these theories and beliefs can’t be backed up by hard evidence that will stand up in a court of law, then Jose Padilla, as a U.S. citizen, has a right to be set free.

I write not to focus on the guilt or innocence of Padilla. Even if he is completely guilty of conspiracy to create a radioactive bomb, this doesn’t change the fact that the U.S. government, under the guidance of the Bush administration, has clearly exceeded its authority. Padilla, if he is guilty, is guilty only of conspiracy—no one has accused him of actually doing anything violent, and no one is suggesting he is a danger to the public.

Our Constitution is the supreme document that specifically defines what government officials can and cannot do. Padilla is a U.S. citizen, yet he can’t face his accusers, speak with his attorney, or have his case heard in a court of law. He is being held indefinitely in jail without charges.

But how are the media presenting this case? The accusations against Padilla are being printed up and echoed as known facts. The media are framing the entire case as if Padilla is known to be guilty. No evidence has been presented in court. He’s not been charged with any crime. Do you think the law protects you? Whose law? What does the word "law" mean anymore when the government can do anything it pleases?