What happened to justice for all?
Amidst all the news coming in from New Orleans, many Americans missed the ruling on Sept. 9 that the executive branch of the federal government has the right to label, detain and hold a citizen, taken within the borders of the United States, as an “enemy combatant.”
Federal agents arrested Josà Padilla at Chicago’s O’Hare airport May 8, 2002 as a material witness in the grand jury investigation of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. On May 9, his official status was changed to “enemy combatant,” by an order from the president, acting as commander-in-chief. Since that time, Mr. Padilla has been held in a naval brig as a prisoner of the Department of Defense. No charges have been brought against him and he has not been allowed to present his case before a jury of his peers. Last Friday, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. ruled that his detention was legal under the auspices of the controversial Authorization to Use Military Force, issued by both houses of Congress one week after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Born in New York City, Mr. Padilla is a citizen of the United States and is therefore fully protected by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, the fundamental contract between the citizens and the government of the United States. All other laws in this great republic derive their legitimacy from the Constitution and therefore it is the highest law of the land, dictating the rules of the game for the government. This is not a statutory law, subject to repeal or change by normal means. The Constitution can only be changed through the successful passage of an amendment or by an act of a constitutional convention.
The federal government has trampled upon Mr. Padilla’s rights, held him without recourse to due process and denied him a trial by jury. This constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, a further violation of Mr. Padilla’s rights. A threat to the rights of any U.S. citizen is a threat to the rights of every U.S. citizen.
Yes, Mr. Padilla has traveled throughout the Middle East. Yes, Mr. Padilla is a convert to Islam. Yes, Mr. Padilla is connected to Benevolence International, a charity accused of providing material support to terrorists. However, none of these facts change the fundamental truth that as a citizen of the United States, Mr. Padilla is entitled to his day in court.