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Public Statements

Proper Perspective on the Padilla Case

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


PROPER PERSPECTIVE ON THE PADILLA CASE -- (Extensions of Remarks - June 08, 2004)
SPEECH OF

HON. MARK UDALL
OF COLORADO
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
TUESDAY, JUNE 8, 2004

Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Speaker, the Justice Department recently released information about the alleged offenses of Jose Padilla, described by the Deputy Attorney General as "a trained, funded, and equipped terrorist."

If the allegations are accurate-and I have no reason to doubt them-that description seems very apt. But that cannot be the end of the story.

That's because, as the Rocky Mountain News notes, Jose Padilla is something else as well--"an American citizen who was arrested on U.S. soil two years ago and who thus enjoys, or should enjoy, certain rights-including the right to either be charged with a crime or freed from detention."

But, as the same editorial correctly points out, "Instead, he still faces no charges, and the legality of his imprisonment awaits a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court."

When this case was considered by the Supreme Court, the Administration argued that by passage of Public Law 107-40, a resolution "to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States," Congress authorized such detentions. But as one who voted for that resolution, I disagree with that interpretation of its terms.

Here, too, I share the view of the Rocky Mountain News that "surely Congress did not mean to grant the executive branch unchecked discretion over the imprisonment of Americans for as long as the war against Islamic jihadists continues. That would amount to the suspension of a fundamental right for years-perhaps for generations, for all we know."

And I share the hope that the Supreme Court will "reaffirm the right of citizens-every citizen-to full and timely access to legal counsel and the judicial system. And that includes even those who may have been in league with international terrorists and who planned to blow up high-rise apartment buildings on their behalf."

For the benefit of our colleagues, I attach the full text of the editorial cited above: [From the Rocky Mountain News, June 3, 2004]

PADILLA'S PLOTS DON'T NEGATE HIS RIGHTS

We are perfectly willing to entertain the likelihood that the Justice Department's latest portrayal of alleged terrorist Jose Padilla is accurate, including the monstrous plan to blow up high-rise apartment buildings. Padilla met with top al-Qaida leaders, according to Deputy Attorney General James Comey, discussed detonating a "dirty bomb" in the United States and finally agreed to a scheme involving apartment buildings. He would rent rooms in several complexes, seal them and fill them with natural gas, and detonate them all at once.

Padilla is "a soldier of our enemy, a trained, funded and equipped terrorist" who accepted "an assignment to kill hundreds of innocent men, women and children," Comey told reporters this week, and the description sounds about right. But Padilla is something else, too: an American citizen who was arrested on U.S. soil two years ago and who thus enjoys, or should enjoy, certain rights-including the right to either be charged with a crime or freed from detention. Instead, he still faces no charges, and the legality of his imprisonment awaits a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

With its latest revelations, the Justice Department obviously is seeking to influence public opinion and perhaps even the court itself, although we don't begrudge it the attempt. But the new information fails to alter the basic problem with designating U.S. citizens arrested in this country as "enemy combatants" for purposes of removing them from normal criminal justice procedures and then interrogating them over lengthy periods of time without benefit of counsel. If the president's say-so is enough to have kept Padilla in custody for two years without a criminal charge, then nothing in principle prevents any one of us from the same fate. Federal agents have been known to arrest the wrong people, after all, and then to resist admitting their mistakes.

Fortunately, Padilla's case is apparently unique in the war on terror, despite routine claims that the Bush administration tramples indiscriminately on constitutional rights. Another U.S. citizen who also has been held in a Navy brig without normal access to counsel, Yaser Esam Hamdi, was captured in Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance. He too deserves full constitutional protections, in our view, but there is at least some sense in which being arrested at O'Hare Airport and then held incommunicado for months on end, as Padilla was, is more worrisome for civil liberties than being treated in the same fashion after capture in a foreign combat zone.

We realize courts in this nation's past have said Congress has the authority to suspend certain civil liberties during wartime emergencies. Moreover, a congressional joint resolution passed after 9/11 authorized the president "to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States." But surely Congress did not mean to grant the executive branch unchecked discretion over the imprisonment of Americans for as long as the war against Islamic jihadists continues. That would amount to the suspension of a fundamental right for years-perhaps for generations, for all we know.

No, the Supreme Court must reaffirm the right of citizens-every citizen-to full and timely access to legal counsel and the judicial system. And that includes even those who may have been in league with international terrorists and who planned to blow up high-rise apartment buildings on their behalf.

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