Jose Padilla, the terror suspect who was arrested in May 2002 amid cries from John Ashcroft that the government had foiled a dirty nuke attack in the works, was convicted on all charges in federal court yesterday. There's good news and bad news here. The good news is that this conviction makes it harder for the Bush administration to claim that terror suspects need an extra-constitutional process for trying and sentencing. The bad news...well...
Y'know the charges he was arrested on, the ones that John Ashcroft was so excited about? Those weren't mentioned at all in his federal trial, since for some silly reason federal courts don't like to use evidence that was gathered by rendering suspects outside the U.S. justice system. Instead, Padilla was prosecuted as part of an existing case against two other terror suspects, Adham Hassan and Kifah Jayyousi. The evidence? He met them at a mosque at one point, he talked with them on the phone during seven out of thousands of wiretapped calls, saying nothing of significance (the other phone calls, the ones with just Hassan and Jayyousi, had what prosecutors claimed was code), and his fingerprints were all over an Al Qaeda recruitment document that he could easily have handled while confined in military prison. The end result, though, was that the more persuasive evidence against Hassan and Jayyousi stuck to Padilla as well. Padilla might appeal.
But at least now everyone knows that the Bush administration doesn't need a special process to unjustly convict terror suspects--they can do that just as easily with federal courts. And maybe—just maybe—this will put pressure on the Bush administration to give terror suspects federal trials. That would be great, because then they'd have to stop getting evidence through extraordinary rendition and start getting it through better methods: y'know, the kind that don't involve getting other countries to torture individuals who haven't been accused of a crime. The end result would be more reliable intelligence, since the information gathered from torture is hideously unreliable.
A caveat: Padilla might be guilty. I certainly don't know. But the verdict he received seemed to rest more on his having the wrong friends than on any actual proof of terrorist activities.
UPDATE: The NYT agrees—Padilla was basically sentenced to life in prison for a thought crime.