A jury in Miami has just found Jose Padilla guilty of conspiring to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas and providing material support to terrorists. The Bush administration is sure to trumpet the verdict as proof that the war on terrorism is working -- hey, there are some things that warrant breaking a vacation -- but let's have the reality check first.
When Padilla was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare Airport in June 2002, then Attorney General John Ashcroft interrupted a trip to Russia to tell the American people of a "significant step forward in the war on terrorism." "We have captured a known terrorist who was exploring a plan to build and explode a radiological dispersion device, or 'dirty bomb,' in the United States," Ashcroft said.
For the next three years, the Bush administration held Padilla -- without charges -- in military custody, where he was subjected to "sensory deprivation" and God knows what other "interrogation techniques" while being denied access to counsel. In the midst of it all, the Justice Department declared in June 2004 that Padilla had been recruited by al-Qaida and trained to blow up apartment buildings with natural gas.
Then in November 2005, just when it appeared that the Supreme Court might order him released, the administration abruptly moved Padilla out of military custody and handed him over to the civilian criminal justice system, where he was lumped in with two other defendants already facing federal charges.
For the past three months, prosecutors have put on their case in Miami. "For long stretches of time," writes a reporter who has followed the case, the prosecutors "barely mentioned" Padilla. Dirty bombs? They never came up at all.