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Courts Move America Towards a Police State

One Thousand Reasons | September 15 2005

Jose Padilla may or may not be a terrorist. Unfortunately, with the ruling today by a three-judge appeals court panel, we may not know for a long time. The judges declared emphatically that Padilla may be held indefinitely, without being charged, because the Bush administration has labeled him an “enemy combatant.” Never mind that he was arrested in Chicago, or that he is an American citizen. The judges ruled that Bush has the power to hold anyone as long as he chooses under the power granted him by the Congress after the 9-11 attacks. Two aspects of this case should scare us all.

First, Bush gained his powers under the guise of war. As we should know by now, an indefinite state of war -- the kind we have experienced since Bush declared his “war on terror”-- is the mark not of being under attack by an unbeatable enemy, but of living in a country ruled by a dictator. It is the kind of war George Orwell warned us about, perpetual war against an elusive, largely unknown enemy. When will the war be over? When George Bush decides it is, or when his administration is replaced by one dedicated to peace rather than war.

Second, Padilla has been held for over three years without charge. While it is conceivable that dangerous criminals should be held at length to prevent further crimes, Padilla languishes in jail in perpetuity, waiting -- again at the whim of George Bush -- for someone to file official charges against him. If the weight of evidence is great enough to hold him, it is great enough to send him before a judge and jury. If the evidence is weak, which appears likely, given the length of time, then he should be released. To hold him or anyone in limbo denies him the basic liberty Americans have fought and died for.

Jose Padilla may have planned to attack American citizens with a “dirty” bomb. He may have trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan with known terrorists. But unless the Bush administration is willing to present the evidence to a court of justice where it can be examined and evaluated, he should be freed. A police state -- and the indefinite jailing of citizens without charge certainly puts America in that category -- serves no one but its masters. We should not have to live in fear of our government.


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