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This is how America now treats people who make plans to go to Busch Gardens

Attytood | January 4, 2007

It's put-up-or-shut-up time for the feds in the case of Jose Padilla, the alleged al-Qaeda terrorist and U.S. citizen who was held held in shackles as an enemy combatant without any criminal charges, although the government once tried to claim he was involved in a dirty bomb plot.

What's he now accused of doing, after years of harsh imprisonment?

Not much, according to the New York Times. This is from tomorrow's newspaper:

In 1997, as the government listened in on their phone call, Adham Hassoun, a computer programmer in Broward County, Fla., proposed a road trip to Jose Padilla, a low-wage worker there. The excursion to Tampa would be his treat, Mr. Hassoun said, and a chance to meet “some nice, uh, brothers.”
Mr. Padilla, 36, a Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican who had converted to Islam a few years earlier, knew Mr. Hassoun, an outspoken Palestinian, from his mosque. Still, according to a transcript of the conversation obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Padilla equivocated as Mr. Hassoun exhorted.

“We take the whole family and have a blast,” Mr. Hassoun said. “We go to, uh, our Busch Gardens, you know ... You won't regret it. Money-back guarantee.”

Mr. Padilla, laughing, suggested that they not discuss the matter over the phone.

“Why?” Mr. Hassoun said. “We're going to Busch Gardens. What's the big deal!”

Was Padilla's tone a little suspicious sounding? Perhaps. Was it worthy of suspending the right of habeas corpus and other central tenets of the U.S. Constitution?

What do you think?

As has already been reported, once the Supreme Court ordered the Bush administration to draft criminal charges against Padilla, the dirty bombs and all the other serious allegations melted away, and he was grafted onto a much less serious terror-related case. What is he now accused of?

Deciphering such chatter in order to construct a convincing narrative of conspiracy is a challenge. Yet, prosecutors say, the government will rely largely on wiretapped conversations when it puts Mr. Padilla, Mr. Hassoun, and a third defendant, Kifah Jayyousi, on trial as a “North American support cell” that sent money, goods and recruits abroad to assist “global jihad.”
Tens of thousands of conversations were recorded. Some 230 phone calls form the core of the government's case, including 21 that make reference to Mr. Padilla, prosecutors said. But Mr. Padilla's voice is heard on only seven calls. And on those seven, which The Times obtained from a participant in the case, Mr. Padilla does not discuss violent plots.

Basically, according to the Times, Padilla now stands accused of aiding Muslim causes in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Chechnya during the 1990s, a little different from plotting a second 9/11. The most significant piece of evidence in the government arsenal here would seem to be a claim that he filled out an Arab language application, under an alias, to attend a terrorist training camp (they have applications...who knew?)

If Padilla was actively plotting terrorism against the United States, that's a crime, and he should go to jail, But Padilla's lawyers, now that he's finally allowed lawyers, say that he did no such thing.

Read the whole story -- it's long, but there is a lot going on here, including disturbing new information about a parallel case in the Guantanamo military tribunal system where coerced information will be allowable. Also, as the story points out, Padilla could actually be thrown back in the brig even if he's found not guilty.

Which could be the case. Here's one more passage from the article:

In contrast, Mr. Padilla's seven conversations with Mr. Hassoun range from straightforward — Mr. Hassoun tells Mr. Padilla that his grandmother has died; Mr. Padilla tells Mr. Hassoun that he has found himself an 18-year-old Egyptian bride who is willing to wear a veil — to vaguely suggestive or just odd.

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