JOSE PADILLA, aka Abdullah al Muhajir, should be an instant folk hero among the American left. For an ideology that craves victims, he’s a twofer Muslim and Hispanic. His ethnicity alone makes him far more compelling than John Walker Lindh, a white kid, and a rich one at that. Unlike Taliban John, Taliban Jose has serious mass-market appeal: The reformed gangbanger found religion behind bars and set out to see the world, only to be busted on a technicality by The Man when he returned to the U.S.
True, he’s also a convicted felon and, by all indications, an al Qaeda sympathizer who wants to devastate Washington, D.C., with a "dirty bomb" laced with radioactive materials, but his murderous intentions won’t deter those most likely to take up his cause it never has before.
Within hours of Attorney General John Aschroft’s announcement that the FBI had apprehended Padilla and detained him at a Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C., the usual suspects rushed to defend him. The American Civil Liberties Union dashed off a press release denouncing the Justice Department’s decision to classify Padilla as an "enemy combatant," thus depriving him of legal rights and protections accorded to run-of-the-mill criminals. Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s Executive Director, complained that the government "has failed to justify why our traditional system of American justice should not apply in the case of Jose Padilla."
The ACLU reasons that "if the government has sufficient evidence of criminal conduct of a United States citizen then it should charge him in U.S. courts," but that’s the problem while Padilla clearly appears to be a terrorist, "sufficient evidence" of the sort to convict him criminally doesn’t exist. The FBI apprehended him as soon as he stepped off the plane from Pakistan to Chicago, well before he was able to determine the logistics of the attack that al Qaeda officials reportedly authorized him to launch.
According to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Padilla had yet to form "an actual plan." The feds "stopped this man in the initial planning stages" a marked improvement over their inability to thwart Sept. 11 despite numerous promising leads, but a severe liability for any prosecutor charged with trying Taliban Jose in a court of law. Without a concrete plan an intended target, an effort to secure ingredients for a "dirty bomb" there’s no evidence that could persuade a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. If the FBI had decided to press criminal charges, Padilla would most likely have never even gone to trial, securing a quick release and another chance to go about his merry work.
The Justice Department reportedly came up against a court-imposed deadline to file criminal charges or else release the Puerto Rican jihadist from custody. Wisely, it decided to opt for "enemy combatant" status instead. Now the government can hold Padilla indefinitely, and his access to an attorney will be limited, much to the chagrin of the ACLU.
This is a protest that, even by ACLU standards, attains new levels of absurdity. If Taliban Jose doesn’t qualify as an "enemy combatant," it’s hard to imagine who would. Wolfowitz says that the al Qaeda operative "researched nuclear weapons and received training in wiring explosives while in Pakistan, and he was instructed to return to the United States to conduct reconnaissance operations for al Qaeda." Ashcroft reports that "multiple, independent and corroborating sources" indicate that Padilla was "involved in planning future terrorist attacks on innocent American civilians in the United States."
That evidence may be too flimsy, and its sources too unreliable, to secure a conviction or even an indictment, but it seems more than adequate to demonstrate that Padilla is a threat to the American people—and, yes, an "enemy combatant." That title could also apply to both John Walker Lindh and Zacarias Moussaoui, the "20th hijacker," but in those cases, the Justice Department declined to make the designation, most likely because officials believed they could secure criminal convictions, and didn’t want to unnecessarily antagonize the civil-liberties crowd.
This time, it’s not so easy, and protecting the civil liberties of an Osama-loving gangster necessarily takes a backseat to safeguarding the American public from catastrophic attack. The left won’t see it that way, but the left will always complain. It regards failure to prevent a terrorist attack as proof of a right-wing conspiracy, and success as a civil-rights violation.
There will, no doubt, be more traitors like Taliban Jose. Radical Muslim groups stand much to gain by developing an American fifth column, and the obvious recruits are disaffected inmates in U.S. prisons passport-holding reprobates with a history of violence.
President Bush’s remark that "you are with us, or you are with the terrorists," applies to American citizens as much as it does to foreign governments. The Taliban Johns and the Taliban Joses out there are clearly against us, and the extreme sensibilities of civil libertarians only make their efforts easier.