Honor Habeas Corpus

Article excerpt

Byline: The Register-Guard

Suspicions are gathering like radioactive clouds over the Bush administration's announcement that it has arrested an American citizen believed to be part of an al-Qaeda plot to set off a dirty bomb in the United States. Some critics have suggested that Attorney General John Ashcroft's dramatic announcement was intended to deflect mounting criticism over the embarrassing pre-Sept. 11 intelligence failures by the CIA and FBI.

The administration has only encouraged such speculation by revealing that suspect Jose Padilla was held for a month in secret by the Justice Department and that the military had taken custody of him before a scheduled federal court hearing to determine the legality of his detention.

If the administration wants to prove that the government's allegations about Padilla are not a manipulative batch of semi-truths, then it should bring the suspect into a court of law where a judge would decide if the government has sufficient grounds to detain him. The prospect of an American citizen, even one believed capable of deadly acts, being detained indefinitely at the sole discretion of the president is both alarming and unconstitutional. It's also exactly the sort of act that Americans - and the American government - have condemned when carried out by other nations.

The White House has made alarmingly clear its indifference to habeas corpus, the fundamental right that requires authorities holding a prisoner to bring him to court so a judge or jury can determine if his detention is legal. "We are not interested in trying him at the moment or punishing him at the moment,'' Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said of Padilla. ``We are interested in finding out what he knows."

Say what?

By holding Padilla without any court authorization, the Bush administration is saying that it's permissible for the government to snatch up Americans and lock them away without counsel, charge, trial or prospect of release. …