I’m going to read the legal analyses carefully before commenting substantively further. But I will take this moment to observe a couple of salient facts. The verdict is not on the original charge of plotting a dirty bomb, and it was this charge that had Padilla arrested and detained without charges and allegedly tortured for three years in solitary. The question of Padilla’s innocence or guilt on a much lesser charge is therefore less salient than the way in which he was treated by the government. That remains a travesty; and the government should be relieved its clumsy handling of the case did not lead to his acquittal. It is also important to recall that Jose Padilla was interrogated in a fashion to render his mental capacity to stand trial a question. He claimed torture, and was sequestered without being charged for three years in solitary confinement. The result was a broken man, according to Time magazine:
The government itself cited the affidavit of a psychiatrist for the defense, Dr. Angela Hegarty, who said that Mr. Padilla did not understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him and that he suffered "impairment in reasoning" as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder "complicated by the effects of prolonged isolation." Mr. Padilla’s lawyers said he opposed this request that his competency be evaluated. Dr. Hegarty, one of two mental health professionals who examined him, said Mr. Padilla was "fearful of being thought of as crazy." She described him as "hypervigilant," his eyes darting about, his face twitching into grimaces, his "startle response" on constant high alert.
"During questioning, he often exhibits facial tics, unusual eye movements and contortions of his body," Mr. Patel said. "The contortions are particularly poignant since he is usually manacled and bound by a belly chain when he has meetings with counsel."
Another piece of context: a key DVD of interrogation evidence was "lost" by the government:
The missing DVD dates from March 2, 2004. It contains a video of the last interrogation session of Padilla, then a declared “enemy combatant” under an order from President Bush, while he was being held in military custody at a U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C.
But in recent days, in the course of an unusual court hearing about Padilla’s mental condition, a government lawyer disclosed to a surprised courtroom that the Defense Intelligence Agency—which had custody of the evidence—was no longer able to locate the DVD. As a result, it was not included in a packet of classified DVDs that was recently turned over to defense lawyers under orders from Judge Cooke.
The disclosure that the Pentagon had lost a potentially important piece of evidence in one of the U.S. government’s highest-profile terrorism cases was met with claims of incredulity by some defense lawyers and human-rights groups monitoring the case. “This is the kind of thing you hear when you’re litigating cases in Egypt or Morocco or Karachi,” said John Sifton, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch, one of a number of groups that has criticized the U.S. government’s treatment of Padilla. “It is simply not credible that they would have lost this tape. The administration has shown repeatedly they are more interested in covering up abuses than getting to the bottom of whether people were abused.”
Padilla was mixed up with many unsavory characters. He was and is an Islamist. But the manner in which he was detained and prosecuted is a terrifying glimpse of the fragility of the West’s system of justice in a war on terror. I’ll comment further on the verdict and case when I’ve had time to absorb the details. Stay tuned.