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Jose Padilla . . . believed he could separate plutonium from nuclear material by rapidly swinging over his head a bucket filled with fissionable material.
(David Johnston, “At a Secret Interrogation, Dispute Flared Over Tactics,” New York Times, September 10, 2006)

With habeas corpus a thing of the past, with arrest and detention without charge permitted, with torture and spying without court oversight all the rage, with prosecutors free to tape conversations between lawyers and their clients, and with the judicial branch now infested by rightwing judges who would have been at home in courtrooms of the Soviet Union or Hitler’s Germany, for all they seem to care about common law tradition, the only real thing holding the line against absolute tyranny in the U.S. has been the jury.

Now, with Jose Padilla–a US citizen who was originally picked up and held incommunicado on a military base for three and a half years, publicly accused (though never charged) with planning to construct and detonate a so-called “dirty” nuclear device (this a guy without a high school education!), all based upon hearsay, evidence elicited by torture, and a few overheard wiretapped conversations where prosecutors claimed words like “zucchini” were code for explosive devices-convicted on a charge of “planning to murder,” we see that juries in this era of a bogus “war on terror” are ready to believe anything.

That last line of defense-the common sense or ordinary citizens in a jury box-is gone too.

The jury in this case apparently accepted the government’s contention that Padilla was a member of Al Qaeda, and had returned from a trip to Pakistan full of plans to wreak mayhem on his own country. They cared not a whit for the fact that the government had used methods against Padilla (three years of isolation and total sensory deprivation that had driven him insane) which would have made medieval torturers green with envy. They cared not a whit that there was no real evidence against Padilla.

This was, in the end, a case that most closely resembled the famous Saturday Night Live skit in which witches were dunked underwater to “prove” whether they were in fact witches, and where if they drowned, they were found to be innocent. In the end, Padilla’s jury simply bought the government’s wild and wild-eyed story. They decided he hadn’t drowned, so he must be guilty.

(Dave Lindorff) [Lindorff’s newest book is “The Case for Impeachment”, co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.]