ACLU Questions Military Detention of U.S. Citizen, Saying President Reneged on Promise

June 10, 2002 12:00 am

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NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union today criticized the government’s military detention of a U.S. citizen as an “”enemy combatant,”” saying that the action belies President Bush’s earlier assurance that U.S. citizens would not be subject to military jurisdiction.

The government’s actions suggest that the suspect, Jose Padilla, who is also known as Abdullah Al Mujahir, could be held indefinitely in military detention, and if tried, would be denied a regular open jury trial. According to news reports, Padilla is accused of being involved in a plot to place a radioactive “”dirty bomb”” in the Washington metro system.

“”If a non-citizen like Zacarias Moussaoui can be tried in a regular court of law, surely a United States citizen can be afforded the same access to justice,”” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “”As we have seen in the prosecutions of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, our courts are perfectly capable of meting out justice even in the most horrific of circumstances. The government has failed to justify why our traditional system of American justice should not apply in the case of Jose Padilla.””

According to news reports, Padilla was transferred to military custody today because the Justice Department was facing a court-imposed deadline that would have required it to charge or release the alleged bomber, whom the government says is a member of Al Qaeda. The government has not said why it did not seek a criminal indictment.

The ACLU said that if the government has sufficient evidence of criminal conduct of a United States citizen then it should charge him in U.S. courts and that the desire to prosecute or detain suspects under the less stringent military standard for such prisoners does not justify an abandonment of its earlier assurances that citizens would not be subject to military jurisdiction.

The ACLU today also urged the government to explain to the American people:

— Whether the Administration intends to hold Padilla indefinitely without any opportunity to defend himself;
— Whether Padilla’s public defender is still his lawyer, and if not, what counsel has been appointed and what kind of access to that counsel has been provided; and
— Whether Padilla has access to the courts to challenge his designation as an enemy combatant.

“”For the United States to maintain its moral authority in the fight against terrorism,” Romero concluded, “”its actions must be implemented in accordance with core American legal and social values.””

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