Sunday, August 18, 2002

I don't think Americans have fully realized the implications of the Jose Padilla case. Padilla was picked up in May, and stored until June, when his case was used as a distraction by the Bush Administration to draw attention away from the Coleen Rowley testimony. This misdirection was a tremendous success. Padilla then spent the summer as an 'enemy combatant', without being charged or offered any hope of trial (a Kafka novel in real life). The key point to understand is the vehemence with which Administration officials have now made it clear that Padilla was not a member of al-Qaeda, and had done nothing wrong, but they have decided to continue to hold him indefinitely anyway. They absolutely want to ensure that you did not miss these points, but did nothing about them. I don't know whether you are supposed to hear some kind of special sound when a precedent is being set, but I think I heard something. It is also not a coincidence that Ashcroft is simultaneously musing about setting up camps for American citizens who he deems to be 'enemy combatants'. In a year, when the body bags start coming home from Iraq, and you find yourself arrested and indefinitely detained in one of AshKroft's Kamps for participating in an anti-war march, you will say: 'But I'm an American citizen!' They will say: 'So was Padilla.' You will say: 'But I didn't do anything wrong!' They will say: 'Neither did Padilla.' Padilla was the perfect test case - Hispanic, ex-con, ex-gang member, convert to Islam. The Administration cast a few lies around about 'dirty bombs', and no one was prepared to lift a finger to help him. Don't think the courts will be of any use either. Some lower courts may be sympathetic, but the issue will be decided by the Supreme Court, and its outrageous installation of Bush shows that it is subservient to the junta. The Administration can now quietly let Padilla go and the damage will already have been done. The really interesting aspect of all this is that this problem teaches us about how the Germans managed to fall into the grasp of Hitler. This has been a great mystery for historians, but now we can see, in real time, the exact same thing happening in the United States. Hitler got himself elected (there he has a leg up on Bush), used thuggery to keep himself in power (think of Bush's rioters as his first example of this), used the Jews as the enemy to rally support against (Bush has terrorists), had an fake attack on the country, the Reichstag fire, to further rally the people (Bush has 9-11), continued to stir up fake hysteria in the people to use the herd instinct to build on his power (Bush uses fake terror warnings), gradually removed legal and human rights protections on the excuse that they were being used to protect the 'enemy' (the Padilla case) and then was able to brutalize any opposition without fear of legal restraint, had right wing judges in his pocket to enforce his evil laws (Bush has the Supreme Court), terrified the craven democratic opposition into letting him have his way (Bush has the Democrats), and eventually used a combination of terror and petty self-interest to lead his country into a disasterous war (Bush uses the war on terror and a desire to seize Iraqi oil to keep those SUV's running as his excuse to attack Iraq). The most interesting thing is that in both cases the average person could do absolutely nothing to stop any of it (if you disagree, just what do you plan to do to stop it?). Just as the Germans knew about the concentration camps but pretended not to know to try to 'get along', will Americans live in the shadows of AshKroft's Kamps pretending they don't exist in an attempt to keep out of them? Americans have allowed the most important of the legal rights, that of habeas corpus, a right that goes back to the Magna Carta and is enshrined in the Constitution, to disappear without a wimper. It is not an exaggeration to see the Padilla case as the most important case in the law of legal rights in many years, and no one seems to care or even notice.