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After five years and tens of millions of dollars, Jose Padilla was found to be a terrorist in a court of law yesterday. He wasn't found to be a wannabe dirty bomber; those accusations were dropped. Apparently he was also going to rent apartments in high rises, fill them with gas from the stoves, and blow them up in an attack that surely would have been blamed on Fight Club. Those accusations, too, came to naught.
But the third try was a victory, a big win, a high profile success! The Feds got their man for "helping Islamic extremists and plotting overseas attacks in a case that came to symbolize the Bush administration's zeal to clamp down on terrorism."
How'd the "star recruit" help?
Well, first he went to Egypt and did his darndest to learn Arabic.
"When he needed an Army jacket and sleeping bag, he turned to his mother in South Florida to send them. He struggled to learn Arabic, with one of his friends describing him with some exasperation as a 'slow learner' -- so lazy that Padilla would learn only if they put a dictionary in bed."
In fairness, it's hard to concentrate when you're in a new country and suffering from culture shock.
"'It's very difficult [to get a recommendation] 'cause . . . you know, and especially that I'm American, you know? So it's very . . . you know I am an American, so it's very hard,' he tells Adham Hassoun, the Florida man prosecutors describe as his recruiter. 'Listen, I have to let you go, because the phone card is blowing up.'"
From there, he apparently moved on to an Al Qaeda training camp, because he filled out the "Mujahiddin Data Form," which reads like a Wal-Mart job application modified for the needs of militant jihadists. (You can read the PDF here.) How do we know it's his? It's got his date of birth, nickname, and, five and a half years after the FBI obtained it, the FBI found his fingerprints on it.
Padilla allegedly filled out the form in July 2000. That fall, his coconspirators were looking for him, when apparently he was supposed to be at the camp. "'Ibrahim is a little farther south. . . . He is supposed to be at Osama's,' Youssef said." Prosecutors hoped that testimony from another member of an Al Qaeda "sleeper cell"--obtained under a plea deal--would help, but that didn't work out very well.
Now, Padilla, even if he's not a terrorist, is a has a history of violence; he robbed and kicked a man to death when he was 15 and later served almost a year in jail for shooting at a motorist who cut him off. And hell, maybe he is a terrorist. So at least he's off the streets, right?
Well, maybe not. When you deprive a man of all human contact (including with an attorney and, as much as possible, during trips to the dentist) for the better part of his incarceration for the purpose of breaking him as a human being and then enter him into the U.S. legal system, you're pretty much begging for the conviction to be appealed.
As legal scholar Marty Lederman puts it, Padilla was denied access to an attorney "so that he will come to think that all hope is lost -- that he is in a world without law or due process. As long as he even thinks that he is subject to the Constitution and laws of the United States, the 'relationship' of 'trust and dependency' is broken" (emphasis Lederman's). That's the explicit argument of the Jacoby Declaration (PDF), filed in the case by the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.