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(DV) Whitney: Jose Padilla and the Death of Personal Liberty







Jose Padilla and the Death of Personal Liberty  
by Mike Whitney
September 11, 2005

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“The very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive.”

 -- Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

I had to sit down when I heard the Padilla case had been settled. I literally felt sick to my stomach, like I was gasping for air. The case of Jose Padilla is quite simply the most important case in the history of the American judicial system. Hanging in the balance are all the fundamental principles of American jurisprudence including habeas corpus, due process and “the presumption of innocence.” All of those basic concepts were summarily revoked by the 3-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court. The Court ruled in favor of the Bush administration which claimed that it had the right to indefinitely imprison an American citizen without charging him with a crime. The resulting verdict confers absolute authority on the President to incarcerate American citizens without charge and without any legal means for the accused to challenge the terms of his detention. It is the end of “inalienable rights,” the end of The Bill of Rights, and the end of any meaningful notion of personal liberty.

I remember reading 3 or 4 years ago in Zbigniew Brzezinski’s, The Grand Chessboard, of a strategy to dominate the world that would result in the loss of freedom for American citizens. Brzezinski recognized the inherent threat that liberty posed to the development of empire. He stated:

“It is also a fact that America is too democratic at home to be autocratic abroad. This limits the use of America's power, especially its capacity for military intimidation. Never before has a populist democracy attained international supremacy. But the pursuit of power is not a goal that commands popular passion, except in conditions of a sudden threat or challenge to the public's sense of domestic well-being. The economic self-denial (that is, defense spending) and the human sacrifice (casualties, even among professional soldiers) required in the effort are uncongenial to democratic instincts. Democracy is inimical to imperial mobilization.” (p. 35)

Brzezinski’s prescient forecast has proved to be astonishingly accurate. The determination of the neocons, the Federalist Society, the far-right radio giants, the Olin, Scaife, Coors and Bradley foundations, and the entire stable of right-wing, quasi-fascist groups that operate openly within American society, have pounded the final wooden stake into the heart of the personal freedom. The basic legal protections that safeguard the citizen from the arbitrary and hostile action of the state have been rescinded. We all stand naked before the absolute power of the President.

The government has no case against Jose Padilla, a hapless Chicago gangbanger who allegedly visited Pakistan before he was arrested at O’Hare airport three and a half years ago. He is simply an unwitting victim of circumstance, a convenient scapegoat for eviscerating the rule of law. The Bush administration has used its extraordinary influence in the media to demagogue the case and keep him locked away without producing one shred of evidence against him. The entire affair has been a grotesque mockery of justice. The hard-right groups that engineered this plot know exactly where the fault lines in American jurisprudence lie: in the inalienable protections of its citizens.

Padilla became the test case for shattering the Bill of Rights with one withering blow. It has succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectation.

There’s no chance that the Supreme Court will retry the case and draw more attention to the shocking details of this judicial coup; they already punted once before preferring to pass it along to the lower court. Rather, the meaning of the case will be ignored until the president needs to exercise the newly bestowed powers of supreme leader. That authority is now firmly rooted in the legal precedent established by the Padilla ruling.

No Longer the Land of the Free

Americans seem unaware of the great loss we’ve all suffered by the Padilla verdict. If the President is allowed to arbitrarily decide who has “inalienable rights,” than those rights become the provisional gifts of the government rather than a reliable shield against the abuse of state power. It means that every American citizen is as vulnerable to the same violation of human rights as the men currently imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. It also means that the legal wall that shelters the citizen from the random violence of the political establishment has been reduced to rubble.

The Padilla ruling is the blackest day in American history. The icons of American liberty -- the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Statue of Liberty -- are empty shrines if they are not underscored by the guarantee of freedom. The Vietnam Memorial, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, the 4th of July, the Federalist Papers, and the American flag -- all gratuitous expressions of a principle that has vanished from the political landscape.

Every man and woman who ever wore an American uniform and died in the service of his or her country, died in vain. Their sacrifice has been rendered completely worthless by the action of the 4th Circuit Court.

George Bush has now extinguished every meaningful part of the American dream. The last vestige of the social contract has been defiled and desecrated by the administration and their court. Personal freedom is dead in America. It was impaled by the verdict against Jose Padilla. How many thousands or, perhaps, millions of Americans will die or endure incalculable suffering to regain what we have lost on this tragic day?

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at:

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