June 11 2004

Commentary

Jose Padilla’s Media Trial Under “Patriot Act II”

By Ramona Shashaani

Just before the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the government’s policy of indefinite detention of U.S. citizens as “enemy combatants” without pressing charges or giving access to lawyers, the Justice Department has come up with a whole host of unsubstantiated “charges” against Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who has been held captive for almost two years. Admittedly, the Justice Dept. lacks sufficient evidence to criminally prosecute Padilla. However, they have no qualms about depriving him of his basic constitutional rights without giving him the opportunity to examine evidence or to cross examine any government witnesses.

In an effort to avoid an adverse ruling by the Supreme Court, the Justice Department is on a crusade to try Padilla publically through the media, though it’s purported evidence is hidden behind a shroud of secrecy. Not surprisingly, our “regulatory agencies” like the FCC have made it legal for press moguls like “Clearwater channel” to monopolize the industry to use as ready-made propaganda machines for the administration. While we hear loads from government mouth pieces, Jose Padilla is rotting in jail, and his attorney is only given 30 seconds to refute the charges!

9-11 changed the face of America forever in the history books, but not for the better. It all started with rounding up at least 900 (mostly) innocent Muslims or Arab-looking individuals allegedly suspected of having “connections with Al Qaeda,” yanking them from the arms of their loved ones in the middle of the night, dragging them to unknown prisons without notifying the public of their identities or whereabouts, denying them the right to seek or visit with legal counsel, depriving them of all rights bestowed upon the people under the Constitution and Bill of Rights, subjecting them to long intimidating interrogations using unorthodox methods of extracting “intelligible information,”seizing their assets and bank accounts and trying to make them disappear from public view or scrutiny.

To legalize their blatantly illegal actions, Attorney General Ashcroft and his underlings took advantage of the emotional turmoil following 9-11 to contrive the “USA Patriot Act,” which conferred broad new powers upon the federal government to effectively shred to pieces our Constitution and hard-won “Bill of Rights” under the auspices of “national security!” The Senate Judiciary Committee only held a one-and-a-half-hour mock hearing, during which Ashcroft testified about the Act, but took no questions. Meanwhile, in the House, no testimony was admitted from opponents of the bill. Under the provisions of this “anti-terrorism” bill, passed by an absolute majority of the Congress, the government was given discretionary powers to:

1) Define ‘domestic terrorism’ in such broad and vague terms that almost anyone who protests or dissents could be a target;

2) Monitor your political and religious activities;

3) Set up roving voice-activated wiretaps that would cover any conversation made from any phone in the US, without judicial oversight;

4) Monitor your Internet use, emails, and examine your online purchases;

5) Obtain your financial, medical, business and school records;

6) If asked, libraries and bookstores must report your library or purchase transactions, without informing you that your reading habits are being monitored;

7) Obtain a secret warrant to conduct search and seizure in your absence without advance notification, and prohibit you from subsequent disclosure of this information to anyone if you later discover the search and seizure;

8) Indefinitely detain you without any cause, without access to a lawyer, and without being charged with any specific crime;

9) The Secretary of State, in his/her sole discretion, can arbitrarily designate any group as a terrorist organization, without judicial oversight, and retroactively apply this ruling to all donors, members, participants, even attendees of the organization.

This anti-patriotic Act is clearly reminiscent of the Truman era when anyone could be scandalously branded as communist and lose his or her career, reputation, life and liberty. Although the Act included a sunset provision which only made it effective for a limited period of time, Ashcroft’s think tanks replaced it with the “Patriot Act II” which gave further license to the government to violate the 1st Amendment (freedom of speech and assembly), 4th Amendment (freedom from unreasonable search and seizure), 5th Amendment (right to privacy), 14th Amendment (due process and equal protection clause), freedom of information Act and freedom to dissent or criticize the President or his governmental policies under the auspices of “maintaining national unity in face of foreign terrorists.” The Act which was internally known as the “Domestic Security Enhancement Act” was strategically timed to coincide with the Iraq war to take advantage of the circumstances to quickly ram the bill through both Houses.

Since 9-11, the government has been waging its nebulous “war against terrorism” behind a shroud of secrecy, hiding not only its strategies and policies from the public, but severely restricting press coverage and accurate public information regarding the immense human and financial costs. As our basic civil liberties are insolently abridged, our information is limited to the lies the government wants us to believe in order to continue with its undemocratic means of dispensing “justice!” We are kept woefully unaware of the terrible pain and suffering and the unendurable humiliation that is inflicted upon innocents in our name.

Whether or not Jose Padilla is guilty of the government’s charges, here in America, our justice system requires that even criminals against whom there is ample evidence to convict, are deemed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. By designating its undisclosed prisoners as “enemy combatants,” the government has carved out an exception to their entitlement to a speedy trial and protection under the U.S. Constitution. It seeks to indefinitely keep the accused out of the state and federal courts while depriving them of basic civil rights. If we the people allow this to happen, we are all responsible for the violence that is being committed against human rights, against democracy, and against our long-cherished values of freedom and equality for ALL.

Ms Ramona Shashaani has practiced law in California as a workers’ compensation attorney for the past 17 years. She can be emailed at: r_shashaani@sbcglobal.net


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