In a major ruling with enormous implications, a federal judge has ruled that the government has 45 days to charge Jose Padilla with a crime, prove that he is a material witness and must be held, or release him. Padilla, a US citizen, has been held for over two and a half years in a military prison with no charges filed against him and no chance to have his day in court to challenge his detention, in clear violation of at least three amendments in the Bill of Rights. A suit was filed in federal court last year, but the Supreme Court ruled in June that it was filed in the wrong jurisdiction and that it had to be refiled in South Carolina, location of the military prison in which he is being held. This is the first ruling in that refiled lawsuit, and you can read the judge's ruling here.
Judge Henry Floyd correctly ruled that there simply is no constitutional authority for the president to arbitrarily suspend habeas corpus in individual cases. Only Congress has the authority to suspend habeas corpus, and only then in the most extreme of circumstances requiring the imposition of martial law, such as rebellion or invasion.
"If the law in its current state is found by the president to be insufficient to protect this country from terrorist plots, such as the one alleged here, then the president should prevail upon Congress to remedy the problem," he wrote.
In the ruling, Floyd said that three court cases that the government used to make its claim did not sufficiently apply to Padilla's case.
Floyd wrote that, in essence, "the detention of a United States citizen by the military is disallowed without explicit Congressional authorization."
Floyd wrote that because the government had not provided any proof that the president has the power to hold Padilla, he must reject the government's claim of authority.
"To do otherwise would not only offend the rule of law and violate this country's constitutional tradition, but it would also be a betrayal of this nation's commitment to the separation of powers that safeguards our democratic values and individual liberties," he wrote.
"For the court to find for [the U.S. government] would also be to engage in judicial activism. This court sits to interpret the law as it is and not as the court might wish it to be. Pursuant to its interpretation, the court finds that the President has no power, neither express nor implied, neither constitutional nor statutory, to hold [Padilla] as an enemy combatant," Floyd wrote.
The article also says that the administration is expected to appeal the decision, which can only be in the interests of wasting more time. If they've read the Hamdi decision from last summer, they have to know they have zero chance of actually winning the case. In the Hamdi case, the Supreme Court completely rebutted the President's claim of authority to suspend habeas corpus, with even Scalia saying that the court didn't go far enough in its opinion. The administration can't seriously think they're going to win when this case, which is much clearer than the Hamdi case simply because Padilla was arrested on American soil while Hamdi was captured in combat abroad, gets back up to the Supreme Court. This judge should be applauded.
Wonderful! I am certainly for vigorously prosecuting terrorists, and if Padilla did break the law he should be prosecuted and sentenced to serve a reasonable time in prison.
But we need to prosecute terrorists without fundamentally changing our legal system. We shouldn't have moved America toward a country that simply ships folks off to a gulag (well, in the case of Gitmo, a tropical gulag, but a gulag nontheless) and throws away the key if they are SUSPECTED of participating in terror.
If we win the "war on terror" by destroying are own freedoms in the process, we might as well just give up and let the bin Laden destroy us. It would be better than watching us destroy ourselves.
One quick P.S. - I would add to my comment that Padilla should be prosecuted if he did break the law that I was implying a fair trial where Padilla's rights were also considered. We don't win by constructing kangaroo courts. The Nazis were given trials at the end of WWII, despite the obvious crimes against humanity. Many were found guilty and they should have been. But the should only have been found guilty of the crimes they committed, not arbitrarily punished. The same is true for those involved in terror.
It's things like this that keep me from completely throwing up my hands in despair at the recent failures of our system of government to do a decent job of checking human stupidity and cruelty.
Thanks for the smile, Ed. Maybe it's too soon to give up on my fellow human beings, after all.
The government will probably appeal simply as a form of obstructionism. With enough appeals Padilla will have served a prison term, all without the bother of all those technicalities like evidence and a trial.
Padilla may have served a sentence by the time he is freed, but he will be freed due to the ruling that his rights were violated.
Will he then become a millionaire after he (properly) sues the federal gov for violating his civil rights?