padilla.JPG

Let's all welcome Lew to Firedoglake – he'll be covering the Padilla trial for us – and he'll be on the Thom Hartmann show on Air America tomorrow! 

Seeing Jose Padilla for the first time in person – after five years of studying the man and the Government accusations against him, after writing stories and reading hundreds newspaper stories and television stories –there he was  in an actual open courtroom, accompanied, finally, with his own team of lawyers. I was struck by how much more light skinned and non-threatening  Padilla was than any of the photos or drawings released to the media that made him appear dark- skinned, menacing, and always bound, chained, so dangerous he always had to be accompanied by huge armed guards. Here was the man known world-wide as “the dirty bomber.”

Yet in his opening remarks to the jury, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier speaking on behalf of “the people of the United States of American” and the Bush Administration took more than hour and a half, and never once mentioned those two words the world knows Padilla by, the two words the Bush Administration had spent five years branding across this man’s forehead as clearly as the mark of Cain: Dirty Bomber.

Why Padilla wasn’t charged as originally announced as a so-called dirty bomber? For that we need to go back to the day of his arrest and the announcement of his arrest one full month later.

It was coming up on the one year anniversary of 9/11, and the U.S. had no single al Qaeda terrorist who could be perp-walked to the cameras. Cheney damn well knew the American public was demanding raw meat-payback and they wanted it yesterday. Turning into his office, Cheney made a mental note to tell Scooter to call Ashcroft and get the DOJ and FBI lined up.  He had finally managed to get the CIA to cough up a six page memorandum about an American citizen turned-al Qaeda operative.                       

The real facts are pretty damn close to that scenario. On May 8, 2002, just one month shy of the first anniversary of searing tragedy of when terrorists brought down the World Trade Center, bombing the Pentagon and came damn close to striking the White House, 35-year-old Jose Padilla was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on his way back from Pakistan on charges that he “was exploring a plan to build and explode a radiological dispersion device or 'dirty bomb’ in the United States.” Now, five years later, the Federal government had made all those nuke charges vanish in the wind and allowing the Department of Justice to come up with new and even vaguer charges: Padilla: conspiracy to “murder, kidnap and main” persons overseas as part of a radical Islamist movement.

Padilla and two other Muslim men –South Florida computer programmer Adham Amin Hassoun and Detroit school administrator Kifah Wael Jayyous – are also charged with conspiracy. If convicted, the three face life in prison. It’s taken weeks of tedious questioning to find jurors who hadn’t already made up their minds. The actual trial began this week.

I’ve been following this story ever since I heard Attorney General Ashcroft’s announcement about Padilla five years ago.  From Moscow no less, Attorney General Ashcroft John Ashcroft, in mid August, 2002, uttered these preposterous words:

“I am pleased to announce today a significant step forward in the war on terrorism. We have captured a known terrorist who was exploring a plan to build and explode a radiological dispersion device, or dirty bomb, in the United States. I commend the FBI, the CIA, the Defense Department, and other federal agencies whose cooperation made this possible.”