Maniac Latin Disciple Arrested in Terrorist Plot, May 8, 2002


Jose Padilla was arrested in Chicago on May 8, 2002, and a month later Attorney General John Ashcroft held a nationally-televised press conference announcing his arrest. "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," Ashcroft said. He described Padilla as "an enemy combatant who poses a serious and continued threat to the American people and our national security." The Justice Department said he had "trained with the enemy", met with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other top men in Osama bin Laden's terrorist group, been schooled by al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that he had become an expert in wiring explosives and devising 'dirty bombs' to spread radiation across densely-populated areas, and that this was the reason he returned to America. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said Padilla had been carrying plans for this attack when he was arrested.

These are terrifying allegations, and Americans were indeed terrified. Almost everyone agreed that Padilla ought to face trial and, if found guilty, be imprisoned. The only people who disagreed were at the highest level of the US government, where the trial was deemed unnecessary. Instead, Padilla was simply imprisoned. He was allowed to speak only to government interrogators, and had almost no contact with the outside world for three and a half years.

Through America's entire history, accused assassins and spies, mass murderers and serial killers, child rapists and kiddie pornographers have always had their Constitutional rights, but Padilla would not. For this man, there would be no charges, no indictment, no habeas corpus, no trial by judge or jury, and no due process of law. Padilla became the first US citizen to be stripped of his rights by Presidential order. George W. Bush maintains that as President, he can declare Padilla -- or any citizen -- an "enemy combatant", and deny him the protections of the US Constitution and Geneva Conventions.

So who is Jose Padilla, this man so dangerous that America's ordinary system of justice cannot handle him? He is the son of Puerto Rican immigrants, baptized a Catholic, who spent his earliest years in New York until his family moved to Chicago. As a teenager, he ran with the Maniac Latin Disciples street gang, and was arrested numerous times. He was convicted of punching a policeman who tried to arrest him for stealing a doughnut. He had several aliases, including Jose Rivera, Jose Alicea, Jose Hernandez, and Jose Ortiz.

At 14, he was involved in a murder when he and a friend attacked and robbed three members of a rival gang. One of the victims, Elio Evangelista, chased them, and Padilla's accomplice stabbed him. As he lay on the ground bleeding, Padilla kicked him repeatedly. Evangelista died of his injuries, and Padilla's companion was convicted of murder. Padilla was convicted of aggravated battery, armed robbery and attempted armed robbery, and spent about three years incarcerated at juvenile hall.

As an adult, Padilla lived for several years in Florida, supporting himself with a series of low-wage jobs, first at a hotel, later at a Taco Bell. In 1991 he was involved in a road rage incident, firing a .38-caliber revolver at another driver and, when confronted by police, trying to pull the gun on them. For this, he spent ten months in jail, where he got into at least one fist fight with guards.

Then he converted to Islam, and wanted to be called Ibrahim, with no last name, like Cher or Yanni. He married, started studying the Koran, settled into a seemingly quiet life, and went ten years without being arrested. But he started hanging out with a Palestinian activist who was involved with an Arab charity the US government considered a front for terrorists, a connection that led federal agents to start paying attention to Padilla. He quit his job, left his wife and traveled to the Middle East, where he taught English by day, and worked nights as a martial arts instructor. He renamed himself again, becoming Abdullah al-Muhajir, and married a second wife in Egypt. When his first wife, back in America, found out months later that he had remarried, she divorced him.

Padilla, meanwhile, traveled to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. He hung out with very radical Muslims -- al Qaeda-types, who allegedly taught Padilla to be a master bomb-builder. At one point, Padilla is said to have presented his new cohorts with schematics for constructing a nuclear bomb, but when Time magazine later published excerpts from these plans it was plain they had been purloined from a satirical website.

So Jose Padilla is a thug, a gang-banger, a polygamist, and perhaps a terrorist but not a very bright one. When he returned to America, he was arrested as he stepped off the plane, and became famous as the alleged 'dirty bomber'. And certainly, if there is any truth to the allegations he ought to face trial and, if found guilty, be imprisoned. Skipping the trial, though, worries some Americans, who are concerned about the dangers of allowing a President to decide which Americans are covered by the Constitution and which Americans are not. After all, future Presidents might not be as thoughtful and trustworthy as Bush. Lawyers representing Padilla have sued, claiming that the President has no such power, and that any American, even an alleged terrorist, has Constitutional rights.

Padilla's lawyers claim he was tortured, held in isolation throughout his imprisonment, that he was hooded during interrogations, threatened with execution, and given a "truth serum" or an LSD-like chemical. Some of the evidence against Padilla, including information on where he had traveled and what he had done, was apparently obtained by torturing other prisoners.

In early 2003 a federal judge ruled that under Presidential war powers, Bush can order any citizen imprisoned as an enemy combatant, but that Padilla must at least be allowed to see a lawyer. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refused and instead appealed the case to a higher court. Letting Padilla talk to a lawyer, Rumsfeld argued, might make him less willing to talk in his ongoing interrogations.

In December 2003, a panel of three federal judges ordered that Padilla must be formally charged with a crime, or else be released. But instead of charging him with a crime, the Defense Department appealed the ruling to the US Supreme Court, which rejected the case on technical grounds -- Padilla's lawyers had sued Rumsfeld in New York, instead of suing the Navy brig commander in South Carolina, where Padilla was being held. The prisoner was eventually allowed to see a lawyer, and among his first questions he asked how the Chicago Bears football team was doing. The government listened to Padilla's conversations with his lawyer -- another extraordinary change from longstanding rules of justice, which hold that lawyer-client conversations are confidential.

In September 2005, the US Court of Appeals reiterated that the President can order citizens held without trial -- but two months later, apparently to avoid an appeal to the Supreme Court, the government finally pressed charges against Padilla. He stands accused of two crimes: conspiracy, and giving material support to terrorists. Serious allegations to be sure -- each charge carries a maximum penalty of fifteen years in prison -- but these are nowhere near the horrific crimes Ashcroft told Americans Padilla was guilty of. The charges include no claims of 'dirty bombs', of attacks being plotted in or against America, or any mention at all of al Qaeda.


Jose Padilla was arrested on May 8, 2002, at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and held as as a material witness to the Semptember 11 attacks. For the next three years, Padilla was held without charge. Only after several court cases was Padilla finally charged

Padilla grew up in Brooklyn and later moved with his family to Chicago where he joined the Maniac Latin Disciples street gang. During his time in Chicago he was arrested multiple times for such things as aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and possession of a deadly weapon. After his last jail sentence, Padilla converted to Islam. He moved to Fort Lauderdale—.  In 2000 Padilla moved to Cairo, Egypt to learn Arabic and immerse himself in his new religion. Upset with the brand of Islam being taught in Egypt, Padilla went to Pakistan and Afghanistan where he fell in with Muslim extremist. It was here that Padilla met with Al Qaeda leaders. He also drew the attention of US federal authorites. Fearing they would lose track of him, Padilla was arrested upon his return to the United States he was arrested.

Two days before a judge was to rule on if Padilla could be detained any longer on the material witness charges, President Bush ordered Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to detain Padilla as an enemy combatant and transfer him to a South Carolina Navy brig. Neither his family nor his lawyers were notified of this transfer. The president, in his orders, claimed that “Mr. Padilla is closely associated with al Qaeda” “ Mr. Padilla engaged in conduct that constituted hostile and war like acts, including conduct in acts of preparation for international terrorism” “ Mr. Padilla possesses intelligence, includeing intelligence about the personnel and activities of al Qaeda, that, if communicated to the U.S., would aid the U.S. efforts to prevent attacks by al Qaeda.

The Government claimed that based on the Authorization for Use of Military Force. “That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

Padilla’s lawyer, in an attempt to force the Government to formally charge Padilla, made a petition for a writ of Habeas Corpus. The District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that, The President could hold a U.S. citizen as an enemy combatant and that Padilla had a right to challenge his detention in accordance with his habeas corpus petition. Both sides appealed the decision and the case moved to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court ruled that under Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution, only congress, not the president, can suspend habeas corpus. Therefore without congressional approval, Padilla could not be detained as an enemy combatant. It also ruled that Rumsfeld could be named as the respondent to the habeas corpus petition. The court ordered Padilla be released within 30 days. The release was stayed pending an appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court heard Rumsfeld v. Padilla in April of 2004. However the court dismissed the case on the basis that the petition should have been filed against the commander of the military brig, not Rumsfeld, as the respondent and that since he was being held in South Carolina,  The petition should have been filed in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. Padilla’s appeal was then heard by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia. The court ruled that the president did indeed have the power to hold Padilla as an enemy combatant without charges. The court cited the Authorization for Use of Military Force and the case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld as reason for the legality of the detention. The case of Yaser Hamdi is similar to that of Padilla’s. Hamdi is a U.S. citizen who was arrested in Afghanistan and held without charges. The Supreme Court ruled that the government can hold U.S. citizens as enemy combatants. However, the court also ruled that detainees do have a right to a fair trial.

The government believes that it is necessary to have the power to detain anyone who is a threat to the security of the nation or it’s military without a trial or formal charges. The Administration claims that U.S. law, the right to a trial and legal representation, does not apply to people designated as enemy combatants. The government believes that this is an absolute necessity to fight the war on terror. They also argue that the president must have the power to order these detentions. In an editorial Robert Turner argued “The Sixth Amendment begins with the words: ‘In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy’ the rights enumerated therein. Since Padilla has not actually been charged with a crime, he is not entitled to this constitutional right. The government also claims that it is important to hold these people because they may have intelligence that may lead to the prevention of future attacks on the U.S

Advocates to this policy argue that since Padilla is an American citizen he is entitled to his constitutional rights. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution states that “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury…. nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” These people argue that the Government can’t take away this right and therefore Padilla and other suspected people detained as enemy combatants have a right to habeas corpus trials. The major concern for many people though is the power that the government, particularly the executive branch, has to hold anyone they declare an enemy combatant. Advocates argue that the war on terrorism is not an excuse to take away the civil rights of American citizens. Concern has also risen as to how far this power can extend. If they can hold Padilla without charge, it is feared that they can hold just about anyone they want to and the detained will have no way of challenging the detention. Mike Whitney wrote about the trial. ‘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.”

On November 22, 2005, Jose Padilla was finally charged by the U.S. government. Padilla was charged with conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim persons in a foreign country and providing material support to terrorist. The charges did not include conspiracy to commit terrorist acts in the U.S., the original accusation against him. Padilla’s lawyer stated they didn’t charge him with this because the government "could not support those allegations." Many believe that Padilla was finally charged because the government feared another Supreme Court appeal or they did not have enough evidence against him. Another one of Padilla’s lawyers stated "The fact that they now decided to charge Mr. Padilla with a criminal offense doesn't mean they couldn't do this again to another person in the future. In April 2006, The Supreme court denied Padilla’s appeal. They agreed the case was no longer of significance because Padilla had been charged and was now out of military custody. No formal review would be made of Padilla’s three and a half years in custody.

Padilla’s detention illustrates the argument of how much power the Executive branch holds and what the rights of that Executive branch are. Can the President suspend Habeas Corpus? Can he hold someone without charge?  The case raises the question of what rights an alleged criminal has. Does he have a right to a fair trial? Should he have the right to Legal representation? The case of Padilla offers no definitive answer on this issue. However it does raise fear of the extent of government power. How far does this power go? Can they go after anyone they want to without any check to their power? Do enemy combatants give up their rights? These are all questions that have to be answered by our Government and our court system. Padilla may have been charged but, his case raises many questions.