Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Thoughts on the Padilla verdict

So... I've been thinking about the Padilla verdict. I have two thoughts on it.

First, I'm convinced his lawyer messed up.

Second, I'm convinced that we have good reason to believe Padilla may[1] be innocent.

Let's look at the facts.

First, the FBI has intercepts with multiple defendants, including Padilla. In those intercepts, terrorism isn't explicitly discussed. It's discussed in innocuous seeming code words. Padilla never uses those code words (or, at least, not in any intercepts that the jury heard). So, it's not impossible that Padilla didn't understand the code. We might generally assume that he did (especially after hearing a lot of crap about dirty bombs and blowing up apartment buildings), but nothing that the jury was told showed that he was intending to engage in terrorism.

Second, Padilla filled out a form for Al Qaeda. What warmaking skills does he include on his form? Carpentry.

Just a note: there was no section for "warmaking skills", just for "skills." I'm mocking the idea that the form showed that he was interested in warfare. What, exactly, does a terrorist organization need with a carpenter? This is another indicator that maybe - just maybe - he wasn't fully aware of what he'd gotten involved with. Reference those intercepts again... what if he wasn't in on the code? They made it sound like they were planning relief missions and charitable works, since they knew there was a risk their call would be intercepted. What if he thought they really were there for charitable works?

When he filled out the form, Al Qaeda knew that they had someone they felt might have been a potential recruit, who was a US citizen... this would have created a bit of a stir, and his name would probably be well known so he could be targeted for special attention. Thus, his name would be known to Al Qaeda higher-ups, and could be revealed under torture. (Remember: torture can get people to talk, but they'll say whatever stops the torture... which may or may not be the truth.)

Padilla was an ex-gang member. What if he got religion as an adult and turned away from his childhood screw-ups? This is hardly a rare occurrence. What if he, rather stupidly, but nevertheless innocently, tried to hook up with some Muslims who it sounded like were interested in doing charitable works? What if they brought him along, hoping he'd join the cause?

His defense attorney insists that he didn't fill out the form... and I think that ruined the defense's case. I think they should have said that he did fill out the form, and point to its contents, and ask the jury: which seems more likely? That he offered his carpentry skills to a terrorist organization for purposes of making war, or that he did so to try to demonstrate that, gee, he's not really into this whole "killing the innocent" thing, and just wanted to help build something for some fellow Muslims?

Look, I don't know what Padilla did. It's possible he's guilty as sin. But the fact of the matter is, there's a whole lot missing that's needed to convince us that he's guilty. And for me, there's one last thing that sticks in my mind, one thing that makes the whole case stink.

Padilla is a broken man; he's been tortured by our government to the point that he was angry with his defense attorney for vigorous cross examination of an FBI agent. He didn't want his defense attorney undermining President Bush's authority, you see.

So he's broken, right? And he's confessed that he connected with Al Qaeda, but wouldn't confess to anything past that. He's angry at his lawyer's cross examination of an FBI agent, he's hampering his own defense, but he won't confess?

And then, he asked his mom to talk to President Bush to get him to intervene. Now, look, I'll admit that I haven't studied the effects of torture on folks, but I still have to ask myself this: who would ask for Bush to intervene? A man who is convinced this is all some big misunderstanding, and Bush can straighten this out? Or a man who is really guilty, and knows it? I can see the former; I can't see the latter.

The idea that Jose Padilla was a loser who ended up in bad company due to a combination of bad luck and stupidity fits all the data we have. None of the data we have proves that he did anything wrong... the closest we have is that application form, and it just proves he met with Al Qaeda folks; it doesn't prove he plotted nastiness with them. And we have reasons to suspect that maybe he's innocent. He didn't confess under torture; he thinks that President Bush can set things right; he never spoke in code words during the conversations they played for the jury.

None of this proves anything. But I don't think we've seen nearly enough proof to be convinced that he truly is guilty. Sure, the jury believed he was, but they jury also had reason to believe his defense attorney was lying about Padilla filling out the form, which blew the defense's credibility. I think if this alternate explanation was offered, Padilla would have had a chance at an acquittal.


[1] Note the rabid right-wingers: "may" indicates a possibility without indicating the probability.

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