26 January 2012

Fourth Circuit Creates More Horrific Law In Jose Padilla Civil Rights Case

Jose Padilla is an American citizen with a long criminal record who converted to Islam in prison who was plucked from a civilian jail by President George W. Bush as basically a test case for his new legal theory, and held there for years on that theory that he was an enemy combatant not entitled to due process. Padilla was then transferred to a non-military criminal court after the 4th Circuit had upheld the legality of the detention and before the U.S. Supreme Court's pending review of the case could take place, causing the U.S. Supreme Court to find the case to be moot while upholding the 4th Circuit precedent. Despite various arguments made by his lawyers in the criminal case at trial and on appeal, and some right out of a John Grisham novel instances of weird behavior by the jury, Padilla was convicted of trying to join a murderous terrorist group (separate from the dubious dirty bomb allegations made to support his enemy combatant detention) in which it was not alleged that he personally was involved in any terrorist acts. On appeal, prosecutors won a determination that the seventeen year sentence that he received was too short.

Padilla brought a civil rights suit thereafter, alleging that he was unlawfully tortured while detained as an enemy combatant, while he, a U.S. citizen, was detained in a facility in the territorial United States in a place not under martial law. The trial court dismissed the suit and its ruling was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which reasoned that even if all allegations of the civil rights claim were true and that Padilla was tortured in violation of his constitutional rights while being held as an enemy combatant, that the President and all persons who carry out executive branch orders when acting under color of a Congressional authorization to use military force are absolutely immune from civil liability or court orders providing for injunctive relief for any violation past, continuing, or in the imminent future, of a person's constitutional rights no matter how egregious, even if the constitutional right established is a clear violation of a well established constitutional right, and even if the litigation of the case does not in any way implicate a state secrets privilege.

The two precedents together basically stand for the proposition that the President may ignore the constitution to imprison and torture any U.S. citizen anywhere in the world, when acting under color of a Congressional grant of permission to use military force, subject only to the ever present possibility that his actions will get him impeached and removed from office.

It is also appropriate to recall that while President George W. Bush initiated this policy, that it is President Obama's administration that is now continuing to defend and assert the legally validity this exaggerated claim of Presidential authority, despite assertions on the campaign trail in 2008 that seemed to suggest that President Obama would reverse this policy.

It is fair to say that this is not the vision that the Founders embraced when the drafted the United States Constitution, and is also horrifically bad as a matter of policy.

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