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Where's the Beef?

Padilla and the Zucchini Prosecution

by MIKE WHITNEY

The case against Jose Padilla would be funny if a man’s life hadn’t been ruined in the process—but it has. The government’s charges are so weak and riddled with inconsistencies it’s a wonder the case wasn’t thrown out years ago. The only thing keeping Padilla in jail is the 9-11 hysteria which still lingers throughout the country. If the administration hadn’t figured out how to exploit people’s fear of terrorism, Padilla would be a free man right now. Instead, he faces life behind bars on charges that are just as unclear now as they were when they were first made.

The government has dropped all charges that Padilla is a "dirty bomber" or that he was planning to blow up apartment buildings in the US. In fact, they’ve changed their story completely. Now they’re charging Padilla as a material witness in a "conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim". They say that he is part of a "North American support cell that’s part of a vast international movement of foot soldiers, recruiters and financiers who foment violent jihad around the globe."

It sounds creepy, but where’s the proof? In 5 years, the government hasn’t produced a shred of evidence that Padilla is guilty of anything. Why should we believe them now?

The prosecution has no case against Padilla and they know it. He’s merely a lab-rat in their experiment to expand presidential powers. The Washington Post even admitted this in an article earlier this week, "Few Specifics Evident as Padilla Trial Nears" 4-23-07. Padilla had no nuclear material, no plan to attack apartment buildings, and no part in any terrorist conspiracy. It’s all baloney. In fact, according to the Washington Post, the government’s case "lacks anything about the defendant being involved in ANY particular plot in the United States OR ANYWHERE ELSE".

So, why has this travesty been allowed to go on for so long?

Padilla has been in solitary confinement for the last 5 years. During that time he was drugged, humiliated, and tortured"all of the practices which have become commonplace under Bush. For the first 4 years he was never even charged with a crime. He was simply declared an "enemy combatant" and stripped of his constitutionally-guaranteed rights. His arrest has been used to establish the precedent that Bush can arbitrarily imprison American citizens without filing charges. It is the very definition of tyranny.

But this is old news. What’s new is that the media’s coverage of Padilla has grown strangely sympathetic. The Washington Post, which has been one of the strongest backers of Bush’s foreign adventurism, has been considerably less supportive of his attack on civil liberties. The Post criticized the weakness of the government’s case and the appalling lack of evidence connecting Padilla to a crime. The prosecution has even admitted that the charges are "hard to particularize" and that the defendant cannot be "linked to a particular violent act or terrorist group." This may explain the skepticism of U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke who said (with some irony) that the indictment "is very light on facts".

Nevertheless, the Padilla case is going to court on the mere suspicion that Padilla might have been planning to do something illegal in the future. Go figure? The parallels to Franz Kafka’s "The Trial" were not lost on Padilla’s defense team who characterized the government’s case as "the ethereal nature of an alleged conspiracy."

By "ethereal" we assume they mean hogwash.

The Washington Post does a good job of exposing the flaws in the prosecution’s case, but stops short of saying the charges are baseless and without merit. They know what Bush and his legal team are up to and what extraordinary steps they will take to achieve their goal of enhancing presidential power. Bush and his fellows are trying to convict a man (and possibly send him to his death) without producing any witnesses or evidence of a crime. If they succeed, Bush will be able to ignore the law when he wants and arrest whomever he chooses.

But convicting Padilla won’t be easy and the outcome is far from certain. In fact, it’s difficult to see how the prosecution can win with nothing more than secret testimony, uncorroborated evidence and demagoguery. That’s hardly a winning combination.

According to the Post, the government’s case depends heavily on a "mujahideen data form" which is an "application form that was recovered from a reputed Al Qaida base" and which was allegedly signed by Padilla.

But even if Padilla did sign this silly-sounding jihad application; (which is still in doubt) that’s guilt by association—it doesn’t prove that he was involved in the commission of a crime.

The prosecution has to convince jurors that Padilla was secretly preparing Al Qaida forces for another terrorist attack. They have submitted wiretapped phone conversations which (they believe) implicate him in a conspiracy. But the conversations prove nothing. In fact, they’re ridiculous. They are merely recordings of Padilla with some unknown person talking in code about spending "$3500 to buy zucchini".

"Zucchini"?

Is that it? Is that the government’s case? Is it really worth keeping a man behind bars for 5 years and driving him mad because he talks about zucchini on the phone?

What about rhubarb?

Even the Post cannot relay the details of the "The Zucchini Prosecution" without a hint of derision. The Post’s reporter, Peter Whoriskey, mockingly notes that while the government’s case is short on "violent specifics"; it is "rich in atmospherics."

Indeed. The entire case appears to be built on "atmospherics" rather than facts. The prosecution has no more evidence now than they did when they began this witch-hunt. Federal Prosecutor Brian Frazier admitted as much when he was asked about the vague nature of the charges.

Frazier said they were "hard to particularize" and that they revolve around an "inchoate crime … rather than any completed operation".

"Inchoate"?

So, Frazier is admitting that the alleged crime was still in its embryonic stages? That it hadn’t yet been committed!?!

Get this: Jose Padilla just spent 5 years in solitary confinement for a crime, which the government now admits, never took place.

The notion that a man can be imprisoned without proof of a crime is "preemptive justice", which is no justice at all. It denies the "presumption of innocence" and cedes absolute power to the state.

The court needs to put an end to this nonsense and dismiss the case for lack of evidence. This fiasco has gone on long enough. No one should be caged like an animal for half a decade for talking about zucchini on the phone.

Padilla should be released.