A Miami jury convicted Jose Padilla and two co-defendants today.
It may be that one, two or all three of the defendants are guilty as charged. But I despise this administration--and what it has done to our Constitution--so much that I really wanted the jury to acquit them.
I confess that I did not follow the trial--which took three months--in great detail. However, based on what I know, it seems that a large part of the prosecution's case, especially against the co-defendants, was based on interpretation of wiretapped conversations that were, in the government's version, in code. This was not the kind of code that can be broken through mathematical means or letter-substitution. What the government was really talking about was interpreting slang. And, apparently, the prosecution was unable to show that the slang at issue was so widely used in the defendants' community that its interpretation could be clear. Indeed, the defense called witnesses who said that the government investigators--who knew what the prosecution wanted, after all--had it all wrong. They gave innocent interpretations to the conversations in question.
If you think about it, we all speak in code much of the time. I used to say that if you wanted to find out whether a suspected spy was really an American in the '50's, 60's or '70's, you'd ask him to interpret this sentence: "The Bosox return to friendly Fenway to face the Tribe under the arcs as they continue their pursuit of the gonfalon in the junior circuit." (Translation below.) No Russian, now matter how well-trained in American mores and customs, would get it.
Against Padilla, the government's main piece of evidence was an alleged application for admission to an al Qaeda terrorist training camp. Forget the very improbability of that idea. (Does bin Laden put "Terrorist" down as his occupation on his income-tax return?) Padilla's fingerprints were on the document, but from what I have seen, the government was not able to show that he had not left them when he handled it during his lengthy (to say the least) "interrogation." (Some of us call it torture.)
So, did Padilla and the others get a fair trial? Given the culture of fear that has pervaded the nation these last six years, the nature of the charges, the locale of the trial (Miami) and the jury-selection process, could the jury be impartial? Remember that originally, Padilla was charged by the highest law-enforcement official in the land (John, "Too Dumb To Beat A Dead Guy" Ashcroft) with planning to set off a "dirty" nuclear device. Could Padilla assist in his own defense--a requisite of fair, or even legal, trials, after 3 1/2 years of solitary confinement interrupted by interrogation and abuse (some of us call it torture)? I doubt it. I doubt it very much. Could the trial have been fair? Let's just say that the defense faced substantial obstacles.
A prediction: Padilla will get a long sentence. His conviction will be upheld by a Republican-dominated Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court will refuse to hear the case. He will be pardoned by a future President, but not until he has served a lengthy period in jail.
(For those who are baseball-challenged, the test sentence translates as follows: The Red Sox come home after a road-trip, to play a night game against the Cleveland Indians in the American League pennant race.)