York Times Editorial
November 19, 2003
The Bush administration
insists that it can hold American citizens in secret as long as
it wants, without access to lawyers, simply by calling them "enemy
combatants." A New York federal appeals court heard a challenge
to that policy this week by the so-called dirty bomber, Jose Padilla.
The administration's position makes a mockery of the Constitution
and puts every American's liberty at risk. It is important that
the court strike it down, and give Mr. Padilla the rights he has
Mr. Padilla is an
American citizen who was taken into custody in Chicago in May
2002. The government suspects him of being part of a "dirty
bomb" plot by Al Qaeda, but it has not charged him. Instead,
it has labeled him an enemy combatant and locked him up in a naval
brig in South Carolina. He has been held there nearly 18 months,
with no indication of when he will be tried or released. He has
not been allowed to meet with a lawyer, despite a lower court
ruling that he should be.
Of all the post-Sept.
11 denials of civil liberties, the enemy combatant doctrine is
among the worst. It gives the president untrammeled authority
to lock up Americans merely by asserting that they are part of
a terrorist plot. In its argument to the United States Court of
Appeals for the Second Circuit this week, the government insisted
that military-style rules like the enemy combatant doctrine now
apply to American citizens, even on American soil, because Al
Qaeda has "made the battlefield the United States."
Governments are always
tempted to detain perceived enemies without charges, hold them
incommunicado and deny them counsel. But the framers of the Constitution
knew that if the government was allowed to act on those impulses,
the result would be tyranny. That is why they built into this
nation's founding document the very rights the Bush administration
is intent on taking away.
Fortunately, it appears
from this week's argument that the appeals court panel saw through
the administration's spurious justifications. "As terrible
as 9/11 was,"` Judge Rosemary Pooler observed, "it didn't
repeal the Constitution."