Help PMA grow | Petition forms | Site map | PMA main page
'Dirty bomb' suspect is being denied rights, say campaigners
12 June 2002
The Bush administration came under fire from civil rights groups yesterday for its decision to hold the suspected "dirty bomb" plotter in military custody and deny him access to civilian courts.
The American Civil Liberties Union, among others, said that if the case against Abdullah al-Muhajir, formerly known as Jose Padilla, was as serious as the government claimed, there was no reason not to charge him in the normal way and grant him full access to a lawyer.
The criticism is the latest in a long list of complaints over the American government's apparently cavalier attitude towards constitutional rights in its "war on terrorism".
Mr Muhajir's detention in a naval brig in South Carolina appears to have created a whole new category of detainee, since he is a US citizen but has nevertheless been designated an "enemy combatant", like the Taliban and al-Qa'ida fighters being held at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Unlike the Guantanamo prisoners, however, he is unambiguously on US soil and so cannot be said to be outside the jurisdiction of civilian courts.
The ACLU specifically accused President George Bush of reneging on his commitment not to subject US citizens to military justice and said the government should explain why it has chosen not to charge Mr Muhajir. "For the United States to maintain its moral authority in the fight against terrorism, its actions must be implemented in accordance with core American legal and social values," said the organisation's executive director, Antony Romero.
John Ashcroft, the Attorney General, said Mr Muhajir's treatment was based on a precedent from the Second World War that was upheld by the Supreme Court. He said his critics had it all wrong. "The fight against terrorism is a fight to secure civil rights. It is the terrorist who threatens the liberty, freedom, equality, human dignity and even the existence of humanity."
The Bush administration has drawn fire from conservatives and liberals, as well as the international community, for abandoning due process since 11 September. The legality of the Guantanamo detentions is the subject of a federal lawsuit to be heard next month.
Andrew Gumbel, Los Angeles