A good article from the Washington Post about the current status of José Padilla, the US Citizen being held incommunicado in a South Carolina military base because he was declared an enemy combatant last year.
By way of refresher, Mr. Padilla was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare airport after Defence Department investigators stated that they had information leading them to believe he was participating in a plot to explode a "dirty bomb" on US soil. A dirty bomb is a conventional explosive that is spike with nuclear material to create a cloud of radiation when it explodes.
The dispute is over the treatment of Mr. Padilla and his rights as a US citizen, as well as the bigger question of whether the country is in a "state of war" or not.
Certainly, we've heard time and again that we are in the midst of a "war on terrorism," which the Bush administration says is the equivalent of being in a state of war after 9/11 and therefore wartime mechanisms should be in place instead of peacetime ones. However, it seems to me that the US is always in a state of "war" against something, be it drugs, poverty, racism, or hunger and that with the absence of an actual congressional declaration of war (remember the US Constitution?) we aren't really in a "state of war".
Of course, I'm not a lawyer, I don't play one on TV, and therefore my opinion on such things does not count.
Be that as it may, I have considerably less trouble with holding foreigners, or US citizens as enemy combatants if they have been found actually taking up arms against the US. Unfortunately, this particular situation is peculiar because the people of the US haven't had any information indicating that this is the case.
We are, instead, left at the mercy of the Bush/Ashcroft "we'll take care of everything, don't you worry your little head about it" administration, who would rather tell us that they're not doing anything wrong than let even a fraction of the country make that determination themselves.
I'm not saying that this case is cut and dry, it certainly isn't. However, we seem to afford much better protection to spies in our own midst (Hannsen, Brian Patrick Regan, Harold Nicholson, etc.) than to these folks who are secreted away and held without consultation with their lawyers.
I understand the sticky wicket involved here. There's no way to guarantee that the lawyers won't take secret information from the accused and give it to somebody who could then use it to do something dastardly. Imagine if the bomb were already built and was sitting somewhere waiting to be picked up, only the terrorists didn't know where.
The flip side, though, is that this guy may be a ruse, somebody set up by the enemy as a patsy and may not actually know anything of consequence. In this case, it is benefiting no-one to keep him in custody and in fact is causing problems in the US and abroad because of the seeming hypocritical nature of his treatment.
I can't say I know the answer that involves short term "zero risk" to safety, however the long-term risk to liberty if we allow the government to pick up people and declare them enemy combatants without due process is enormous.