Jose Padilla, the American citizen who’s awaiting trial on charges of having been involved in an Al Qaeda plot to detonate a ‘dirty bomb’ in the USA, has been declared competent to stand trial. This follows an unsuccessful application by his lawyers to have him declared unfit to assist in his defence following his experiences during his long solitary confinement as an ‘enemy combatant’ in US military custody, outside the US legal system.
The court did, though, direct that video recordings of Padilla’s interrogations be made available to the court. But the recording of the final interrogation, before he was returned — as a result of various legal appeals — to the civilian courts and prison system, and had access to legal advice, has somehow been mislaid:
The missing DVD dates from March 2, 2004. It contains a video of the last interrogation session of Padilla, then a declared “enemy combatant” under an order from President Bush, while he was being held in military custody at a U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. But in recent days, in the course of an unusual court hearing about Padilla’s mental condition, a government lawyer disclosed to a surprised courtroom that the Defense Intelligence Agency—which had custody of the evidence—was no longer able to locate the DVD. As a result, it was not included in a packet of classified DVDs that was recently turned over to defense lawyers under orders from Judge Cooke.
The disclosure that the Pentagon had lost a potentially important piece of evidence in one of the U.S. government’s highest-profile terrorism cases was met with claims of incredulity by some defense lawyers and human-rights groups monitoring the case. “This is the kind of thing you hear when you’re litigating cases in Egypt or Morocco or Karachi,” said John Sifton, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch, one of a number of groups that has criticized the U.S. government’s treatment of Padilla. “It is simply not credible that they would have lost this tape. The administration has shown repeatedly they are more interested in covering up abuses than getting to the bottom of whether people were abused.”
Andrew Sullivan comments, in his blog at The Atlantic magazine,
Given what we have discovered about the criminal conduct of the Bush administration with respect to detainees, the notion of “losing” such critical evidence isn’t, to my mind, credible. We cannot prove this, of course. But put it all together and you have two alternatives: a) the Pentagon is so disorganized and incompetent it can lose a critical piece of evidence in its most high-profile case or b) we have a government run by war-criminals covering their tracks. Feel safer?
In a different post, Sullivan (an American conservative and Catholic) quotes Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J., Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University in New York City, in the Jesuit magazine, America (original article seems to be subscription only, unfortunately):
“As the church meditates on the passion of Jesus during Lent, the torture of prisoners by U.S.-approved methods (‘coercive interrogation’) should not be far from our minds. It is still being done in our name, to enhance national security. Apart from the debate over whether torture is ‘effective’ or not, Christ’s words, amplified by his own graphic suffering, mandate an end to this reprehensible brutality: “You did it to me,”
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