The conclusion of Jose Padilla’s criminal trial in a federal court yesterday shows that waging the “war on terror” does not require giving up our constitutional values or substituting military rule for the rule of law. The jury’s guilty verdict should be appealed, but the verdict on the Constitution is in: We should keep it.
The trial showed that our federal courts are perfectly capable of dealing with terrorism cases. A federal judge presided over the five-month trial of Padilla and his co-defendants with great care for both the rights of the defendants and for national security. The Bush administration has claimed since Sept. 11 that the federal courts cannot be trusted with terrorism matters. It has argued that we should scrap our centuries-old constitutional protections and replace our system of checks and balances with one awarding the executive complete discretion to lock up whomever he wants, for however long he deems appropriate. The Founders rejected that kind of arbitrary and oppressive power. And the federal court in Florida has shown how weak the administration’s case for abandoning the Constitution really is.