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Monday, February 21, 2011

Terrorists don’t deserve due process, but then who decides who’s a terrorist

Justice for all…except terrorists

Yesterday, in South Carolina, an Obama-appointed federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by Padilla against former Bush officials Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Paul Wolfowitz and others.  That suit alleges that those officials knowingly violated Padilla's Constitutional rights by ordering his due-process-free detention and torture. 

In dismissing Padilla's lawsuit, the court's opinion relied on the same now-depressingly-familiar weapons routinely used by our political class to immunize itself from judicial scrutiny:  national security would be undermined by allowing Padilla to sue; "government officials could be distracted from their vital duties to attend depositions or respond to other discovery requests"; "a trial on the merits would be an international spectacle with Padilla, a convicted terrorist, summoning America's present and former leaders to a federal courthouse to answer his charges"; the litigation would risk disclosure of vital state secrets; and "discovery procedures could be used by our enemies to obtain valuable intelligence."

In other words, our political officials are Too Important, and engaged in far Too Weighty Matters in Keeping Us Safe, to subject them to the annoyance of the rule of law.  It's much more important to allow them to Fight The Terrorists without restraints than to bother them with claims that they broke the law and violated the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. 

That's the mentality that has resulted in full-scale immunity for both political and now private-sector elites in a whole slew of lawbreaking scandals -- from Obama's refusal to investigate Bush-era crimes or high-level Wall Street criminality to retroactive immunity for lawbreaking telecoms and legal protection for defrauding mortgage banks. 

With very few exceptions -- yesterday's ruling, for instance, brushed aside a contrary decision from a Bush-43-appointed federal judge in California last year that refused to dismiss Padilla's lawsuit against John Yoo for having authorized his torture (that decision is on appeal) -- Executive Branch officials and the federal judiciary have conspired to ensure that the former are shielded from judicial scrutiny even for the most blatant and horrifying crimes.

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