Court approves detention
A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned a lower court's ruling that U.S. citizen Jose Padilla could not be detained indefinitely without being charged in a criminal court. He was arrested in Chicago in 2002 and designated an "enemy combatant," suspected of plotting to blow up apartment buildings. The case will probably be appealed to the Supreme Court, whose composition is in the midst of a major change. See Washington Post.
This decision represents a big victory for the global anti-terrorism effort. If Padilla had been released, it would have discouraged potential informers to cooperate with authorities, and would have encouraged the Al Qaeda-sympathizing fifth columnists in this country. The reason why more people who suspect their neighbors do not come forward is precisely because they live in terror of retribution. The fact that he was once a gang member illustrates the potential for a tacit alliance between immigrant gangs and the more formal terrorist organizations. Predictably, the ACLU denounced this ruling: "So long as the civilian courts are open and functioning, American citizens arrested in the United States are entitled to due process protections provided by a traditional criminal trial." In the abstract, of course, all U.S. citizens are entitled to equal protection under the law, but this case illustrates the latent clash between individual rights and the collective right of the American nation to the best security the government can reasonably provide. Civil libertarians often fail to acknowledge the vital distinction between criminal violence, which is typically motivated by hatred or hopes of easy material gain, and warfare, which is organized large-scale violence motivated by power politics. Jose Padilla may have started as a mere common thug, but when he joined with avowed enemies of the United States in time of war, he forfeited his rights as a citizen. It is important to remember that there must be checks on the executive branch's ability to detain terrorist suspects, but as long as an appeals process exists, a reasonable balance can be struck between national security and personal freedom.