“The message I would hope to convey in today’s sentencing is twofold:
“First, that we have the resolve in this country to deal with the subject of terrorism and people who engage in it should be prepared to sacrifice a major portion of their life in confinement.
“Secondly, though, I would like to convey the message that our system works. We did not need to use a secret military tribunal, or detain the defendant indefinitely as an enemy combatant, or deny him the right to counsel, or invoke any proceedings beyond those guaranteed by or contrary to the United States Constitution.
“I would suggest that the message to the world from today’s sentencing is that our courts have not abandoned our commitment to the ideals that set our nation apart. We can deal with the threats to our national security without denying the accused fundamental constitutional protections.
“Despite the fact that Mr. Ressam is not an American citizen and despite the fact that he entered this country intent upon killing American citizens, he received an effective, vigorous defense, and the opportunity to have his guilt or innocence determined by a jury of 12 ordinary citizens.
“Most importantly, all of this occurred in the sunlight of a public trial. There were no secret proceedings, no indefinite detention, no denial of counsel.
“The tragedy of September 11th shook our sense of security and made us realize that we, too, are vulnerable to acts of terrorism.
“Unfortunately, some believe that this threat renders our Constitution obsolete. This is a Constitution for which men and women have died and continue to die and which has made us a model among nations. If that view is allowed to prevail, the terrorists will have won.
“It is my sworn duty, and as long as there is breath in my body I’ll perform it, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. We will be in recess.”
Juxtapose the Judge’s wise counsel, that the rule of Constitutional law must prevail in the adjudication of criminal charges, even for those who are not American citizens; with the government’s treatment of Jose Padilla, an American citizen.
Mr. Padilla was arrested in Chicago by federal agents in May, 2002 and has been held as a “enemy combatant” since the Bush administration legal advisors cooked up the notion of “enemy combatants” in order to avoid judicial scrutiny of the charges against those accused. Mr. Padilla, upon his designation as an “enemy combatant” by President Bush two days before his release would have been legally required, has been held in the “brig” of a South Carolina naval facility since June 2002. Padilla has never been charged with a crime and has been denied contact with legal counsel.
Padilla has been accused by the government of conspiring to detonate a “dirty bomb” and of conspiring with, and acting as a scout for, al Queda.
The 5th Amendment to U.S. Constitution provides:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
The fact that Mr. Padilla has not been afforded “due process of the law” should be of concern to all of us (not to mention what is going on at Gitmo and the various prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.) It is entirely possible that Jose Padilla is guilty of all manner of heinous crimes. More likely Podilla is nothing more than a malcontent of mediocre intellect with a lengthy rap sheet. None-the-less, so that our Constitutional protections aren’t further eroded, he must be afforded an opportunity to defend himself in court.
Note: Coughenour was appointed to the Federal bench by President Reagan in 1981 and became Chief District Court judge in 1988.