December 23, 2005

The Bush administration richly deserves the stinging rebuke it received from a federal appeals court because of its handling of the case of Jose Padilla, who has been held for 3 1/2 years, most of that time without being charged. Just three months ago, the same appeals court was much less sympathetic to Mr. Padilla's plight, agreeing with the administration's argument that holding him in a military prison was imperative in the interest of national security. But the administration's seeming attempt to keep the case away from the U.S. Supreme Court prompted a very pointed and fully justified call of "foul" from the appeals court. Better late than never.

Most of Mr. Padilla's lengthy confinement has been in military custody, as a supposed "enemy combatant," against established principles of justice and freedom. But after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals went along with the treatment of Mr. Padilla in a September ruling, the administration switched gears, moved him to a civilian prison and finally charged him in a civilian court with conspiracy to incite violence overseas.

A three-judge panel of the appellate court speculated that the sudden turnaround might have been to avoid consideration of the issue by the Supreme Court, and sharply reprimanded the administration for its tactics. As much as we disagree with the appellate court's September ruling, this week's decision rightly recognizes that the issues in this case - including the power of the president to detain any American indefinitely as an "enemy combatant" - are too important not be reviewed by the nation's highest court.

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