Ashcroft Declassifies Confessions from Padilla
In an unusual move, the Justice department declassified and released documents with confessions from Jose Padilla that confirmed he was a dangerous terrorist and the President was right to detain him as an enemy combatant. As the NY Times says, the release of this information seemed to be an attempt to win public opinion on the case about Padilla because there wasn't much reason to believe that the DOJ would win the Supreme Court case which was heard in April (which was the week before the release of the Abu Ghraib abuse photos).
Yet, it might be useful to reflect on the accuracy of the information just released by the DOJ. Remember, the Bush administration has already agreed that the Geneva Conventions does not apply to enemy combatants and believed that it was acceptable for torture-lite to be used during interrogations. When the 9th Circuit Court ruled against the government, it was because they were shocked that the government would claim this right.
The government's assertion that torture and summary executions might be carried out without recourse to the law clearly shocked the [9th circuit] court. Reminiscent of Argentina's "dirty war" or the Soviet Gulag, the notion of a legal vacuum in which abuses can be freely committed hardly squares with American constitutional traditions. Indeed, the court emphasized, "to our knowledge, prior to the current detention of prisoners at Guantanamo, the U.S. government has never before asserted such a grave and startling proposition."
So what does this mean about Padilla's confessions? Well, the DOJ believed they could use anything they needed to coerce confessions from him and they've had 2 years to do that. In this study, Interrogations and Confessions (pdf), it is clear that many coerced confessions are false, especially if the subject is not of great intelligence, which certainly was true about Mr. Padilla as most of the articles indicated when he was arrested.
This is undoubtedly the most important part of the Reid Model and one commonly seen in cases where suspects resistance has been broken down during interrogation. It is a highly coercive procedure where suspects are pressured to choose between two incriminating alternatives when neither may be applicable. This is a very dangerous technique to apply, particularly among suspects who are of below average intelligence, which applies to a large proportion of suspects detained at police stations for questioning.
So perhaps Padilla was an extreme threat to the US. But is that story more likely than the story that says he was a not-very bright loser and ex-con that probably had trouble tying his shoes in the morning? How dangerous do you think he was? And do you believe that this means the government should have the right to hold him forever without any legal recourse to extract whatever confessions they think will justify their suppression of our civil rights? It seems to me the DOJ would do better to follow the constitution and try Padilla under the American legal system if they wanted to hold Padilla responsible for his actions.
And it would be good for the American public to question the validity of a confession obtained from Jose Padilla when we know the Gitmo crew felt they didn't need to follow the Geneva Convention and believed they could use torture if need be to extract confessions out of anyone locked up in Gitmo.