The Blog

Obama Officials Wrong on Padilla

Al Qaeda terrorist Jose Padilla started talking only after he was designated an enemy combatant.

8:35 PM, Feb 11, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Now, of course, Padilla’s admissions were not admissible in a court of law. As Andy McCarthy points out, Padilla was convicted on lesser charges that had nothing to do with his plotting against residential high-rise apartments inside the U.S. But the Bush administration determined that it would have been difficult to prosecute Padilla any way. As the Washington Post reported on June 11, 2002, there were real concerns about the admissibility of the evidence that had then been amassed against Padilla. Some of it came from interrogations outside of the criminal justice system. This evidence included sensitive intelligence from al Qaeda masters that our intelligence professionals needed to do their job, and there was a real risk that it could have been exposed in the court system.

Moreover, as Burck and Perino explain, “The only way to get [Padilla] to talk as a criminal defendant would have been to cut him a plea deal for a lower sentence, and he would have had the right to stop talking any time he wished.” Given that Padilla had already proven to be so uncooperative, he probably would stopped talking pretty quickly--if he ever decided to start talking in the first place.

Here we reach the critical distinction between collecting evidence for a prosecution and collecting intelligence for fighting a war. We know that Padilla was here in May 2002 to carry out al Qaeda’s bidding. Padilla and multiple other al Qaeda detainees have confirmed Padilla’s role. But while Padilla was in the FBI’s custody for one month, we did not learn anything at all about Padilla’s plotting from the terrorist himself. Authorities did not complete the puzzle until he was interrogated in the military’s custody.

The Obama administration has noted this week that not every situation is identical, and each case requires independent evaluation. That’s true--sometimes the FBI does get terrorists to talk. But administration officials can’t make up their own version of Padilla’s story while ignoring all of the facts that are in opposition to it. And the administration certainly should not be citing Jose Padilla’s interrogations as a justification for how they handled Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

If anything, Jose Padilla's case shows why the Obama administration’s approach can be woefully inadequate.

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers