A federal judge in South Carolina has given President Bush the rebuke he deserves for claiming the authority to uniltaterally lock up anyone he declares an "enemy combatant" for as long as he wants without charges, trial, or access to a lawyer. U.S. District Judge Henry F. Ford ruled that the government must either charge Jose Padilla, the alleged (rumored?) "dirty bomb" plotter who was detained in May 2002 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, or let him go. "The court finds that the president has no power, neither express nor implied, neither constitutional nor statutory, to hold petitioner as an enemy combatant," Ford wrote. Keeping Padilla imprisoned at the naval brig in Charleston "would not only offend the rule of law and violate this country's constitutional tradition," he said. "It would also be a betrayal of this nation's commitment to the separation of powers that safeguards our democratic values and individual liberties."
The U.S. Supreme Court did not deal with Padilla's case when it addressed the enemy combatant issue last summer because it concluded that the challenge to his detention had been brought in the wrong circuit. But if the Bush administration's handling of Yaser Esam Hamdi is any indication, it will hang onto Padilla until it loses its last appeal, then release him rather than trying to prove its case. Depending upon your point of view, this will demonstrate either the necessity or the danger of Bush's enemy combatant policy.