Jose Padilla Case

Marxists Oppose Government Attack on Citizenship Rights

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 808, 29 August 2003.

On July 29, the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee submitted to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit an amici curiae (friends of the court) brief on behalf of Jose Padilla. An American citizen, Padilla was arrested on 8 May 2002 at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and held as a “material witness” for a month before the Bush administration declared him an “enemy combatant” and shipped him off to a military brig in South Carolina. He remains there today without access to legal counsel, without charges being filed, without any prospect of a hearing or trial to challenge the accusations against him. The brief warns, “The Government seeks to institutionalize in the American justice system the arbitrary deprivation of rights that are the hallmarks of right-wing dictatorships propped up around the world by U.S. imperialism.” The government is asserting its right to disappear citizens.

The Marxist SL and the PDC, a class-struggle legal and social defense organization associated with the SL, filed the brief because we are tenacious defenders of our legality and of those democratic rights won through bourgeois revolutions and revolutionary wars—the parliamentary partisans in the English Civil War, the U.S. Revolutionary War, the French Revolution and the American Civil War.

This legal brief is critical reading for defenders of immigrant rights, workers, fighters for black freedom and radical youth and all who seek to oppose the current all-sided attack on democratic rights. Using September 11 as a pretext, the government rounded up some 1,200 immigrants from Islamic countries, and enacted the Patriot Act and a panoply of executive orders under which the government’s secret police have vastly expanded authority to tap your phone, search your home, scour your financial records, interrogate your librarian and place you under arrest without probable cause that a crime has been committed. And they’re pushing for even greater repressive powers. The brief traces the evolution of the democratic rights under attack today and describes the history of government lies and slander to justify its wars abroad and repression at home, including pinning the “terrorist” label on leftist political opponents.

Centrally under attack in this case is the right of citizenship emerging from the defeat of the slavocracy in the American Civil War. The brief devotes an entire section to the development of citizenship rights in this country—the cumulative product of not only the American Revolution, but the Civil War and social struggles of the 19th and 20th centuries. It points out, “No aspect of citizenship is more fundamental than the rights accorded by the First Amendment,” and traces how the government has consistently scrapped First Amendment protections in times of war or for “national security” in the face of revolutionary upheaval abroad or class struggle at home. In every case the courts dutifully tagged along.

The government’s “justification” for the denial of constitutional protections for Padilla and the repressive measures implemented after September 11 is the putative “war against terrorism.” Piercing this pretext, the brief states, “There is no war by any military definition. There is no shooting war and no battle between state powers. The ‘war against terrorism’ is a fiction, a political construct, not a military reality.... It is no more a ‘war’ in a military sense than ‘war against cancer,’ ‘war against obesity’ or a ‘war against immorality.’ Like the ‘war against communism’ and the ‘war against drugs,’ this ‘war’ is a pretext to increase the state’s police powers and repressive apparatus, constricting the democratic rights of the population.”

A consistent tool of government repression is to declare political opponents of government policy “terrorists,” defining them as “outlaws” of civil society and providing the state with a license to suspend democratic rights, criminalize political activity and ultimately to engage in legalized murder. As we note, “It was the fate of the Black Panther Party (BPP) to be deemed a ‘terrorist’ organization and ‘the greatest threat to internal security’ by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and it was subjected to a Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) campaign of harassment, surveillance and prosecution; government agents killed some 38 members of the BPP.”

The administration’s evisceration of constitutional rights has been largely supported by the Democrats, whose main political bone to pick with Bush & Co. as the presidential campaign heats up is that the administration hasn’t done enough for “homeland security.” The brief cites the statement issued by the SL the day after the World Trade Center attack, which declared: “The ruling parties—Democrats and Republicans—are all too eager to be able to wield the bodies of those who were killed and wounded in order to reinforce capitalist class rule.”

The “war on terror” has served as the pretext for U.S. imperialism’s bombing of Afghanistan and bloody occupation of Iraq and for a war against the population at home. The domestic targets of this war, in the first instance, are immigrants particularly from Islamic/Arab countries, and ultimately minorities, blacks, labor and all perceived opponents of the government’s policies. The government’s objective is to smear, chill, inhibit, criminalize and penalize dissenting opinion and political action in opposition to government policy as threats to national security and support for terrorism. This was brought home with a vengeance on April 7 at the Port of Oakland, when, acting on “intelligence” in an anti-terrorism “advisory,” riot-equipped police opened fire on legal observers, longshoremen, port truckers and antiwar protesters with wooden bullets and concussion grenades.

As the SL and PDC have stressed since the onset of the “war on terror,” what the U.S. capitalist rulers get away with will largely depend on the level of social and class struggle in this society. It is in the urgent interests of the integrated labor movement to mobilize in defense of immigrant rights and the democratic rights of the entire population.

We reprint below the Summary which appears at the opening of the SL/PDC brief.

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The issue in this case is whether the President has the authority, as Commander in Chief, to declare a United States citizen, detained in the United States outside a battlefield, an “enemy combatant” in the “war against terrorism” and indefinitely imprison him without bringing charges, holding a hearing, or allowing representation by counsel. Stripped of legalese, what the President asserts is nothing less than the right to disappear citizens.

The Executive has imposed martial law on Jose Padilla, a citizen, on the pretext of an alleged “war on terrorism” which is in fact not a military conflict but a political agenda. This is an unprecedented assertion of imperial powers by the President. The District Court’s deference to the President’s determination of Padilla’s status as an enemy combatant relegates to the President the role of sole arbiter of the exercise and applicability of democratic, constitutional rights. This is consonant with the rationale of a police state.

The treatment of Padilla is intended as both the precursor and legal justification for application of Executive unilateral prerogatives on a broader scale, denying due process protections in criminal prosecutions, immigration proceedings and civil challenges to government policy. It is a frontal assault on the very concepts of due process and citizenship itself. Padilla is being forcibly expatriated, confined to a civil death. The imperial Presidency’s objective is nullification of First Amendment rights and a qualitative diminution of all democratic rights. The target of the Executive is any and all perceived opponents of government policy, as evidenced most starkly by the secretly drafted legislation, the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 (Patriot II), which would allow the Executive unchallengeable authority to strip citizenship from Americans who “provide material support” to an organization which at some time may be deemed “terrorist” by the U.S. government. Patriot II victims would be locked away indefinitely in military prison without any legal process.

The case of Jose Padilla tests the very existence of the fundamental rights of due process—liberty of the individual from the arbitrary, discriminatory power of the state—and the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. It poses the evisceration of the rights and privileges of citizenship embodied in the first ten Amendments to the Constitution and secured on the battlefield of the Civil War and in class and social struggle over the past hundred and more years. If the imperial President is upheld, Padilla’s detention threatens to become the Dred Scott case of our time, a declaration that “Citizens have no rights that the government is bound to respect.”

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Entire Padilla brief is printed in Class-Struggle Defense Notes No. 31, Summer 2003, 50¢ (24 pages)

Order from/make checks payable to: Partisan Defense Committee, P.O. Box 99, Canal Street Station, New York, NY 10013-0099

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