Friday, June 12, 2009

Federal judge revives hope for legal system to reverse Bush legacy

Friday's federal court ruling allowing a convicted terrorist who claims he was tortured to sue a former Bush administration lawyer who authorized harsh treatment of detainees offers a genuine opportunity for the U.S. legal system to repair some of the worst constitutional damage done by the executive branch. In a lawsuit brought by the family of Jose Padilla, the Brooklyn man who was held in solitary confinement for more than three years after being accused of trying to set off a radioactive "dirty" bomb explosion in the United States, U.S. Judge Jeffrey White decided that the allegations were sufficient to proceed with the case. White, who was, perhaps ironically, appointed to the Northern District of California bench by George W. Bush, rejected nearly all of the government's claims of immunity in a 42-page ruling issued late Friday, according to the New York Times. White ruled that the suit had adequately alleged that attorney John C. Yoo, who wrote many of the so-called torture memos that authorized the use of invasive interrogation techniques when was a deputy attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel from 2001 to 2003, could have started the "series of events that resulted in the deprivation of Padilla’s constitutional rights,” the Times said. Padilla claimed in his lawsuit that he “suffered gross physical and psychological abuse at the hands of federal officials as part off a systematic program of abusive interrogation intended to break down Mr. Padilla’s humanity and his will to live” while he was held in the U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. White said in his ruling that the case raised the question of the balance “between the requirements of war and the defense of the very freedoms that war seeks to protect,” the Times said. Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California in Berkeley, did not respond to requests for comment, the Times said. But he did write in the Wall Street Journal column last year that "the legal system should not be used as a bludgeon against individuals targeted by political activists to impose policy preferences they have failed to implement via the ballot box.” A U.S. Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the decision, the Times said. Padilla eventually was sentenced to 17 years in prison for conspiracy to commit terrorism in an unrelated case.

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