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A verdict on Padilla – and the US

A Monitor series reveals the damage done to a citizen's rights and thus the US ability to wage this war.

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A critical legal case shedding light on President Bush's antiterror tactics will soon come to a head. A jury will decide in coming days if an American citizen, Jose Padilla, is guilty of aiding Al Qaeda. The verdict will signal whether US civic values must be bent to win a war.

A three-part Monitor series reveals the troubling ways in which the administration shifted charges against Mr. Padilla, tried to avoid judicial review of his case, and likely damaged his mental health by using extreme isolation to extract information from him. (See final story.)

The ordeal of this former gang member and Taco Bell worker born in Brooklyn, who allegedly met with Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan to plot a radiological "dirty bomb" attack on a US city, has taken on implications that will shape the American campaign against Islamic terrorists for years to come.

At its root, US treatment of Padilla shows the inclination to do anything to break the silence of a suspected terrorist, even it means violating such basic citizen rights as protection against self-incrimination and harsh interrogation, as well as the right to a trial.

In short, the US military used terror – Padilla had little or no human contact for more than three years – to fight terror. Many mental health experts say his severe seclusion in a Navy brig impaired his thinking. A judge confirmed the disability but let the case continue, refusing to probe the government's hand in altering Padilla's ability to defend himself.

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