Tuesday, December 19, 2006

That other terrorist

Back when I was contemplating the contrasts in how the mainstream media treat white and Muslim domestic terrorists, my main point of comparison involved the weird case of Chicagoan Derrick Shareef, a seeming nutcase with no actual ties to any known terrorist organization, and Demetrius "Van" Crocker of Tennessee, another seeming nutcase of like background.

But it occurred to me then that a more useful and significant comparison regarding Crocker would be that to Jose Padilla, whose treatment at the hands of authorities stands in stark contrast to Crocker's as well. It's one thing, after all, for the media to enforce a double standard; it's another thing entirely when it's our national law-enforcement apparatus.

Unfortunately, I knew such a post would take a lot of footwork, and I was engaged in other looming projects. So I put the idea on a back burner.

Fortunately, Alex Koppelman not only had the same idea, but he did all the heavy lifting, and the result is really a remarkable piece for Salon. Here's an excerpt, after an introduction describing the Justice Department's Kafkaesque tactics in its mistreatment of Padilla:
This shockingly cynical new tack is just the latest in the saga of moral and legal breakdown that is the Padilla case. On Dec. 4, the New York Times published graphic evidence to substantiate Padilla's claims of mistreatment. The paper ran old photos of Padilla while he was in Department of Defense custody wearing dark goggles, earmuffs and shackles, being led from his one-man cell to a dental appointment for a root canal. Padilla spent 1,307 days at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C., where, his lawyers allege, he was kept in solitary, deprived of sleep, drugged with PCP or LSD, held in stress positions, and blindfolded, shackled and deafened on the few occasions he was allowed out of his 9-by-7-foot cell.

The Bush administration has defended its handling of Jose Padilla and other alleged terrorists in federal custody by arguing that the post-9/11 "war on terror" requires extraordinary methods. But while the Department of Justice has been tying itself in knots trying to justify the government's handling of Padilla, the nearly simultaneous -- and successful -- prosecution of another supposed "dirty bomber" in Tennessee stands as proof that the measures taken in the Padilla case are at best counterproductive. Without fanfare, and without any damage to the Constitution, 41-year-old Demetrius Crocker has been convicted of plotting to explode a bomb and release sarin gas outside a courthouse.

On Nov. 28 -- six days before the Times ran its photos of Padilla -- Demetrius "Van" Crocker was sentenced to 30 years in prison. David Kustoff, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, where Crocker was prosecuted, tells Salon that "It was one of the preeminent anti-terrorism cases of 2006 nationwide." Whether or not that is true, few outside of the greater Memphis metropolitan area have ever heard of Crocker. Only one reporter, John Branston of the weekly Memphis Flyer, even covered his entire trial. What is certain is that in every particular his case is a study in contrasts with the prosecution of Jose Padilla.

You'll remember Koppelman from his Dragonfire days; it's nice to see him gaining the larger audience Salon afford.

Be sure to go read it all.

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