If the President had his way, the government, on the basis of information that never had to be tested before any neutral magistrate, could pluck any citizen off the streets, throw them in a military prison, and proceed to drive them insane.
Those are the powers that the Bush Administration sought. I will not mince words: They are the powers of a dictator in an authoritarian regime. They are the powers of the old Soviet Union, of the military junta in Argentina during the time of the disappeared.
To be sure, the President thought that Padilla was a dangerous man. But authoritarian regimes always think that the people they lock up are dangerous. They always do it to keep the country safe, to save the country from its enemies. The question is at what cost do they assume such power without accountability.
As a nod to my earlier post, it should be noted that all of this was done at the behest of a man who purports to be a devout Christian. Our President, guided supposedly by his belief in God, believed that it was necessary to lock up Padilla and dehumanize and abuse him long past the point at which Padilla could provide any useful intelligence about his alleged connections to al Qaeda. The same applies for legions of terrorists "suspects" and wholly innocent men in Gitmo and throughout our system of black sites in Europe, Iraq and Afghanistan and who knows where else, who remain deprived of the basic human liberty that was supposedly gifted to them by God at birth. In doing so our President has led our government into a dark period that reeks of the dictatorial excesses of the worst authoritarian regimes of the 20th century. This was done by a devout Christian, and it leads people like me to jump to the only slightly rash conclusion that devout religious belief should perhaps be a disqualification for political office.