Willing to give the benefit of the doubt, I once believed the common thread here was presidential blindness—an extreme executive-branch myopia that leads the president to believe that these futile little measures are somehow integral to combating terrorism. That this is some piece of self-delusion that precludes Bush and his advisers from recognizing that Padilla is just a chump and Guantanamo merely a holding pen for a jumble of innocent and half-guilty wretches.
But it has finally become clear that the goal of these foolish efforts isn't really to win the war against terrorism; indeed, nothing about Padilla, Guantanamo, or signing statements moves the country an inch closer to eradicating terror. The object is a larger one, and the original overarching goal of this administration: expanding executive power, for its own sake.
On Jan. 3, Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio interviewed Mark Corallo, spokesman for then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, about the behind-the-scenes decision-making in the Padilla case—a case that's lolled through the federal courts for years. According to Totenberg, when the Supreme Court sent Padilla's case back to the lower federal courts on technical grounds in 2004, the Bush administration's sole concern was preserving its constitutional claim that it could hold citizens as enemy combatants. "Justice Department officials warned that if the case went back to the Supreme Court, the administration would almost certainly lose," she reports, which is why Padilla was hauled back to the lower courts. Her sources further confirmed that "key players in the Defense Department and Vice President Cheney's office insisted that the power to detain Americans as enemy combatants had to be preserved."
The destruction of Al Dossari, Jose Padilla, Zacarias Moussaoui, and some of our most basic civil liberties was never a purpose or a goal—it was a mere byproduct. The true purpose is more abstract and more tragic: To establish a clunky post-Watergate dream of an imperial presidency, whatever the human cost may be.
You must read the whole thing, and if you can handle even more outrage, this moving letter from Guantanamo, too; it was only recently declassified and published in the L.A. Times (also linked in the Slate piece).
Hat Tip to Oddjob, via Sully.