Thursday, March 01, 2007

The case of the missing DVD


The missing DVD dates from March 2, 2004. It contains a video of the last interrogation session of Padilla, then a declared “enemy combatant” under an order from President Bush, while he was being held in military custody at a U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. But in recent days, in the course of an unusual court hearing about Padilla’s mental condition, a government lawyer disclosed to a surprised courtroom that the Defense Intelligence Agency -- which had custody of the evidence -- was no longer able to locate the DVD.

Those sympathetic to the defense made hay with it, of course. "This is the kind of thing you hear when you’re litigating cases in Egypt or Morocco or Karachi," said John Sifton, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch -- an observation that recalls my recent comparison of the treatment of Padilla and a jailed Egyptian blogger.

The judge seems to think that, legally inexcusable as this is, the DVD isn't particularly relevant to the case. The defense was claiming a pattern of mistreatment, and such a pattern would have shown up on the other taped interrogations. As far as evidence admissable to his actual trial, there is a classified report on the interrogation that describes what went on.

Still, it's unusual. And the timing is pretty interesting. The final interrogation session took place in March 2004. Soon after -- and just before arguments on Padilla's detention were to begin before the Supreme Court -- Padilla finally was given access to lawyers. A year later, hoping to avoid an adverse ruling, the government transferred him back into the regular legal system.

So if there was going to be a session in which they pressed him hard it seems likely it would have been the final one, because they knew the case was about to go before the Supreme Court and they might be forced to give him legal rights.

As I said, it appears to have little bearing on his actual trial. But at minimum it's another example of how we've been quite cavalier with Padilla's rights. Worst case, it's a coverup of actual abuse.

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