Debra J. Saunders

 While the story suggests that Padilla's mother, Estela Ortega Lebron, doesn't believe her son could have been involved in the alleged dirty-bomb plot, Mom's reported complaints focus on how the FBI treated her and the fact that her son has yet to be tried.

 The best part of the package, however, was the front-page photo of Padilla's wife -- Shamia'a -- clutching a photo of her husband. The bride is shrouded under so much covering -- veils and gloves -- that readers see but a human form in black, with a flesh-colored slit punctured with two eyes.

 I have to ask: If you wanted to convince Americans that your husband isn't a radical Islamic terrorist, would you pose for The New York Times so heavily veiled that your own mother wouldn't recognize you?

 The story addresses the legal question of the U.S. government holding Padilla indefinitely without charging him with a specific crime.

 On the one hand, after two years, the government should be able to present a case to the courts and grant Padilla a chance to defend himself.

 On the other hand, authorities argue that only the certainty of severe punishment will push Padilla to trade information for a break in his sentence.

 They also don't want to risk bringing Abu Zubaydah into a courtroom.

 As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments against holding Padilla, critics like to dismiss his jailers as law-and-order fanatics. They've turned U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft into such a caricature -- read: right-wing nut -- that they can't imagine Ashcroft actually might want to save innocent people's lives.

 In their world, Ashcroft is dangerous, but Padilla is not.

 It's not just that they've forgotten the recent barrage of criticism that the Bush administration was negligent in failing to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.

 It's as if they've forgotten what happened on Sept. 11.

Debra J. Saunders

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