Debra J. Saunders

While Yoo doesn't face possible jail time, if this case goes to court, he will have to devote himself full-time to defending himself -- and if he has to shoulder his legal costs, he risks financial ruin.

"A government official who acts in a gray area is immune from suit," Padilla's attorney Jonathan Freiman responded. "It's only when an official violates a clearly established law that he has to answer for what he's done. And if he's about to violate a clear law, he 'should be made to hesitate.' Those are the Supreme Court's words, not mine."

The rub: Lawyers always say that such lawsuits are narrow, then over the years, others push to expand what was once a tiny tort. The law applies in unintended ways as the stakes escalate and partisans use the courts for payback. After a while, smart lawyers on both sides of the aisle will be more timid about everything. It will be change you can't believe in.

The only sure outcome? Taxpayers get stuck with the bill.

And for what? So that critics can ruin a man who was trying to save American lives, while ignoring the crimes of a man who wanted to take lives.

It's true, the feds failed to prosecute Padilla for plotting with al-Qaida to detonate a "dirty bomb" in the United States because much of the evidence against him was obtained through inadmissible harsh interrogations.

Still, the career-criminal-turned-would-be jihadist was convicted of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas. Prosecutors produced a form he filled out in 2000 when he attended al-Qaida training camp.

Fortunately, he got caught. So now he gets to play the role of civil libertarian.

Debra J. Saunders

TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Debra Saunders' column. Sign up today and receive daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.