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Taliaferro: 'Tread Carefully'

Taliaferro: 'Tread Carefully'The war on terror raises tricky questions regarding prisoner’s rights – uncharted territory that a Tufts expert says should be approached with caution. Medford/Somerville,Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [06.04.04] American citizen Jose Padilla was arrested in a Chicago airport in 2002, on suspicion of plotting a terrorist attack. Two years later, he's still in military custody. While most critics agree that the government must prevent another 9/11 attack, some are questioning the practice of locking up a suspected terrorist indefinitely. Prisoner rights, according to a Tufts expert, are one of the most ambiguous components of the ongoing war on terrorism.

"This is one of the difficult things with fighting a war against Al Qaeda, a war on terrorism - the fact that Al Qaeda is not a state actor, it is a loose transnational alliance of different groups and it doesn't have a corporate structure," Jeffrey Taliaferro, assistant professor of political science at Tufts, told CN8's Nightbeat.

Padilla, a former Chicago gang member accused of becoming an operative for Al Qaeda, was charged with planning to attack the United States with a dirty bomb.

But despite the serious allegations against Padilla - which were recently revealed in declassified documents - does the government have the right to detain American citizens like Mr. Padilla indefinitely?

According to Taliaferro, "sometimes it's better to err on the side of caution when you're dealing with very desperate individuals who are willing to commit or have contemplated committing very heinous actions."

Keeping the prisoners in custody, says the Tufts expert, might also lead to other discoveries about terrorist networks through interrogation.

"If you hold somebody in custody for two years, no matter how seasoned a jihadist he or she may be, they will eventually succumb to subtle forms of coercion," Taliaferro - who specializes in international relations and security studies - told the news program.

But imprisoning suspected terrorists - especially those from this country - raises legal questions about the limits of power a government has over its citizens.

Taliaferro advised government leaders to "tread very carefully, particularly when you're dealing with U.S. citizens and permanent residents."

As the he told Nightbeat, "It's one thing to capture an enemy combatant on the battlefield. However, when we talk about holding U.S. citizens indefinitely as enemy combatants, you run up into not only a whole series of constitutional issues, but a whole series of public diplomacy and also public relations issues as well."

Padilla's fate will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court in upcoming weeks, setting an important precedent for future prisoners suspected of terrorism. Taliaferro expects the ruling to fall on the side of the Bush Administration.

"[It's likely that the] Supreme Court is going to show the deference to the executive - which is normally shown in matters of national security - and allow Padilla to be continued to be held indefinitely as an enemy combatant," said the Tufts expert.

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