The Myth of the “Dirty Bomb” and the Torture of Jose Padilla

December 15, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


For years, the public in the U.S. was bombarded with horror stories about a so-called dirty bomb threat against U.S. civilians by a U.S. citizen, Jose Padilla.

The hype had the impact of incidents such as when police, government officials, the courts and media fabricated mass hysteria and a lynch-mob atmosphere against the Central Park 5—Black and Latino youth coerced and tortured into false confessions that they carried out a vicious rape of a white woman in Central Park.

The CIA claimed that Jose Padilla was thwarted from carrying out an attack that would unleash deadly radioactive material in the U.S. because of information produced by torturing a CIA detainee named Abu Zubaydah, including with waterboarding. This was a classic case, it was claimed, where torture was justified because it saved American lives.

According to the Senate report on torture (see “What the Senate Report Reveals... and Covers Up: Torture to Enforce a World of Horrors”), torture was inflicted on Abu Zubaydah after Jose Padilla was arrested in May 2002. And no substantial information about Padilla was ever produced by interrogating or torturing Abu Zubaydah... period. The report concludes that “the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques played no role in the identification of ‘Jose Padilla’ or the thwarting of the Dirty Bomb or Tall Buildings plotting.” (Page 230)

Furthermore, there was no “dirty bomb” plot. The Senate report reveals that the government never took this “plot” seriously. One internal CIA email declared that such a plot would most likely kill Padilla himself, but “would definitely not result in a nuclear explosive device.” Another CIA email called Padilla “a petty criminal” and described the “dirty bomb” plot as “lore.”

Padilla himself was subjected to torture in various forms, driven insane, and then framed for charges completely unrelated to the original accusations against him, “crimes” that were essentially thought crimes based on opinions he posted online. (See “Jose Padilla Convicted—The Expanding U.S. Machinery of Repression: Thought Crimes, Preventive Detention, and Torture.”)

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