Shall we do a little critical thinking on the case of the dirty bomber, Abdullah al Mujahir, born Jose Padilla? John Ashcroft made a big announcement today about the fact that he was arrested on 5/8 when he arrived in the country from Pakistan, planning to build a dirty bomb. The government reports that al Mujahir had been trained in bomb making and that he is a member of al-Qaeda. Pretty serious stuff, no question about it.

However, what I find interesting are the other details. Back in his Jose Padilla days, the would-be terrorist was a common street thug who wound up doing time and converting to Islam while in prison. Furthermore, when he arrived in the US, as far as we know, he had no bomb, no material from which to make a bomb, and no plans for the bomb he was going to make. Donald Rumsfeld admits without reservation that, I quote, “There was no actual plan.” So we’ve arrested someone who (allegedly) intended to execute a terrorist attack but had no concrete plans for how or when he planned on doing so.

So what crime are we charging al Mujahir with? None. He’s been turned over to the Defense Department as an “enemy combatant.” Whether or not al Mujahir is capable of executing the attack the government says he was planning, it’s best that we were aware of him, and it’s certainly not a bad thing that he’s in custody, but it seems to me like we could have done better. Call me crazy, but it seems to me that it’s easy for al-Qaeda to find thugs willing to build a bomb and set it off, but it’s hard for them to come up with the radioactive material needed to construct such a bomb. So why did we arrest al Mujahir (with no actual criminal charges to press against him) when we could have followed him around and seen who he was working with and perhaps where he was planning on obtaining the material he needed to build the bomb? I don’t know the answer to the question, but I’d sure like to.