Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Searching for the Brig Sitting at home a couple weeks ago with little to do, I decided to track down Jose Padilla.

Okay, so it was a little more premeditated than that. And finding Padilla wasn't the only reason my girlfriend and I traveled to Charleston, SC in early December. But after reading dozens of news reports about Padilla's travails--each of which, inevitably, includes language about him being held in a military brig in Charleston, South Carolina--I was awfully tempted to do some poking around.

If you've been sleeping on the job, here's the skinny: Padilla, an American citizen, is reputed by the US government to have met with Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan in 2002. He later returned to the US, allegedly as part of a plan to buy radioactive materials and set off a dirty bomb. Arriving in Chicago's O'Hare Airport, Padilla was detained and sent to, you guessed it, a military brig in Charleston, South Carolina.

One year later, Padilla still hasn't been charged with a crime, and the government continues to deny him permission to speak to a lawyer. Such unusual treatment is, as even Bush's own former Assistant Attorney General euphemistically concedes, "legally unsustainable."


We arrive in glorious old Charleston.

After consulting a couple of sources and doing a bit of digging around, it comes out that Padilla isn't in Charleston at all, but is instead being held at the Navy Consolidated Brig just outside the city, in a base that spans from the town of Hanahan to the town of Goose Creek.

So we map out a route, slip into Investigative Journo Mode, and head off by car. Before we know it, though, we're running into blockades like this one:

Willow Lawson for CONTRAPOSITIVE

And while I don't expect to be able to saunter up to Padilla's window and wave hello, the barbed wire, checkpoints, and strategically placed trees and shrubs soon make it clear that we're not likely to set eyes on the brig at all, let alone get any sense of what's going on inside.

Still, venturing onto a dock just outside of Navy property, I do manage to snap this paparazzi-type zoom shot of a vessel sitting off in the distance--one that seems like it's got some serious brig potential.

Jose Padilla's digs?

So--an investigative triumph? A blogging coup?

Alas, no. Unfortunately, research ultimately reveals [registration required] that, contrary to my prior understanding of the meaning of the word brig ("2. A jail or prison on board a U.S. Navy or Coast Guard vessel."), Padilla is being housed on land ("3. A jail or guardhouse, especially on the premises of a U.S. military installation.")

And so, with its savvy exploitation of the ambiguities of the English language, the administration has gotten the better of me yet again. Curses.

Anyway, click here [registration required] for a nice overhead shot of the facility.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.