US argues harsh treatment shouldn't undercut Padilla case
The case of suspected Al Qaeda sympathizer Jose Padilla is raising fundamental questions about whether a US citizen's harsh treatment – and alleged torture – while in US military custody should prevent his later prosecution in the criminal-justice system.Skip to next paragraph
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Lawyers for Mr. Padilla charge that he was tortured while being held for three years and eight months as an enemy combatant in a military prison in Charleston, S.C. The lawyers are asking that all criminal charges against him be dropped because of the government's alleged illegal and abusive treatment.
Federal prosecutors responded for the first time this week to the accusations, telling US District Judge Marcia Cooke in a written motion that Padilla was not tortured or abused. But even if he had been tortured, they added, there is no legal support for Padilla's request that all charges against him be dismissed.
"Padilla has not cited a single precedent absolutely barring a federal criminal prosecution because of alleged due process violations committed during a prior military detention," writes Assistant US Attorney Russell Killinger.
Padilla's case, pending in US District Court here, highlights the murky intersection between the Bush administration's open-ended interrogation of enemy combatants to collect intelligence and the subsequent transfer of an enemy combatant who is also a US citizen to face punishment in the criminal-justice system.
Padilla is best known for allegedly plotting with Al Qaeda to detonate a radiological "dirty bomb" in a major US city. But when he was transferred from military custody to the civilian court system in January to face criminal charges, the dirty-bomb plot and other detailed information obtained by military interrogators was excluded from the indictment.
Instead, he is facing a more general charge that he engaged in a loosely-defined conspiracy by becoming a recruit to help wage a violent jihad. Padilla denies the charge.
Padilla's lawyers first made their torture allegations in court papers filed last month. They said military interrogators engaged in torture – including administering the mind-altering drug LSD – to try to force Padilla to reveal all he knew about Al Qaeda.
"He was assaulted, threatened with imminent death, and subjected to myriad other deprivations during his captivity at the Naval Brig," according to a legal motion filed by Acting Federal Public Defender Michael Caruso, one of Padilla's appointed lawyers. "He was drugged and subjected to cruel interrogations" using stress positions, forced hypothermia, and sleep deprivation, the brief says.
But the most painful and damaging tactic, the brief says, was extreme isolation in a windowless 9-by-7-foot cell. "Extended periods of solitary confinement are the most severe deprivation of liberty – short of the death penalty – that the government imposes," Mr. Caruso writes.
Padilla's lawyers are asking Judge Cooke to dismiss all charges against Padilla because of what they say amounts to outrageous government conduct.
Prosecutors dispute the charge. "The government in the strongest terms denies Padilla's allegations of torture – allegations made without support and without citing a shred of record evidence," writes Mr. Killinger.