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Padilla sues US officials over confinement

Despite his conviction on terror conspiracy charges, his lawyers say he suffered 'psychological abuse' during military detention.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 24, 2007



Convicted Al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla is seeking to hold former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and 59 other US officials responsible for what his lawyers say were abusive and unconstitutional tactics used against Mr. Padilla while he was held in military custody as an enemy combatant from 2002 to 2006.

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Lawyers working on Padilla's behalf filed the civil lawsuit earlier this year in federal court in South Carolina. It was publicly disclosed by the lawyers this week.

"Mr. Padilla suffered gross physical and psychological abuse at the hands of federal officials as part of a scheme of abusive interrogation intended to break down Mr. Padilla's humanity and his will to live," the 30-page complaint says.

"The grave violations suffered by Padilla were not isolated occurrences by rogue lower-level officials," the suit says. Besides Mr. Rumsfeld, it names Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and former Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lowell Jacoby, among others, who "personally ordered and/or approved Mr. Padilla's detention and interrogation program."

Last week, Padilla was found guilty by a Miami jury of conspiring with Al Qaeda to engage in violent jihad. Federal prosecutors said he attended a training camp in Afghanistan. He faces a potential life sentence in prison.

Some analysts have pointed to Padilla's conviction as vindication of the Bush administration's alleged harsh treatment of him at the US Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C., prior to his transfer to the criminal justice system in early 2006. But other analysts say that regardless of the guilty verdict in Miami, significant constitutional and other legal issues surrounding Padilla's treatment by the military remain unresolved.

Chief among them is whether a US citizen, like Padilla, who was arrested on American soil, can be stripped of most of his constitutional rights while being held in military custody and interrogated as an enemy combatant. Padilla was held at the brig for 43 months.

According to the court docket, a Justice Department lawyer is representing each of the named defendants. Andrew Ames, a Justice Department spokesman, said the government would have no comment on the pending case.

The defendants have been ordered to respond to the suit by Oct. 15.

A Defense Department spokesman also offered no specific response to the lawsuit, but repeated earlier statements that all detainees in the war on terror are treated humanely.

Padilla's lawyers are asking US District Judge Henry Floyd to declare Padilla's treatment in the brig unlawful and in violation of the Constitution. They are also asking the judge to award damages of $1 against each of the potential 60 defendants.

Although Padilla's lawyers are not asking for millions of dollars in damages, the case raises landmark constitutional issues dealing with the scope of the president's power as commander in chief to sweep aside many of the constitutional rights of citizens whom he determines are enemy combatants. The suit is also significant because it is the only means available of subjecting Padilla's military detention to the independent scrutiny of the federal judiciary.

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