What's a fair sentence for Jose Padilla?
The Al Qaeda recruit asks the court to weigh his torture allegations. The US calls conditions in the brig 'irrelevant.'
This week, convicted Al Qaeda recruit Jose Padilla will stand before a federal judge in Miami to receive a punishment that fits his crime.Skip to next paragraph
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Such sentencing hearings are usually routine, but Mr. Padilla's sentencing promises to be anything but routine.
Padilla's lawyers are urging leniency, arguing that despite the jury's quick verdicts in his terror conspiracy trial last summer, the evidence against their client remains weak.
But Padilla isn't the only party with a stake in the outcome of Wednesday's scheduled hearing. The Bush administration is pushing hard for the harshest sentence available – life without the possibility of parole. It is a sentence that would probably be served in the isolation wing of the federal "supermax" prison in Florence, Colo.
To determine the most appropriate sentence for Padilla, US District Judge Marcia Cooke will review every relevant event in Padilla's life – including, most important, his conviction in August of conspiring to provide material support to Al Qaeda by attending a training camp in Afghanistan.
She will review Padilla's troubled childhood, his involvement as a teen in a gang-related killing in Chicago, and his jail term in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on a gun charge. She will also consider his conversion to Islam, the breakup of his marriage, and his subsequent desire to travel overseas to learn Arabic and further his religious studies with scholars of the Salafist sect of Islam.
But there is one major area of Padilla's life that federal prosecutors say Judge Cooke must avoid. For three years and eight months, Padilla, a US citizen, was held without charge in a military brig as an enemy combatant on the orders of President Bush. He was housed in an isolation cell and subject to harsh interrogation techniques that Padilla and his lawyers characterize as torture. The experience, from 2002 to 2006, has left Padilla with severe mental disabilities from which he may never recover, according to mental-health experts who have examined him.
"Mr. Padilla's assertion that he was tortured is, by any definition, unassailable," writes Padilla's lawyer, Michael Caruso, acting federal public defender, in his sentencing brief to Cooke. "There can be no dispute ... that the government intentionally inflicted psychological pain and suffering upon Mr. Padilla."
Federal prosecutors dismiss the issue as "the same unsubstantiated allegations made by Padilla's lawyers earlier in the case."
"This court has already held that the circumstances of Padilla's brig confinement are irrelevant to these criminal charges against him," writes assistant US Attorney John Shipley in his sentencing brief to Cooke. "For the court to change direction now, and allow the sentencing process to devolve into a hearing on the conditions of Padilla's military confinement, which would necessarily involve why he was designated an enemy combatant in the first place, would be improper."
Padilla's treatment and detention by the military as an enemy combatant involve classified information that cannot be disclosed in open court, according to government officials.
Legal analysts say it would be appropriate for Cooke to award Padilla credit for the more than five years he has been held in government custody, both at the brig and in Miami in pretrial detention.
In addition, some analysts say Cooke should go further and try to quantify the amount of pain and suffering – and the extent of abuse – caused by the government during his military detention. They say she should compensate him through a reduced sentence.