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Padilla sentence: Does terror training merit life?

On Tuesday, a federal judge will announce Al Qaeda recruit's long-awaited prison sentence.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 22, 2008


Prosecutors in Miami are asking a federal judge to endorse a broad reading of a murder conspiracy statute and material support law to send convicted Al Qaeda recruit Jose Padilla to prison for the rest of his life.

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If US District Judge Marcia Cooke agrees with the US Justice Department, the severe sentence won't be for any violent act carried out or planned by Mr. Padilla. Instead, he will be punished for what prosecutors say were his dangerous intentions – intentions to conduct unspecified future terrorist operations.

The case raises a potential landmark legal question.

Can a suspected future terrorist receive the same harsh punishment meted out against actual terrorists who were personally involved in planning or carrying out genuine bombings, assassinations, and kidnappings?

On Tuesday, Judge Cooke will answer that question when she announces Padilla's sentence.

The judge has already decided that Padilla and his two co-defendants are eligible for terms of 30 years to life in prison under a special "terrorism enhancement" within the federal sentencing guidelines. But the judge has the discretion to hand down more lenient sentences.

In a hearing on Friday, Padilla's lawyer, Acting Federal Public Defender Michael Caruso, argued that there is no comparison between his client's conduct and the conduct of convicted terrorists currently serving sentences of life in prison.

Richard Reid attempted to detonate a shoe bomb on a crowded commercial airliner over the Atlantic Ocean in December 2001.

Zacarias Moussaoui admitted to infiltrating the US to serve in a second wave of Al Qaeda attacks similar to the massive 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Ramzi Yousef planned the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six and injured at least 1,000 and was the mastermind of a foiled 1995 plot to assassinate the pope and simultaneously bomb 11 airliners carrying 4,000 passengers.

•Wadi El-Hage helped plan the 1998 bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 and injured 4,500.

In contrast, according to federal prosecutors, Padilla attended an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.

Prosecutors presented no evidence of Padilla's involvement in (or knowledge of) any plan to murder, kidnap, or maim anyone. Instead, prosecutors told the jury that by attending the training camp in Afghanistan, Padilla had demonstrated his intent to engage in violent jihad.

The law doesn't require proof of involvement in a specific act of violence, prosecutors say. Padilla and his two codefendants, Adham Hassoun and Kifah Jayyousi, were convicted of supporting violent jihad overseas by providing money, equipment, and recruits to a broad conspiracy among Muslim radicals. Padilla's role in the conspiracy was to provide himself as a recruit, according to prosecutors.

"Jose Padilla is properly characterized as a trained Al Qaeda killer," assistant US Attorney Brian Frazier told Judge Cook. "[Life in prison] is the only appropriate punishment for Jose Padilla," he said.