In Padilla case, no life sentence
The judge cited harsh military detention to justify a lighter term of 17 years in prison.
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In addition to sentencing Padilla to 17 years in prison, Cooke sentenced Hassoun to 15 years and eight months, and Jayyousi to 12 years and eight months.Skip to next paragraph
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Defense lawyers had argued in the trial and during a seven-day sentencing hearing that prosecutors were relying on an overly broad reading of murder-conspiracy and material-support laws.
Lawyers for Hassoun and Jayyousi said their clients were motivated by a desire to send humanitarian aid to Muslims under attack overseas. Padilla's lawyer said his client traveled to the Middle East to study Islam and learn Arabic. He said the government presented no evidence of Padilla's intent to support violent jihad, or participate in it.
Padilla's long legal ordeal began in June 2002, when then-Attorney General John Ashcroft announced in a press conference that American officials had foiled a plot to detonate a radiological "dirty bomb" in an American city. President Bush ordered Padilla, a US citizen, to be held without charge as an enemy combatant. Padilla was imprisoned for 3-1/2 years in a military brig in South Carolina where he was subjected to harsh interrogation techniques, including extreme isolation and sensory deprivation. Mental-health experts who have examined Padilla say he is suffering from significant psychological damage from his treatment in the brig.
Lawyers challenged the constitutionality of Padilla's military detention. They argued the case all the way to the US Supreme Court. But in 2004 the high court dodged the central issue, handing down a procedural ruling that required the lawyers to relitigate their case from the beginning in South Carolina.
A year and a half later, when it appeared that a sympathetic Supreme Court was about to take up Padilla's case a second time, the Justice Department shifted him from military custody into the criminal-justice system on terror-conspiracy charges. The move mooted Padilla's constitutional challenge.
It also prevented the courts from examining the legality of the interrogation techniques that had been used against Padilla in the brig. Lawyers in Miami appointed to represent Padilla in the criminal case charged in a pretrial motion that Padilla had been tortured. But Cooke declined to examine the torture allegation.
At trial, Padilla's lawyers tried to emphasize what they said was a lack of evidence linking their client to terrorism.
Prosecutors did not attempt to use any information obtained from Padilla during his brig interrogation. Had they done so it would have required judicial examination of interrogation techniques used against Padilla. US officials have backed away from the "dirty bomb" allegations. Some have suggested instead that Padilla was plotting to blow up occupied apartment buildings. But prosecutors in the Miami trial presented no evidence of Padilla's involvement in any specific terror plot.
Although Padilla's prison sentence ends one chapter of the Padilla saga, Padilla's story is far from over.
Despite the conviction in Miami, lawyers have filed civil lawsuits in South Carolina and California seeking to hold current and former Bush administration officials legally accountable for what they charge were violations of Padilla's civil and constitutional rights during his imprisonment in the brig.
In addition, all three defendants in the Miami case are expected to appeal both their convictions and their sentences.
Prosecutors objected to portions of Cooke's sentencing decisions, but they did not announce whether they will appeal the sentences.