Appeals court's unusual ruling: Give Jose Padilla a tougher sentence
Convicted Al Qaeda supporter Jose Padilla, a US citizen once labeled an 'enemy combatant,' was given a 17-year sentence. In a rare ruling, a US appeals court called that too lenient.
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“Padilla’s sentence is substantively unreasonable,” wrote Chief Judge Joel Dubina in a 73-page opinion. It is rare for an appeals court to call for a substantially higher sentence.
At the time of his sentencing, federal prosecutors were seeking life in prison. They appealed the 17-year sentence.
Since his sentencing in Jan. 2008, Padilla, an American citizen who faced harsh interrogation techniques during years in military detention, has been held at the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colo., considered the most secure prison in the country.
Chief Judge Dubina and Judge William Pryor said the sentencing judge – US District Judge Marcia Cooke – had not given enough weight to Padilla’s prior criminal history and had wrongly concluded that Padilla would not likely be a danger to the public after serving his prison term.
“Padilla poses a heightened risk of future dangerousness due to his Al Qaeda training,” Dubina said. “He is far more sophisticated than an individual convicted of an ordinary street crime.”
The court also concluded that Judge Cooke gave too much credit for the time Padilla was held without charge under harsh conditions in military detention authorized by the Bush administration.
In a 38-page dissent, Judge Rosemary Barkett accused the appeals court majority of “blatantly substituting its own view for the discretion of the trial judge.”
Judge Barkett said Padilla’s 17-year sentence was a reasonable punishment based on factors considered and articulated by Judge Cooke.
“The sentence imposed on Padilla should not be disturbed by this court because doing so simply substitutes this court’s sentencing judgment for that of the trial judge’s, in whom that authority inheres,” she said.
In addition to addressing the government’s appeal of Padilla’s sentence, the appeals court rejected a series of defense arguments, including that prosecutors should not have been allowed to show the jury a video tape of a news interview with Osama Bin Laden.
Padilla and two others were accused of being part of a North American support cell that sent money, recruits, and equipment overseas to Al Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups.
After a three-month trial in 2007, the jury found all three guilty. Padilla was convicted of joining a conspiracy in the US to “murder, kidnap, and maim” persons overseas.
He was also convicted of conspiring to provide material support and actually providing material support to a terror group, knowing that the support would be used in a terrorist plot aimed at murdering, kidnapping, and maiming individuals overseas.
Padilla’s name first burst onto the international stage in May 2002 when then-Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that Padilla had been sent to the US to conduct a radiological “dirty bomb” attack in a major city.
A month later, President Bush designated Padilla an enemy combatant. He spent 3-1/2 years in an isolation cell at the US Naval Brig in Charleston, S.C., and was subjected to harsh interrogation techniques, including prolonged exposure to cold, as well as sleep and sensory deprivation. Mental health experts hired by Padilla’s lawyers say the harsh tactics may have caused permanent psychological damage.