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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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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.

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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.

The two co-defendants, Adham Hassoun and Kifah Jayyousi, were also convicted. The appeals court affirmed all three convictions on Monday.

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.

While still in military custody, lawyers working on Padilla’s behalf argued that Mr. Bush had overstepped his constitutional authority in ordering the open-ended military detention without trial of a US citizen.

As that issue was about to reach the US Supreme Court, the Bush administration moved Padilla to the criminal justice system to stand trial on terror conspiracy charges. The action rendered the pending Supreme Court case moot, and allowed government lawyers to avoid having to defend the legality of Padilla’s interrogation and the conditions of his confinement.

It is the criminal case prosecuted in Miami that is the subject of Monday’s appeals court decision.

Because of the coercive techniques used against Padilla while in military custody, prosecutors were barred from relying on any statements he made to intelligence officials. That left the government scrambling to assemble enough evidence to win a conviction.

At trial, prosecutors said the support cell conspiracy ran from October 1993 to Nov. 1, 2001. They presented transcripts culled from 300,000 secretly-recorded conversations.

Padilla was overheard in seven conversations, and none involved incriminating statements by him.


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