Attorney General Gonzales Holds Briefing on the Indictment of Jose Padilla
Tuesday, November 22, 2005; 2:02 PM
NOVEMBER 22, 2005
SPEAKERS: ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL
ALICE FISHER, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, CRIMINAL DIVISION
JOHN PISTOLE, FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR
ALEXANDER ACOSTA, U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
GONZALES: Good morning. I am joined by Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher of the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta of the Southern District of Florida and Deputy Director of the FBI John Pistole.
Earlier today, a superseding indictment was unsealed in federal court in the Southern District of Florida charging Jose Padilla with providing and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and conspiring to murder individuals who are overseas.
The indictment alleges that Padilla traveled overseas to train as a terrorist with the intention of fighting in violent jihad, a shorthand term to describe a radical Islamic fundamentalist ideology that advocates using physical force and violence to oppose governments, institutions and individuals who do not share their view of Islam.
Those trained as terrorists engage in acts of physical violence such as murder, maiming, kidnapping and hostage-taking against innocent civilians.
Mr. Padilla is now a new co-defendant, along with Canadian national Kassem Daher, in a criminal prosecution that previously charged defendants Adham Hassoun, Mohammed Youssef and Kifah Jayyousi with terrorism-related crimes.
All of these defendants are alleged members of a violent terrorist support cell that operated in the United States and Canada.
As you know, under our criminal justice system, all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
As alleged in the indictment, this cell supported terrorists by sending money, physical assets and new recruits to overseas jihad conflicts. These defendants also allegedly took steps to disguise their fund-raising and recruitment activities by speaking in code and using nongovernmental organizations as a front for illegitimate activities.
As outlined in the indictment, Padilla was one of the individuals recruited by this terrorist support cell to fight in violent jihad overseas. With the assistance of co-defendant Hassoun and others, Mr. Padilla allegedly left the United States in September 1998 and traveled overseas for that purpose, where he met up with co-defendant Youssef in Egypt.
GONZALES: While overseas, Mr. Padilla continued to advise and seek assistance from co-defendant Hassoun in the United States, as he sought to obtain the necessary training to pursue these violent jihad activities.
The indictment specifically alleges that, as part of the conspiracy, Mr. Padilla filled a terrorist training camp application form in July 2000, in preparation for his violent jihad training in Afghanistan, and shortly thereafter, in September 2000, was reported to have arrived in Afghanistan by his co-conspirators.
The criminal case brought against these defendants will involve the use of declassified Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, intercepts, that chronicled jihad recruitments in the United States and travel overseas for the purposes of fighting violent jihad.
The Department of Justice is prosecuting this case in part because prosecutors and law enforcement agents were able to share information and use the classified FISA material from a multidistrict intelligence investigation under the provisions of the USA Patriot Act.
By tearing down the artificial wall that would have prevented this kind of investigation in the past, we're able to bring these terrorists to justice.
President Bush has directed his administration to utilize all available tools to protect America from acts of terrorism. This case, which began as an intelligence investigation, is a classic example of why the criminal justice system is one of those important tools.
This investigation has been under way for quite a while now, and has resulted in charges against Padilla which he will now face in a court of law. If convicted of these charges, he could face a sentence of life in prison.
GONZALES: Before answering a few questions I'd again like to thanks Assistant Attorney General Fisher, U.S. Attorney Acosta and the team of prosecutors handling this case: Russell Killinger (ph), Stephanie Powell (ph), Brian Frazier (ph) and Julia Pailer (ph).
I also want to thank the many investigators from the Department of Justice, the FBI, ICE and ATF for their work on this case, and their continued determination to help protect Americans from the threat of terrorism.
Thank you, and I'm happy to answer questions.
QUESTION: Mr. Attorney General, what accounts for the government's -- I realize this is more than just the Justice Department involved here, but what accounts for the government's change in tactics here? He was originally arrested by the FBI, then declared an enemy combatant. Why the change now back into the criminal justice system?
GONZALES: The president says that we're going to use all available tools to deal with this new kind of enemy, to deal with this terrorism threat against America and America's friends and allies, and America's interests overseas.
And we take each individual, each case, case by case. And prosecutors, in making charging decisions, take into account a wide variety of factors, including national security.
And based upon the evaluation of the total circumstances here, the decision was made that this was the appropriate thing to do with respect to Mr. Padilla. We've looked at the facts involved here, and we believe it is appropriate to bring these charges against Mr. Padilla.
QUESTION: It essentially, though, wipes off the table the earlier accusations: first, one unveiled in this room several years ago that he was part of a plot to set off a radioactive dirty bomb, and then a second, that he was involved somehow in a plot to fill apartment buildings in New York with gas and blow them up.
QUESTION: Are those off the table now?
GONZALES: You know, because of local rules and the jurisdiction in which these defendants are being prosecuted, because of regulations for the Department of Justice, there are limits to what I can say outside the indictment.
I am prescribed in talking about facts, which are included in the indictment.
QUESTION: Then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey talked about the fact that because a lot of the information from Mr. Padilla came by virtue of his status as an enemy combatant while he was being interrogated by intelligence and military officials, that there some likelihood that charges might never be brought in connection with those allegations.
Is this an example of that today?
GONZALES: Former Deputy Attorney General Comey's comments with respect to Mr. Padilla's designation as an enemy combatant is legally irrelevant to the charges we're bringing today.
We're here today to announce the charges that have been unsealed in Florida, and I'm not going to comment about previous comments relating to conduct of any of the defendants in this particular case.
QUESTION: Because there is nothing in the indictment about either the dirty bomb plot or the apartment building plot or the other charges that were made very publicly by the administration, can you say, were those initial charges overstated? Certainly, your critics will say those are charges that you cannot nail back up in court.
GONZALES: Again, I'm not going to talk about previous allegations or statements that are relating to conduct that are outside the indictment. I can't do that.
QUESTION: There are always questions about the timing of things like this. On about three occasions in your statement you referred to the Patriot Act. And does the timing have anything to do with the complications that currently face the handling of the Patriot Act in Congress?
GONZALES: Absolutely not.
The timing relates more to the fact that we believe it's simply the right -- it is the appropriate thing to do under the circumstances of this case.
I might note that Mr. Padilla is being added to a pre-existing indictment.
GONZALES: And the co-defendants are scheduled for trial in September of 2006. We intend to go to the court and say that we expect Mr. Padilla to be tried according to the same schedule.
And so it's relating more to the fact that we have a pre-existing indictment that's on schedule to be tried next year. And we wanted to ensure, the best we can, that Mr. Padilla would be on the same schedule as these other co-defendants.
QUESTION: Does that mean that your references to the Patriot Act were incidental and this case is not directly related to those provisions?
GONZALES: Well, clearly the Patriot Act was important in the investigation and prosecution in this case.
Because of provisions of the Patriot Act, we were able to share information collected by court order, under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, share it with prosecutors.
In addition, Mr. Padilla is being charged under the conspiracy provisions of the material support statute which, of course, are a by- product of the Patriot Act.
And we're able to bring charges against Mr. Daher because of changes in the length of time of the statute of limitations under the Patriot Act.
And so I think it's fair to say that, again, we were able to certainly -- the investigation and prosecution in this case has been facilitated by certain provisions of the Patriot Act.
But we are bringing this prosecution at this time because it is the appropriate thing to do.
QUESTION: Two questions: One, has he been transferred yet out of military custody and into the prison system?
And, secondly, does the fact that he was held in a military facility, not allowed a lawyer, for these past few years -- does that complicate the prosecution at all, in the sense that nothing has told investigators up to this point will be able to be able to be used against him?
GONZALES: Well, addressing your second question first, he has been represented by counsel. There has been significant litigation with respect to Mr. Padilla. And he has had access to counsel. He has had access to counsel.
What I will say with respect to the logistics, because of security reasons, I'm not going to get into exactly where he's at. I can say that we have filed papers with the Circuit Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit this morning, advising the court that the president has directed that the Department of Defense transfer Mr. Padilla upon my request.
That request has been approved or consented to by the lawyers for Mr. Padilla. They are aware of the request. We've been in touch with them this morning.
As soon as the 4th Circuit takes actions on our papers, I will submit a request that he be transferred. And Mr. Padilla will be transferred to Florida, where he will be taken into federal court and make his initial appearance.
But I can't get into any more specifics, for security reasons, regarding his location.
QUESTION: Did Mr. Padilla's designation as an enemy combatant in any way facilitate the government's bringing this indictment? Or would the government have been able to bring this indictment, as written, whether or not he'd been held as an enemy combatant?
GONZALES: Mr. Padilla's designation as an enemy combatant has no legal relevance whatsoever with respect to the charges that we're announcing this morning.
Under the president's directive, he is no longer being detained by the Department of Defense as an enemy combatant. The president has directed that upon my request the Department of Defense will transfer control of Mr. Padilla to the Department of Justice.
The president's order makes clear that his directive to the Department of Defense as of June 9th, 2002, has been superseded and that the Department of Defense's authority to detain Mr. Padilla upon the transfer will also cease.
QUESTION: Can you explain why the government defended so strongly its decision to designate him as an enemy combatant, if this indictment stands regardless of that?
GONZALES: I'm here to talk about the indictment and the facts supporting the indictment. I'm not here to talk about his designation as an enemy combatant.
QUESTION: Two questions: First, you mentioned that he had access to counsel, but I'm not sure I heard you answer whether the government will seek to use anything he said during his detention as an enemy combatant in the case against him now in criminal court.
And secondly, does the Supreme Court case that was pending involving him now go away because of...
GONZALES: Let me answer the second question, and I may defer to someone else on the stage regarding whether -- I think I have the answer, but I don't want to give you the wrong information about whether or not any information gathered while he was in military custody will be used in the criminal proceeding.
As you know, Mr. Padilla has filed a petition with the Supreme Court contesting his detention by DOD. We intend to impose a grant of certiorari in that particular case.
The relief sought by Mr. Padilla was either to be released or to be charged. And since he has now been charged in a grand jury in Florida, we believe that the petition is moot and that the petition should not be granted.
It very well may be that Mr. Padilla and his lawyers will voluntarily withdraw the petition, but, of course, we'll have to see what happens with the court.
(OFF-MIKE) address whether or not any information gathered -- Alice, you want to answer that?
Well, obviously, this case against the other defendants has been pending for quite awhile, so the criminal investigation with regard to this entire conspiracy has been ongoing.
As to the question of whether Mr. Padilla's statements while in the Department of Defense custody will be used, they are not necessary to the proof of the charges in this indictment.
GONZALES: I'll take one more question.
QUESTION: Mr. Attorney General, I know you don't want to comment on what others preceding you and others in the Justice Department have said regarding Mr. Padilla, but most of what the public knows about Mr. Padilla has been expressed by members of this administration. And what they expressed was a great fear or threat that Mr. Padilla presented.
QUESTION: What should the public now think of Mr. Padilla, given the absence of any of those previous allegations in this indictment?
GONZALES: I would urge the public to focus on the facts as alleged in this indictment -- and that's what I'm here to talk about today.
Obviously, we believe it's important that Mr. Padilla be able to receive a fair trial. We have every confidence in the world that he will receive a fair trial.
QUESTION: May I ask a question about the indictment? In summary, what is your allegation that this group was up to? Why were they raising the money? Why were they recruiting the people to go overseas and do what?
GONZALES: In a nutshell, a conspiracy to murder, to maim, to kidnap; a conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists; and the third count was actually providing material support to terrorism. This is what is being alleged.
QUESTION: The terrorists to fight in Chechnya and Kosovo, is that the...
GONZALES: The indictment doesn't relate to specific areas of fighting terrorism.
QUESTION: General Gonzales, almost certainly...
GONZALES: This is the last question.
QUESTION: ... Mr. Padilla's lawyers are going to make an issue of his detention the last several years. So a two-part question.
First of all, do you regret the department turning him over to military custody almost three years ago?
And secondly, how does the department plan to defend that detention? I know you're saying it's legally irrelevant that he was an enemy combatant. The department will surely have to defend that when Padilla's lawyers bring it up.
GONZALES: The Fourth Circuit has held that the president of the United States was authorized to detain Mr. Padilla as an enemy combatant. And so I would just leave it at that.