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Padilla Case Raises Questions About Anti-Terror Tactics

Jose Padilla, held as an
Jose Padilla, held as an "enemy combatant" for more than three years, was brought to Miami in January to face a trial. (By Alan Diaz -- Associated Press)

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced Padilla's indictment in late 2005, when he was added to a previous terrorism-support case in South Florida. By moving Padilla into criminal court, the administration managed to sidestep a potential ruling from the Supreme Court on whether the government had the authority to hold a U.S. citizen such as Padilla without charges.

The indictment did not mention the previous allegations against Padilla, or any planned attacks on U.S. soil. Instead, it alleged that Padilla joined two other defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, in funneling money to terrorist groups for battles overseas.

Padilla's defense team, led by lawyers at the federal public defender's office in Miami, has attacked the case on several fronts, pushing for access to the alleged evidence against Padilla while also arguing that ill treatment during his confinement has polluted the government's case.

U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke, appointed by Bush in 2004, rejected prosecutors' efforts to make defense attorneys adhere to special security restrictions and ordered the government to provide more access to evidence.

Padilla's attorneys say that his voice is heard on only eight of about 50,000 FBI wiretap recordings in the case, and that there is no mention of violence or jihad on any of the recordings connected to him.

In a motion to dismiss the case in October, federal public defender Michael Caruso and his team also alleged that Padilla "was tortured for nearly the entire three years and eight months of his unlawful detention. The torture took myriad forms, each designed to cause pain, anguish, depression and, ultimately, the loss of will to live. The base ingredient in Mr. Padilla's torture was stark isolation for a substantial portion of his captivity."

Among other things, the defense alleges that Padilla was held for 1,307 days in a 9-by-7-foot cell, isolated for days or weeks at a time, physically assaulted and threatened with execution and other violence, kept awake with lights and noises, and forced to take mind-altering drugs, possibly PCP or LSD.

The government counters that Padilla offers no evidence to back up the allegations and that, besides, his treatment by the military is irrelevant to the criminal case against him.

Robert M. Chesney, a specialist in national security law at Wake Forest University, said he thinks the government will be able to fend off many of the current challenges to its case, including Cooke's decision to throw out the murder conspiracy charge.

But he and other legal scholars on both sides of the debate say that the government's case could prove troublesome in front of a jury because of Padilla's seemingly minor role in the alleged conspiracy. It also remains to be seen whether the administration might try to rename Padilla as an enemy combatant if its prosecution begins to fall apart.

"I think the prosecution is ultimately going to emerge victorious on these legal questions," Chesney said. "But, from Day One, we've never had sufficient admissible evidence to fully prosecute Jose Padilla. That's the real problem they have, and it's been a problem from the beginning."

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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