Defense Says Case Against Padilla Is 'Politically Motivated'

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 14, 2007

MIAMI, Aug. 13 -- The murder conspiracy case against "dirty bomb" suspect Jose Padilla and two co-defendants is based not on facts but on fear and post-Sept. 11 politics, defense attorneys told jurors Monday.

Noting that the FBI listened to the group's U.S.-based phone calls for six years, through 2000, defense attorney Ken Swartz asked jurors to consider why, if a murder conspiracy was unfolding, agents stopped taping the suspects and did not arrest them for another two years.

"Those FBI agents were following the law -- if they had heard a crime, they would have stopped it," Swartz told jurors. But standards changed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and a case that had seemingly been dropped was revived, he suggested. The government's case is "politically motivated," he said. "It was borne out of a desperate need to prosecute people for terrorism after 9/11."

The remarks came during closing arguments in the three-month trial of Padilla and his co-defendants, who prosecutors say formed an al-Qaeda support cell that aided terrorist groups in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya and Somalia. The men are facing three counts, the central and most serious being conspiracy to murder, kidnap or maim people overseas.

In their closing arguments Monday, prosecutors described Padilla, a U.S. citizen, as the "star recruit" of the cell; Adham Amin Hassoun, a Lebanese-born Palestinian who spoke at local mosques, as the cell's recruiter; and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Jordan, as providing other aid.

Much of the prosecution's case was based on the wiretapped calls, which indicated Padilla and his co-defendants talking about sending money and supplies overseas.

The defense says the men were only trying to provide relief to Muslims under attack. Swartz said the atrocities committed against Muslims in Bosnia motivated his client, Hassoun, to get involved.

"The government doesn't want to talk about this to you," Swartz said to the jury. "Why? Because if they did, this would explain the passion Adham Hassoun and others had in what was going on in this area. But ladies and gentlemen, their passion was relief."

Prosecutors had focused as well on the "Mujahideen Data Form" that they say Padilla filled out when he attended an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in the summer of 2000. The form, recovered by the CIA in Afghanistan, is filled in with one of Padilla's aliases and some of his personal information, and bears his fingerprints on two of its four pages.

"What they were doing was no game," Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier told jurors. "It was murder."

At the time of Padilla's arrest in 2002, federal officials said he was involved in a plot to explode a radioactive device in the United States. None of the evidence presented at trial, however, had anything to do with the "dirty bomb" allegations, which landed Padilla in secret detention for 3 1/2 years.

When the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments on Padilla's status, he was charged in the murder conspiracy, most of which, according to the indictment, took place before Sept. 11, 2001.

In what analysts said was an anomaly for a murder conspiracy case, prosecutors did not present evidence of any specific murder plots involving the defendants -- there were no bodies or intended victims. Instead, prosecutors depicted the conspiracy as al-Qaeda itself and said the connections between the defendants and the terrorist group amounted to their participation in the conspiracy.

The data form "is evidence of his crime," Frazier told jurors. "Al-Qaeda trained people to kill."

Swartz countered: "They want to scare you. . . . That is what is going on in this country today. Don't fall for it."

Closing arguments will continue Tuesday.

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