Jury Convicts Jose Padilla of Terror Charges

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 17, 2007

MIAMI, Aug. 16 -- A federal jury convicted former "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla on Thursday of terrorism conspiracy charges, handing a courthouse victory to the Bush administration, which had originally sought to imprison him without a criminal trial.

Padilla was arrested in 2002 for allegedly plotting a radiological "dirty bomb" attack, but prosecutors chose not to pursue those allegations in court here. But after a three-month trial, they had convinced the jury that Padilla, 36, participated in a South Florida-based al-Qaeda support cell that in the '90s began to send money and people to wage holy war in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo and Somalia.

Padilla and co-defendants Adham Hassoun, a Lebanese-born Palestinian, and Kifah Jayyousi, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Jordan, were found guilty of one count of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim overseas, an offense with a maximum penalty of life in prison. They also were convicted of one count of conspiracy to provide material support for terrorists and one count of material support for terrorists. Sentencing is set for Dec. 5.

"The conviction of Jose Padilla -- an American who provided material support to terrorists and trained for violent jihad -- is a significant victory in our efforts to fight the threat posed by terrorists and their supporters," Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said.

The conviction essentially accomplishes through the criminal-court system what the administration had tried to do five years ago by executive fiat. For 3½ years after he was arrested upon reentering the country, Padilla was held without charges at a Navy brig in South Carolina, where he was housed in solitary confinement. The tactic drew fierce criticism from civil liberties advocates.

Padilla's lawyers charged that during his confinement, he was deprived of sleep, kept in a 9-foot-by-7-foot cell, chained in painful positions and injected with mind-altering drugs. Those conditions left him unable to participate in his own defense, the lawyers said. Padilla, like his co-defendants, did not take the stand.

Prosecutors and federal law enforcement officials called the conviction a reflection of their agencies' hard work. However, legal critics said the verdicts show that terrorism suspects can be tried in criminal courts and that there was no reason for the Bush administration to have declared Padilla an "enemy combatant" and to hold him for years without formal charges.

"This trial clearly undermines the Bush administration's unfounded fear that terrorists cannot -- in their view -- be tried in our criminal courts," said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida. The verdict proves, he said, "that the Bush administration should close Guantanamo and pursue terrorists in the criminal justice system, not outside the confines of the rule of law."

Entering the courtroom before the verdicts were read, Padilla smiled at his mother in the audience and seemed to crack a joke with one of his lawyers. Padilla was stone-faced as a clerk announced the guilty findings. One of his relatives began to sob loudly.

"No evidence, and they found him guilty," his mother, Estela Lebron, said, seeming stunned.

At the same time, co-defendant Jayyousi tried to offer encouraging grins to his wife in the audience. She seemed stunned, too, staring back wordlessly, not returning his smile.

During the long trial, jurors were presented with dozens of wiretapped calls, and the charges against the three men were complicated. Many observers were thus surprised that the panel took little more than a day to reach a decision.

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