Judge Grants 'Combatant' Access to an Attorney

By Steve Fainaru and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 5, 2002

A U.S. citizen accused of plotting to explode a radiological "dirty bomb" in the United States must be granted access to an attorney to challenge his detention as an enemy combatant, a federal judge in New York ruled yesterday.

The ruling, part of a broad, 102-page decision by Michael B. Mukasey, chief judge for New York's Southern District, rejected the Bush administration's assertion that allowing Jose Padilla access to his attorney would impede intelligence gathering and jeopardize national security.

Mukasey upheld the president's right to designate enemy combatants -- including U.S. citizens -- in the war on terrorism. However, he dismissed as "gossamer speculation" the government's concerns that Padilla could pass messages to terrorists through his lawyer, and said his ability to defend himself would be "destroyed utterly" if he is denied counsel.

"Padilla's need to consult with a lawyer is obvious," Mukasey wrote. "He is held incommunicado at a military facility. His lawyer has been told that there is no guarantee that even her correspondence to him would get through."

Administration officials took heart in Mukasey's support of President Bush's authority to identify and apprehend enemy combatants within the United States, with relatively little judicial review. Such authority is critical, they say, for stopping potentially dangerous terrorists who have not carried out attacks or been formally charged with crimes.

Mukasey said he would deal later with whether Bush has sufficient evidence to support his designation of Padilla as an enemy combatant, and whether that evidence has since "been mooted by events."

CONTINUED     1              >

© 2002 The Washington Post Company