The man accused of plotting to detonate a "dirty" bomb in the United States must be allowed access to his lawyers despite government claims that such meetings might spoil attempts to prevent future terrorist attacks, a judge ruled today.
U.S. District Judge Michael B. Mukasey noted the heated rhetoric from both sides as he rejected a government plea to reverse his December decision allowing defense lawyers to meet with Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen accused of plotting with the al Qaeda terrorist network to detonate a radioactive bomb in the United States.
The judge had granted Padilla, 31, access to counsel despite Padilla's designation as an "enemy combatant" in June. But Padilla has not been allowed to see a lawyer while the judge was reconsidering the ruling.
The government argued that allowing Padilla to meet lawyers "risks that plans for future attacks will go undetected" because defense lawyers might persuade Padilla not to share information with the government.
Donna Newman, a lawyer fighting to meet with Padilla, said she was pleased that Mukasey reaffirmed Padilla's right to access to counsel. After an initial appearance in New York, Padilla was taken to a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. Lawyers are challenging his enemy combatant status.
"It is comforting for all United States citizens that if they were to be seized by the military and held incommunicado, at least an attorney can have access to them and be their voice," Newman said.
Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock said that officials were reviewing Mukasey's opinion.
"In times of war, the president must have the authority to act when an individual associated with our nation's enemies enters our country to endanger American lives," she said. "The president's ability to gather intelligence to protect the American people from terrorist attacks is an important tool in the war on terrorism."
Padilla was arrested May 8 in Chicago as he returned from a trip to Pakistan.
He was first held as a material witness in a grand jury investigation of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. On June 9, he was designated an enemy combatant.