U.S. to open Padilla case today

The Baltimore Sun

MIAMI -- When federal prosecutors begin to present evidence today against Jose Padilla, who is accused of terrorism, their case is expected to rest heavily on a single document: his alleged application to become an Islamic warrior.

The Mujahedeen Data Form reportedly was filled out by Padilla on July 24, 2000, "in preparation for violent jihad training in Afghanistan," according to a federal indictment that alleges that Padilla and two co-defendants sought U.S. recruits and funding for holy wars.

Proof of the document's authenticity and how the U.S. government got it are not spelled out. Prosecutors plan to call a covert CIA operative to testify in disguise about the document, and will introduce more than 100 transcripts from wiretapped conversations.

Nowhere in the 40-page indictment is there any mention of the charges leveled against Padilla when he was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in May 2002. Then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft alleged that agents had thwarted a plot between Padilla, 36, and top al-Qaida figures to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" or blow up apartment buildings in American cities.

The allegation that Padilla was part of a plot to detonate a dirty bomb was dropped in November 2005, when the Pentagon transferred him out of a military brig in Charleston, S.C.

While there, he had been held as an "enemy combatant" with status much like that of the foreign terror suspects held at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Padilla spent much of his 3 1/2 years in the brig deprived of human contact, daylight, a timekeeping device or even a mirror. He was subjected to "stress positions" and extremes of heat, noise and light. Prolonged interrogations without an attorney present reportedly elicited statements that the Justice Department included in a widely publicized report in June 2004 detailing Padilla's contacts with al-Qaida.

The dossier on the dirty bomb allegations was augmented by testimony from senior al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah obtained during his detention at a secret CIA prison overseas, according to court papers filed in November. Zubaydah is being held as a "high-value detainee" at Guantanamo.

But none of that evidence will be admissible in the conspiracy and material support trial before U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke. In pre-trial rulings on defense motions alleging government mistreatment of Padilla, Cooke effectively severed the conspiracy case from the dirty bomb allegations. She has warned that any attempt to tie Padilla to those purported plots would open the door to the defense being able to introduce the military's classified detention and interrogation tactics.

The conspiracy charges came about when a Supreme Court ruling was expected to clarify that as a U.S. citizen, Padilla was entitled to a speedy trial, legal representation and other constitutional protections. The Pentagon abandoned its effort to jail him indefinitely as an enemy combatant, and he was transferred to the Federal Detention Center in Miami. He was added to the government's case against former school administrator and one-time San Diego resident Kifah Wael Jayyousi and computer programmer Adham Amin Hassoun.

Cooke ruled in February that Padilla was competent to stand trial, despite testimony by two mental health experts that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his years in military custody.

Jayyousi, 44, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Jordanian birth, and the Lebanese-born Palestinian Hassoun, 45, were arrested about the same time as Padilla. The indictment alleges that the three defendants were followers of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind Muslim cleric who received a life sentence in 1995 for inciting terrorist acts, including the 1993 bombing of New York's World Trade Center.

Carol J. Williams writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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