World News

U.S. judge refuses to dismiss Padilla case

MIAMI (Reuters) - A U.S. federal court judge has refused to dismiss terrorism charges against alleged al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla who says he was tortured while held at a U.S. military brig for more than 3-1/2 years.

A sketch of Jose Padilla (C) appearing at a courthouse in Miami, January 6, 2006. A federal court judge refused to dismiss terrorism charges against alleged al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla who claimed he was mistreated and tortured while held at a U.S. military brig for more than 3-1/2 years. REUTERS/Jeanne Boggs

U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Cooke, in an order late on Monday, rejected Padilla’s October 2006 motion for dismissal of the case due to “outrageous government conduct,” clearing the way for the expected April 16 start of his high-profile trial.

Padilla, initially accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in the United States, has told the court his due process rights were violated because he was subjected to “myriad forms” of torture while held as an “enemy combatant” at the Naval Consolidated Big in Charleston, South Carolina.

The abuse included isolation, prolonged sleep deprivation, exposure to extremely cold temperatures and shackling in “stress positions” for prolonged periods of time, Padilla’s lawyers said.

The lawyers also alleged he was threatened with execution and forced to consume LSD or some other mind-altering drug “to act as a sort of truth serum” during repeated interrogations.

But Cooke rejected the dismissal motion out of hand, saying it had no bearing on charges that he and two co-defendants provided material support for terrorism and conspired to murder, kidnap and maim people in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia and other countries.

The Pentagon and U.S. Justice Department have repeatedly denied the alleged abuse of Padilla, an American convert to Islam accused by prosecutors of training with and being closely associated with al Qaeda before and after the September 11 attacks.

“Mr. Padilla fails to present a cognisable claim of outrageous government conduct entitling him to dismissal of the indictment,” Cooke said in her order denying the dismissal motion.

She did not dispute the claim that Padilla had been abused and tortured but said the argument for dismissal of the charges against him suffered from “numerous legal infirmities.”

Defence lawyers contacted by Reuters, including Padilla’s lead attorney Michael Caruso, declined to offer any immediate comment.

Padilla, 36, was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in May 2002 upon returning from Egypt and was accused by the Bush administration of plotting to set off a radioactive bomb.

President George W. Bush declared him an “enemy combatant” in the war against terrorism and ordered him imprisoned by the military. Padilla was held without charge for three years and eight months before being indicted in a civilian court in November 2005 on charges that make no mention of a bomb plot.

In a ruling with broad implications for the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens in their homeland, Cooke found last month that Padilla’s right to a speedy trial did not begin until he was charged in the civilian court. The time spent without being charged in the military brig did not count.