MIAMI (Reuters) - U.S. prison doctors have deemed suspected al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla mentally competent to stand trial on terrorism charges, based in part on a review of military interrogation documents that will be turned over to his lawyers, court records showed on Tuesday.
The 36-year-old U.S. citizen is accused of being part of a North American support cell that provided money and recruits to global Islamist extremists. He is set to go to trial in April on murder-conspiracy and other charges that could keep him imprisoned for life.
Padilla’s lawyers say he was tortured in a military prison during the 3-1/2 years that he was held as an “enemy combatant” before being charged in civilian court.
They say abuse and severe isolation left him mentally unfit to stand trial and asked that the charges be dropped.
Prosecutors denied he was mistreated and U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke ordered Bureau of Prisons psychiatrists to examine Padilla and report back to her last week.
Their report was not made public, but prosecutors said in subsequent court filings that it “is thorough, detailed and unequivocal in its conclusion that Padilla is competent.”
Padilla’s lawyers said the report was based in part on documents they had not seen, including interrogation records and medical records from the time Padilla was held at the military brig by order of President Bush, who had declared Padilla an enemy combatant.
The judge on Friday ordered that those documents be turned over to defense lawyers.
Cooke postponed until February 22 a hearing that had been set later this week to determine whether Padilla is mentally fit for trial, which U.S. courts have defined as capable of understanding the charges against him and assisting in his defense.
Padilla was arrested at O‘Hare Airport in Chicago in May 2002 as he returned from a trip to Egypt and Pakistan and accused of plotting to set off a radioactive bomb in the United States.
While a challenge to the president’s authority to order him held without charges was pending in the Supreme Court, Padilla was indicted in Florida and transferred to civilian custody. He was never charged with any bomb-related crimes.