August 14, 2007 / 6:35 PM / 12 years ago

Padilla case built on fear, lawyers say

MIAMI (Reuters) - The terrorism support case against U.S. citizen Jose Padilla and two other men was built on fear, prejudice against Muslims and government overreaching after the September 11 attacks, defense lawyers said in closing arguments on Tuesday.

A sketch of Jose Padilla (C) appearing at a courthouse in Miami, January 6, 2006. The terrorism support case against U.S. citizen Padilla and two other men was built on fear, prejudice against Muslims and government overreaching after the September 11 attacks, defense lawyers said in closing arguments on Tuesday. REUTERS/Jeanne Boggs

“We don’t achieve security by bringing these types of charges on this type of evidence,” Padilla’s lawyer, Michael Caruso, told jurors who are scheduled to begin deliberating on Wednesday.

Padilla was held without charge in a military prison for 3 1/2 years by order of President George W. Bush before being added to the case against co-defendants Adham Hassoun and Kifah Jayyousi.

The Bush administration accused him after his 2002 arrest of plotting to set off a radioactive bomb. Bush ordered him imprisoned by the military as an “enemy combatant.” Amid court challenges to the president’s authority to do that, Padilla was indicted in a civilian court in November 2005 on charges that do not mention any bomb plot.

Caruso described Padilla as linked only casually to Hassoun and said he had never met Jayyousi until he reached the Miami courtroom.

All three face life in prison if convicted of providing material support for Islamist terrorist groups and conspiring to murder, kidnap and maim people in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia and other countries from 1993 to 2001.

The government charged that Hassoun, a Lebanese-born Palestinian, and Jayyousi, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Jordan, formed a support cell that recruited and financed fighters bent on establishing Islamist governments that would follow strict Sharia law.

Prosecutors said Hassoun recruited Padilla at a Florida mosque and sent him to an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan to train as a killer. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier called Padilla, 36, their “star recruit.”

‘SNAKE OIL’

Caruso described him as a quiet, lonely, mentally “slow” man who worked at a chicken restaurant and volunteered to cook and clean at the Florida mosque, where he was remembered mainly for reading a Spanish-language Koran.

Mosque members took up a collection to send him to Egypt to study Arabic and Islam, a witness testified.

There was no direct evidence Padilla went to Afghanistan. The key evidence against him was what prosecutors called an al Qaeda application form found in Afghanistan and bearing his fingerprints, alias and birthdate.

Caruso suggested the form was faked and given to Padilla to handle after his arrest. It had two types of ink, several types of handwriting and Padilla’s fingerprints were only on the first and last page, consistent with handling it but not filling it out, he said.

Jayyousi’s lawyer, William Swor, called the government’s case “snake oil,” built on snippets of wiretapped conversations, questionably translated from Arabic and taken out of context by government witnesses who never examined 99.8 percent of the recordings.

During the three-month trial, the government introduced into evidence about 125 transcripts from more than 300,000 conversations over nearly a decade. Padilla’s voice was on seven phone calls, discussing his struggle to learn Arabic, adjust to Egyptian culture and support his new Egyptian wife, his attorney said.

“It’s clear his intention is to study, not to murder,” Caruso said.

Prosecutors said the defendants were al Qaeda affiliates and Frazier mentioned the group 100 times during his closing argument. Defense lawyers denied any link to the group and accused the government of playing to jurors’ fears in a post-9/11 world.

Swor called the case “U.S. versus Islam” and said it relied on fear of Muslims to cover a lack of evidence.

Defense lawyers said Jayyousi, a U.S. Navy veteran, and Hassoun worked with legitimate charities that provided medicine, food and clothing to Muslims being slaughtered and displaced in Bosnia, Chechnya and elsewhere in the 1990s.

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