Nov. 23, 2005 – Three-and-a-half years after apprehending him as an "enemy combatant," the United States government finally charged Jose Padilla with a crime, just days before the Justice Department was required to file legal arguments in the the detaineeâ€™s Supreme Court appeal of his detention. The indictment â€“ on charges of providing and conspiring to provide aid to terrorists, and for conspiring to murder people overseas â€“ is far different from the allegations Padilla was originally picked up on: planning to detonate a radioactive device in a major US city.
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Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales revealed the indictment at a press conference yesterday, alleging that Padilla and at least three others â€“ Kassem Daher, Adhma Hassoun and Mohomed Youssef â€“ belonged to a "terrorist support cell to fight in violent jihad overseas." The four were indicted by a Florida grand jury.
Padilla was first picked up in 2002 at Oâ€™Hare airport in Chicago, suspected of involvement in a plot to detonate a "dirty bomb." He was held as a "material witness" for a month before President Bush declared him an "enemy combatant," removing Padilla â€“ a US citizen â€“ from the criminal justice system. He has been held in a South Carolina military prison ever since.
According to an Amnesty International-compiled summary of events surrounding Padillaâ€™s detention, he was barred from seeing his family or an attorney until February of last year and the military continued to restrict his access to outside information and people â€“ including his attorney â€“ throughout his imprisonment.
Most recently, an appeals court found that the federal government can hold citizens and non-citizens alike indefinitely should the president determine that doing so is necessary in order to properly prosecute the "war on terror."
The decision reversed a lower-court ruling and set the stage for what would have been Padillaâ€™s second challenge before the Supreme Court. In a contentious 5-4 ruling last year, the Court found that Padillaâ€™s lawyer had filed his original complaint in the wrong jurisdiction. That same day, however, the justices ruled in favor of another so-called enemy combatant and US citizen, Yaser Esam Hamdi. The court ordered the government to provide Hamdi with a lawyer and gave him the right to challenge his prolonged detention in court. He was eventually freed through a deal that forced him to relinquish his American citizenship.
Responding to news of the Padilla indictment yesterday, Human Rights First said it "welcomes the governmentâ€™s long-overdue decision." The humanitarian group â€“ along with a number of others, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union â€“ has long argued that Padilla and others held indefinitely by the US are imprisoned unconstitutionally.
"It is long past time for Mr. Padilla to have his day in court," Human Rights Watch said. "It remains to be seen whether it is possible now to repair the damage done to the rule of law and the cause of justice by the past yearsâ€™ worth of indefinite detention, incommunicado interrogation, and denial of the most basic due-process rights."
According to the indictment, which was returned last week and unsealed yesterday, the four, "along with other individuals, operated and participated in a North American support cell that sent money, physical assets and mujahideen [freedom fighters] recruits to overseas conflicts for the purpose of fighting violent jihad."
At the press conference, Gonzales would not comment on why the original allegations are nowhere to be found in the indictment.