U.S. Indicts Padilla After Three Years in Custody

After more than three years in military custody as an enemy combatant, U.S. citizen Jose Padilla is indicted on 11 counts related to plotting with and providing material support to terrorists. But the crimes Padilla is now charged with are different from those he was originally accused of.

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For more than three years, Jose Padilla has been held without charge by the US military under the designation of an enemy combatant. Today the government charged him with a crime. The Justice Department announced an 11-count indictment, and as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, the official charges against Padilla are different than the original accusations the government leveled against him.

ARI SHAPIRO reporting:

When John Ashcroft announced the arrest of an American citizen in Chicago three years ago, the attorney general said Jose Padilla had been plotting to detonate a dirty bomb in the United States. Two years later, after Padilla still had not been charged in criminal court, the Justice Department released more details about Padilla. They said he was plotting to blow up American apartment buildings. None of those crimes is mentioned in today's indictment. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales explains the new charges.

Mr. ALBERTO GONZALES (Attorney General): The indictment alleges that Padilla traveled overseas to train as a terrorist with the intention of fighting a violent jihad, a shorthand term to describe a radical Islamic fundamentalist ideology that advocates using physical force and violence to oppose governments, institutions and individuals who do not share their view of Islam.

SHAPIRO: The indictment says Padilla was part of a North American support cell that provided money and recruits for overseas terrorist attacks. Attorney General Gonzales would not discuss the earlier allegations about attacks in the United States or Padilla's three-year detention as an enemy combatant.

Mr. GONZALES: I'm here to talk about the indictment and the fact supporting the indictment. I'm not here to talk about his designation as an enemy combatant.

SHAPIRO: Defense lawyers were challenging Padilla's designation as an enemy combatant. The government won that case at the appeals court level. The Supreme Court is considering whether to take the case. Gonzales argued that after today's announcement, the high court has no reason to consider the issue.

Mr. GONZALES: Since he has now been charged in a grand jury in Florida, we believe that the petition is moot.

SHAPIRO: Padilla's lawyer, Donna Newman, does not.

Ms. DONNA NEWMAN (Padilla's Lawyer): The reason I do not believe that it is moot is because the issue that is pending before the Supreme Court is one of presidential authority--unfettered presidential authority is our position. And that issue is an issue that can occur over and over again, and it is an issue that must be resolved.

SHAPIRO: Law Professor Scott Silliman is head of the Center for Law, Ethics and National Security at Duke University. He thinks this indictment reduces but does not eliminate the likelihood that the high court will take the case.

Professor SCOTT SILLIMAN (Center for Law, Ethics and National Security, Duke University): It is conceivable that the Supreme Court would continue on to want to look at the issue. But I think it's more likely than not that they would dodge it now because it's no longer an issue of continued confinement in military hands, and, therefore, the case doesn't have the significance that it did yesterday.

SHAPIRO: He thinks that may explain why the government issued this indictment today.

Prof. SILLIMAN: This is obviously a carefully crafted strategy on the part of the government to try to avoid an adverse ruling in the United States Supreme Court.

SHAPIRO: The Justice Department denies that this indictment had anything to do with the Supreme Court. Tim Lynch, who directs the Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice, says if the Supreme Court does not take the case, the government's controversial legal position on enemy combatants will stand, at least until the next enemy combatant case.

Mr. TIM LYNCH (Director, Project on Criminal Justice, Cato Institute): Their theory is that the president is commander in chief; we're in a war on terror. And it doesn't matter if you're a citizen or not, doesn't matter if you're captured overseas or right here in the United States, the president can arrest you, put you in a military brig, deny you access to counsel, deny you access to the civilian courts on habeas corpus review, and you can be imprisoned without a jury trial.

SHAPIRO: Now Padilla will have the jury trial that his lawyers have been asking for all along. It's scheduled to take place in Miami beginning in September of next year. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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