U.S. Indicts One Terrorism Suspect, Convicts Another
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
This morning, we're tracking changes in al-Qaeda and changes in tactics against terror suspects. Coming up, we'll ask how the war in Iraq may be altering al-Qaeda.
We will start in the United States where the Justice Department announced criminal charges against an American citizen accused of terrorist activities. This was the first indictment of Jose Padilla, even though it's been years since authorities announced his arrest. Here's NPR's Ari Shapiro.
ARI SHAPIRO reporting:
For more than three years, defense lawyers for Jose Padilla asked the government to indict or release their client. Instead, the US citizen was held as an enemy combatant in a military prison without charges. Yesterday, Padilla's lawyers got their wish. At a Justice Department news conference, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said a grand jury in Miami indicted Padilla on 11 counts. The indictment alleges that Padilla belonged to a North American terror support cell.
Mr. ALBERTO GONZALES (US Attorney General): The cell supported terrorists by sending money, physical assets and new recruits to overseas jihad conflicts.
SHAPIRO: Those were not the crimes that first led the US to detain Padilla. When Padilla was arrested, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the suspect was plotting to detonate a radioactive dirty bomb in the US. Later, Justice officials said he was going to release natural gas into apartment buildings and blow them up. Gonzales would not talk about those accusations yesterday.
Mr. GONZALES: I'm not going to talk about previous allegations or statements that are--relating to conduct that are outside the indictment. I can't do that.
SHAPIRO: In the years since Padilla's arrest, his lawyers have argued in court that the president has no authority to hold Americans without access to the criminal justice system. An appeals court sided with the government. The Supreme Court is about to decide whether to hear the case. The Justice Department believes that now there's no reason for the Supreme Court to step in. Padilla's attorney Jonathan Freiman is not surprised to hear that argument from the DOJ.
Mr. JONATHAN FREIMAN (Padilla's Attorney): I hope the Supreme Court will see through this relatively transparent maneuver for what it is and recognize that this is the sort of thing that could happen again and again, I mean, if the government is allowed to get away with this.
SHAPIRO: The Justice Department says the timing of this indictment had nothing to do with the Supreme Court's pending review of the case. The criminal trial is scheduled to begin in September in Miami.
On the other side of the Potomac River, a federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, was the setting for the day's second major terrorism development. After two and a half days of deliberations, a jury convicted Ahmed Omar Abu Ali on nine counts related to terrorism. They said he joined al-Qaeda and plotted to assassinate President Bush. He was also convicted of plotting to hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings. Like Padilla, Abu Ali was an American who traveled overseas. Abu Ali was studying at an Islamic university in Medina, Saudi Arabia, when Saudi security forces arrested him. While he was in prison, Abu Ali confessed to the crimes he was convicted of yesterday. But he said his captors tortured him and that the confession was false. Abu Ali's lawyer said in closing arguments that the jury should be skeptical when Saudi security forces say they have a 100 percent confession rate from prisoners. Defense lawyers said Abu Ali's admission of guilt should not be believed any more than you'd believe a kid who cries `uncle' when a bully is twisting his arm behind his back. Most of the testimony in the case consisted of dueling doctors. Government witnesses analyzed marks on Abu Ali's back and said they could not have been caused by torture. Defense witnesses argued the opposite. In the end, the jury agreed with the government. Abu Ali could now face life in prison. His lawyers say they'll appeal the ruling.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.