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Lawyers for the accused al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla say their client may be unfit to stand trial. They say Padilla suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, and they say it's related to the way the U.S. military treated this American citizen during 3.5 years of detention. Part of their case rests on a declassified videotape that shows Padilla's isolation.

Here's NPR's Greg Allen.

GREG ALLEN: Still photos from the videotape were introduced into court. They show a group of guards wearing camouflage gear, helmets, and visors at Padilla's cell. The photos show Padilla putting his hands and feet through small slots in the cell door so they can be shackled. Even more startling is a shot of Padilla wearing oversized blacked out goggles and silencing headphones - measures taken to ensure he would hear and see absolutely nothing.

According to The New York Times, which has access to the full videotape from which the photos were taken, the occasion was a trip to the dentist, where he was receiving a root canal. Accompanying the photos and the court documents were affidavits from one of Padilla's lawyers and psychiatric professionals that depict a defendant who is in a fragile psychological state.

In earlier court documents, Padilla's lawyers have detailed allegations of torture and brutalization that they say their client, an American citizen, received at the hand of U.S. authorities. They say he was isolated from human contact, subjected to sleep and sensory deprivation, put in positions of stress and exposed to temperature extremes.

They also allege he was administered mind-altering drugs believed to be LSD or PCP. The government denies torture ever took place, and insists Padilla was treated humanely.

In his affidavit, defense lawyer Andrew Patel says during business to the Navy brig where Padilla was held in isolation for 3.5 years even the prison staff expressed concern about the affect the conditions were having on him, saying he was so inactive that he was, quote, “like a piece of furniture.”

In her affidavit, psychiatrist Angela Hegarty said after meeting with Padilla several times in September she determined that he's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder related to his prolonged isolation. Because of this pattern of what they charged as outrageous government conduct, Padilla's lawyers are asking Federal Judge Marcia Cooke to dismiss the charges against him.

Stephen Vladeck is a University of Miami law professor who's been following the motions.

Professor STEPHEN VLADECK (Law, University of Miami): A motion to dismiss for governmental misconduct is often filed and seldom granted. But I think again this is the kind of case where even if it's not granted, the crux of the argument and getting out there the notion that's here is a defendant who has been mistreated could ultimately play a very substantial factor in how the case comes out.

ALLEN: Federal prosecutors appear to agree. The same day the defense offered this new evidence of alleged government mistreatment, prosecutors filed a separate motion. One asking Judge Cooke to bar from the trial any discussion of the pre-trial conditions in which Padilla was held.

In their brief, prosecutors said Padilla's allegations about his treatment were irrelevant to the charges against him, and that they would only serve to, quote, “inflame the jury.” Vladeck says whatever the judge rules, this case is not the one the government wants to prosecute.

Prof. VLADECK: From the government's perspective, here is somebody who spent the better part of the late 1990s allegedly plotting against the United States, plotting with members of al-Qaida to do bad things in the U.S., although their story has changed about what exactly. And yet that's not what the news is. The conversation is has the government basically undermined their ability to bring criminal charges against him by virtue of how they treated him.

ALLEN: Jose Padilla's trial is scheduled to begin in January in a federal court in Miami. But before that happens, Judge Cooke has to decide what to do about allegations of government misconduct and whether Padilla is fit to stand trial.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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