LIANE HANSEN, host:
From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.
Jury selection begins tomorrow in the trial of Jose Padilla in a federal court in Miami. The 36-year-old American citizen was arrested almost five years ago upon his return to the U.S. from Pakistan. He originally was held in military custody as an enemy combatant. He's now in a civilian jail in Florida.
The government charges that Padilla conspired with terrorist groups to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas.
Joining us to talk about the trial is Carol Williams, the Caribbean bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. Welcome to the program.
Ms. CAROL WILLIAMS (Caribbean Bureau Chief, Los Angeles Times): Good morning.
HANSEN: There have been several prominent terrorist cased in recent years: the shoe bomber, the 20th hijacker and the paintball terrorist. Remind us, who's Padilla?
Ms. WILLIAMS: Padilla is the man who was originally accused of plotting to detonate a dirty bomb in the United States against some unnamed U.S. city. And his arrest was followed by a very spectacular news conference by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft who, by satellite from Moscow, you know, fed out this very detailed plot that was a very disturbing and, you know, alarming report. But in the end, after his three and a half years in the military brig, he's been charged only with conspiracy to commit terrorism and material support.
HANSEN: So why is the dirty bomb no longer one of the charges?
Ms. WILLIAMS: Well, clearly, they didn't have the evidence they needed to pursue that prosecution. And what they obtained during his interrogations in the brig will not be admitted in court because of the concerns that it was coerced.
HANSEN: How strong is the government's case?
Ms. WILLIAMS: It's hard to know at this point because we haven't seen what evidence they have. But much of it seems to hang on the testimony of a CIA agent that the prosecution is attempting to get the judge to allow him to testify in disguise and incognito, to protect his, you know, work for future covert operations.
HANSEN: You mentioned that Padilla was held in a military prison without any charge and the allegations by the defense that he was subject to torture. How exactly will the issues affect his case - that issue?
Ms. WILLIAMS: Well, the judge has excluded the - you know, confessions or whatever, you know, information was disclosed in these interrogations. So it's not clear what, if any, you know, condemning information will come out of all that, you know, treatment that he was subjected to. It's not been deemed torture, but the defense claim's, sort of, tantamount to torture or abuse.
And you know, the conditions under which he was held, that he was deprived of human contact for two years, and he was subjected to extremes of light and sound and temperature so that he never knew what time of day it was or, you know, broke his natural body rhythms and connections with the real world. The defense claims that, you know, he was rendered, you know, a victim of posttraumatic stress syndrome, and that he's suffered mental capabilities because of the treatment he endured.
HANSEN: Does the - Padilla's defense have any other strong arguments?
Ms. WILLIAMS: I'm not sure that they have any, you know, information that would, you know, exclude him from, you know, conviction that he was, you know, in point A instead of point B. We don't know too much about the details of the defense or, for that matter, the government's case, what they will specifically accuse him of. But during the competency hearing that was held a month or so ago, it seems the government's case revolved around some documents that were seized during a safe-house raid in Pakistan that are also subject to the cases of a number of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
HANSEN: Do you think the case is likely to have ramifications for how the U.S. deals with future terrorism trials?
Ms. WILLIAMS: Well, yes and no. I mean, yes, because the circumstances of his arrest and the, you know, origin of the evidence they claimed to have against him is very similar to the detainees at Guantanamo who have been charged in the past with specific crimes. But because Padilla is a U.S. citizen, he is accorded many more rights than the other war-on-terror suspects, because he's in federal court system as opposed to military commissions, the war crimes tribunal that is being set up in Guantanamo.
HANSEN: Carol Williams is the Caribbean bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. We reached her in Miami, where Jose Padilla's trial is scheduled to begin tomorrow. Thanks for your time.
Ms. WILLIAMS: Thank you.
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