Padilla Case Set for Closing Arguments
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Now here's a story of the way that a criminal case has changed. Jose Padilla and two co-defendants are charged with supporting terrorism overseas. And closing arguments begin today in his case. It's a far different case than the one many expected when Padilla was arrested more than five years ago. He was accused of plotting to set off a radioactive dirty bomb.
NPR's Greg Allen reports that in three months of testimony, prosecutors have revealed a case in which Padilla plays only a marginal rule.
GREG ALLEN: For three months, Jose Padilla has sat quietly in Judge Marcia Cook's courtroom looking attentive, wearing a gray suit and wire-rimmed glasses. In recent weeks his lawyers have been almost as quiet as Padilla, rarely asking questions of witnesses and calling no witnesses of their own. In large part that's because as the case has developed, Padilla has emerged as little more than a bit player. He was added to this case in 2005. Previously for three years he'd been designated an enemy combatant by President Bush and held in isolation in a Navy brig in Charleston.
After the Supreme Court ruled in another case that no American can be held indefinitely without being charged, the Bush administration transferred Padilla to Miami and added his name to an indictment that involved two other men - Adham Hassoun and Kifah Jayyousi.
The three men are charged with being part of a South Florida cell that funneled money, supplies and other support to jihadist groups fighting in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia and other countries overseas.
The bulk of the case rests on wiretaps, recorded between 1994 and 2001, mostly in Arabic in which prosecutors say participants discuss, sometimes using coded language, plans to help jihadists abroad. Of the dozens of calls played for the jury, though, Jose Padilla is heard on just a handful - mostly talking about his pending divorce, the sale of his car, and his efforts in Egypt to learn the language and culture.
Padilla's lawyers say he went to Egypt to study Arabic and Islam, with the goal of becoming an imam. Prosecutors say Padilla was recruited by Hassoun to join jihadist groups training in Afghanistan. They played a call for jurors in which Hassoun is heard advising Padilla of the need for him to get to, quote, "areas close by."
(Soundbite of recording)
Mr. ADHAM HASSOUN (Defendant): Yeah. Prepare yourself financially there, see how much you can do. And then tell me what - were you able to make it or not.
Mr. JOSE PADILLA (Defendant): Okay.
Male1: You know?
Unidentified Man: (unintelligible) that sounds good.
ALLENG: Aside from that phone call, about the only other piece of evidence linking Padilla to the charges is a document the government says it acquired in Afghanistan shortly after the U.S. invasion in 2001. It's a Mujahideen data form - a document prosecutors say Padilla filled out at an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan and which they say has his fingerprints.
Robert Chesney, a law professor who specializes in national security at Wake Forest University, says Padilla's fate rests on how jurors view that document.
ROBERT CHESNEY (Wake Forest University): Is that conduct criminal, going to such a camp? And if it is criminal, the second question is, is it enough to prove it, if what you've got is the form that shows the individual has showed up there and then you have the recordings of the calls in which people are talking in code about the purposes for which you might go abroad to do this?
ALLEN: Lawyers for Padilla's two co-defendants dispute that they used coded language in their phone calls. Defense attorneys say rather than operating a cell that supported terrorism abroad, Hassoun and Jayyousi were involved in charitable efforts aimed at helping Muslims in war-torn areas like Bosnia and Chechnya.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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