ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber, was convicted today on federal charges that he provided support for terrorism overseas. Padilla is a U.S. citizen from Chicago. He had been held at a Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina for three and a half years. He was considered an enemy combatant before he finally was tried in federal court.
NPR's FBI correspondent Dina Temple-Raston is here to discuss the case. And Dina, help us understand first what Padilla and his coconspirators were convicted of.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, actually, in all there were three counts. There was a conspiracy to commit illegal violent acts outside the United States, a conspiracy to provide material support, and then actually providing that material support. Now, Padilla's lawyer said that he was involved in humanitarian efforts for Muslims who are in war zones, but clearly, the jury clearly didn't buy that story.
SIEGEL: Now, whatever happened to the dirty bomb allegations?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, Padilla talked about this alleged plot when he was with military interrogators, and we really only have sketchy details about it. It wasn't admissible in this case in Miami, because what interrogators learned they learned about when he didn't have a lawyer present and when he hadn't been Mirandized. Instead what prosecutors used this time was a form they said that Padilla had filled out before he had attended an al-Qaida camp, which showed that, you know, he was part of their whole group. And they found his fingerprints on it and they used that in this Miami case.
SIEGEL: Well, he now is convicted, what kind of sentence does he face?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, they still have to go through the sentencing phase, and that doesn't happen until December. They will get a terrorism enhancement, that sort of add years to his sentence. And he could get as much as life in prison, or they could agree to use information he might offer to cooperate and he might get some sort of reduction in the sentence. That's still to be determined.
SIEGEL: Dina, what does the conviction of Jose Padilla say about whether these terrorism cases can be tried in the regular criminal justice system?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, this has been a really strong endorsement and big win for the Department of Justice. They have been endorsing an interpretation that it's a crime to become an active member of one of these violent extremist groups. That just becoming a member is enough for a conspiracy, and that's a big deal. And that's what they were able to prove in court and have a jury actually back up. And this is the first time that a jury has actually endorsed that. So that means the next time the government wants to indict someone in this way, this strengthens their hand, and that's why this is a big win for this whole preventative prosecution strategy that the administration has had until now.
SIEGEL: Now, we're talking about Padilla, first because of his notoriety as the alleged dirty bomber, someone who supposedly was planning to - planned some kind of a radioactive device or tried to learn how to make one. And also because his a sort of celebrity litigant - one of those. But, he was only one of the three defendants in this case. The other two coconspirators were also convicted. Was he the main object of the prosecutors here?
TEMPLE-RASTON: No. Not originally. Originally, he has been a - seen as an enemy combatant and he'd sort of come to symbolize the Bush administration's broad assertion of power to hold someone incommunicado for years without charge. He kept appealing this up through the court system until finally, he appealed it up to the Supreme Court. And they poised to actually hear his case when the Bush administration decided to change course, and decided to add him to an already ongoing case in Miami. And so he was sort of a last minute addition to a terrorism case. But again…
SIEGEL: In this case he was part of.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly, to this Miami case. But again, you know, he was the celebrity litigant here, so this is - he's the one that everyone was concentrating on.
SIEGEL: Okay. That's NPR FBI correspondent Dina Temple-Raston. Thank you very much, Dina.
TEMPLE-RASTON: My pleasure.
SIEGEL: There is a timeline of the Jose Padilla case at npr.org.
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