JAMES HATTORI, host:
Closing arguments began yesterday in the three-month-long trial of Jose Padilla.
He's charged with conspiracy to murder and material support of terrorism. When he was arrested in 2002, Padilla was accused of planning to detonate a dirty bomb and held as an enemy combatant for three and a half years.
Joining us to talk about the trial is Dahlia Lithwick, legal analyst for Slate.com and a DAY TO DAY regular. Hi, Dahlia.
Ms. DAHLIA LITHWICK (Slate): Hi, James.
HATTORI: You know, the government once claimed that Padilla was involved with this dirty bomb plot, but those charges never surfaced, at least publicly. Remind us now what he stands accused of and who his two co-defendants are.
Ms. LITHWICK: The two co-defendants are, one's called Adham Amin Hassoun, the other is Kifah Wael Jayyousi. And the three of them together stand charged with conspiring to, quote, "murder and maim" folks all over the world, including in Chechnya, Somalia, Afghanistan; and also a lesser charge of providing material aid to terrorists. So now the question really becomes whether what they were doing was raising money for alleged relief work or whether they were in fact giving money to organizations that support terror.
Padilla is also charged - or the critical part for him is that he's alleged to have tried to join an al-Qaida training camp and train to be a terrorist himself.
HATTORI: During closing arguments, the prosecutor called Padilla a star recruit for terrorism. Was that the main focus of their prosecution over the three months?
Ms. LITHWICK: It's interesting, James. Largely the focus throughout these three months of trial was on the alleged co-conspirators. And Padilla would sort of have these walk-on roles. So what's interesting is how he was sort of grafted on to this notion that the other two gentlemen, you know, were involved in sending money and funds overseas to help terrorism. But really the focus was very little on Padilla. And one of the interesting things about the closings yesterday was that Padilla again surged to the forefront even though most of the proof had to do with his alleged co-conspirators.
HATTORI: So what was the key evidence against Padilla? Some sort of document, right?
Ms. LITHWICK: Right. The most important thing was this so-called Mujahideen data form, which he apparently filled out in the summer of 2000. The form was discovered by the CIA in Afghanistan in late 2001. And apparently it does contain his fingerprints, although his lawyers have claimed throughout the trial that he may have handled it while he was interrogated. He may not have filled it out - this application - to go and train at a terrorist camp. The other big focus is just hours and hours and hours of tapped phone calls. And one of the things that becomes so problematic about those phone calls is, of course, everybody's talking in code. So there are codenames for Padilla, codenames for Afghanistan. Everyone's talking about, quote, "playing football," which is supposed to mean Jihad. And zucchinis and eggplants, which are supposed to be weapons. So in addition to not having a smoking gun in these phone calls, you have to sort of believe the government's allegation that these code words meant what they say they mean.
HATTORI: So what about the defense? It seems like they really haven't put up much of a defense.
Ms. LITHWICK: Well, they didn't put up much of a defense. It was a very risky strategy. Instead what they've said is, look, the prosecution simply never proved its case. This was very benign charitable giving. There was certainly never an intent for the money to go to terrorists, even if eventually it may have gone there. And again they make a big, big point of saying this has just been completely politicized.
HATTORI: So all three of these guys could face life in prison if they're convicted. But there's some doubt as to whether the prosecution has made its case, right?
Ms. LITHWICK: Well, I think that there is certainly a chance that the jurors are going to say that they can't convict based on what they've seen before them. Down the road I think that there's a lot of grounds to appeal. One of the more interesting things, James, that did not really come out in this trial but has sort of been the subtext of the trial was Padilla's treatment while he was confined for three and a half years in a Navy brig. And so certainly I think we're going to hear a lot more down the road about whether what was done to him in the guise of interrogation amounted to torture and what implications that may have for this trial.
HATTORI: Dahlia Lithwick of Slate.com. Thanks so much for joining us.
Ms. LITHWICK: My pleasure.
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