Bush backtracks over legal status of alleged “Dirty Bomber” Jose Padilla

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

President George W. Bush ordered Jose Padilla, detained by the US Military as an alleged terrorist, to be transferred out of military custody in order to face trial in a federal criminal court. He is charged with conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping, aiding terrorist groups and other acts against US nationals outside the United States. These actions come six days ahead of a decision by the US Supreme Court on whether it should review the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling that the president is authorised to hold Padilla as an “Enemy Combatant” without charge.

Jose Padilla, a US citizen born in Brooklyn, has been held without charge in a military brig at a US Navy detention facility in South Carolina for the three-and-a-half years since his arrest in 2002. The administration had at the time alleged that Padilla was plotting to detonate a Radioactive “dirty” bomb in the US and later, Deputy Attorney General James Comey alleged that he was involved in plots to blow up Hotels and high-rise buildings[1]. The present indictment does not include any charges over these allegations. Instead, Padilla is charged with travelling abroad to train in “violent Jihad“, providing material support to terrorists by sending money, physical assets, and new recruits to Jihadi groups, and conspiring to murder individuals overseas[2].

The change in custody restores to Padilla a number of rights he had been denied when the administration designated him as an “Enemy Combatant”, including the right to access federal courts and be defended by an attorney. That constitutionality of detaining suspects without charge under this designation has been challenged in court, on behalf of Padilla and in September, a 3-judge panel of the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the government’s powers to detain Padilla. The Supreme Court was set to decide on whether it will review that decision next week. Padilla’s status, for the purpose of this trial, is that of an ordinary criminal indictee, possessing the legal rights conferred on him by the US Bill of Rights.

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