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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Convicted Terrorist Can’t Sue Over Detention

(CN) - A federal judge Charleston, S.C., dismissed convicted terrorist Jose Padilla's torture claims against the U.S. government.

Padilla, an American citizen, was taken into U.S. custody in May 2002 when he arrived at Chicago's O'Hare airport from Pakistan via Switzerland. The Bush administration labeled him an enemy combatant with close ties to al-Qaida. The detainee was transferred in June to the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, where he underwent two years of extensive interrogation without the benefit of counsel, family or friends. Over the next year and a half, various courts weighed in on the detention as Padilla continued to be held by the Defense Department.

Government officials said Padilla had been convicted of murder in the past and planned to build a dirty bomb, which he would detonate in the United States. Padilla was eventually brought up with federal conspiracy charges in 2006, convicted the following year by a Miami jury and sentenced to more than 17 years in prison.

Padilla has claimed that he was tortured during the detention and that he was illegally arrested as an enemy combatant, rather than a citizen.

The civil rights suit at issue in this appeal names Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other top government officials as defendants.

The government argued that even if Padilla did have a viable cause of action, they had qualified immunity.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel agreed on Feb. 17, finding that Padilla failed to establish the unlawfulness of his detention as an enemy combatant.

"The designation of Padilla as an enemy combatant and his detention incommunicado were made in light of the most profound and sensitive issues of national security, foreign affairs and military affairs," Gergel wrote. "It is not for this court, sitting comfortably in a federal courthouse nearly nine years after these events, to assess whether the policy was wise or the intelligence was accurate."

Allowing Padilla's case to survive motions to dismiss would lead to "a massive discovery assault on the intelligence agencies of the United States government," according to the ruling.

"A trial on the merits would be an international spectacle with Padilla, a convicted terrorist, summoning America's present and former leaders to a federal courthouse to answer his charges," Gergel wrote.

The judge added that no court to consider Padilla's detention had addressed the lawfulness of the interrogation techniques used on him, including sleep and sensory deprivation.

Padilla also claims that he was deprived of religious materials, including the Quran, and kept from practicing his religion during detention.

Gergel noted that there are no "bright lines" establishing whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act applied to enemy combatants.

In any case, the 32-page ruling states, Padilla's right to have religious materials was outweighed by the government's interest in having control over a prisoner during interrogation.

Padilla also lacks standing to demand preliminary injunction, which he claims he needs to keep from being redetained as a combatant in the future, Gergel found.

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