(CN) – A federal judge in San Francisco allowed jihadist supporter Jose Padilla to sue UC Berkeley law professor John Yoo for writing legal opinions that justified torture while serving in the Bush administration.
Padilla, a Brooklyn native who converted to Islam, was convicted of conspiring with terrorists abroad after being initially charged with plotting to detonate a “dirty bomb” in the United States.
Government agents arrested Padilla in May 2002 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft said Padilla was involved in an “unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive dirty bomb” intended to cause “mass death and injury.”
A federal jury in Miami convicted Padilla and two others — Ahmad Amin Hassoun and Wael Jayyousi — of conspiring to murder, kidnap and maim people in a foreign country, and two counts of providing material support to terrorists. Padilla was sentenced to 17 years and four months in prison, despite prosecutors’ push for a harsher conviction and sentencing.
Padilla filed suit against Yoo and various government officials, blaming them for the alleged abuse and torture he suffered during his nearly four-year detention at prisons in South Carolina and New York.
He said he was initially detained without being charged, was intentionally isolated from his attorney and family, and was interrogated under threat of torture, deportation and death.
He accused government officials of a litany of abusive interrogation techniques, including prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, threats of physical abuse and torture, denial of adequate medical care, and the sudden and unexplained suspension of showers and removal of religious items.
He said government agents threatened to cut him with a knife or pour alcohol into the wounds, gave him or made him believe he was being given psychotropic drugs against his will, forced him to wear earphones and “black-out goggles” during transport, and constantly watched him, even while he took showers or used the toilet, among other allegations of abuse.
Yoo served as deputy attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel under the administration of former President George W. Bush during Padilla’s detention. From 2001 to 2003, he wrote several memos authorizing harsh interrogation techniques.
Padilla claimed Yoo was personally involved in the administration’s decision to label him an “enemy combatant.” He also cited several memos written by Yoo that allegedly justified Padilla’s torture and deprivation of constitutional rights.
These memos were crafted “with the specific intent of immunizing government officials from criminal liability for participating in practices that Defendant Yoo knew to be unlawful,” Padilla claimed.
Yoo moved for dismissal, but U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White allowed the case to proceed on all claims but one.
White quoted Alexander Hamilton’s warning that war prompts even free nations to suspend their civil and political rights. “To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free,” Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers.
White, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush and earned his law degree from the State University of New York, said Yoo wasn’t entitled to qualified immunity, because the complaint “alleges conduct that would be unconstitutional if directed at any detainee.”
Yoo argued that Padilla’s rights were not clearly established, because the courts had not laid out the constitutional rights of enemy combatants.
But White rejected this line of reasoning.
“The fact that a unique type or designation of a detainee has come into being does not obliterate the clearly established minimum protections for those held in detention,” White wrote.
“[T]he basic facts alleged in the complaint clearly violate the rights afforded to citizens held in the prison context.”
However, the judge granted Yoo’s motion on the claim that he violated Padilla’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. This claim required dismissal, White ruled, because Padilla never claimed that he made any incriminating statements.