Groups petition for public trial of American-born terrorism suspect

A By Jonathan York

Daily Texan
University of Texas at Austin

aUSTIN, Texas, Sept. 30 – Two civil rights groups filed a petition last week in a New York federal court asking that an American-born terrorism suspect receive a public trial.

The suspect, Jose Padilla, remains in a Navy brig in South Carolina without access to his court-appointed lawyer, Donna R. Newman. Federal officials detained Padilla in May for allegedly conspiring to assemble a radioactive bomb. Though he has not been charged with any crime, he has been since designated as an “enemy combatant.”

When the U.S. government detains an individual, “due process demands that the government adhere to the traditional elements of accusation, trial, conviction and punishment,” according to the petition, filed jointly by the national American Civil Liberties Union, its New York state division and the Center for National Security Studies.

The petition argues that Padilla “is entitled to be tried or released from his present confinement.”

The groups’ involvement follows months of legal turmoil in which Newman has tried to determine what rights her client still has. On June 11, she filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus to challenge the legality of Padilla’s confinement. A decision on the writ is pending.

Padilla is one of three American citizens – along with John Walker Lindh and Yasser Esam Hamdi – who have been detained as enemy combatants.

While Lindh recently accepted a plea bargain in which the government would no longer classify him as an enemy combatant, Hamdi remains in military custody in Virginia with no access to his lawyer.

The “enemy combatant” classification comes from the 1949 Geneva Conventions, according to visiting University of Texas-Austin law professor Ron Sievert.

The watchdog group Human Rights Watch argues on its website, www.hrw.org, that to classify Padilla as an enemy combatant, “the U.S. government would need to demonstrate a clear nexus between his activities and the armed conflict with the United States in Afghanistan.”

According to an article by Robert A. Levy of the Cato Institute – a policy research group – the Supreme Court decision Ex Parte Quirin (1942) gave the government authority to try “unlawful combatants,” by military tribunal.

But Levy points out that the government shows no desire to try Padilla in any court.

Instead, U.S. officials remain adamant that Padilla was an agent of the terrorist group al-Qaida.

A June 9 presidential order instructs Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to “receive Mr. Padilla and to detain him as an enemy combatant.”

Among reasons for the detention, the president mentions interrogation: “Mr. Padilla possesses intelligence, including intelligence about personnel and activities of al-Qaida, that would aid U.S. efforts to prevent attacks by al-Qaida,” according to a copy of the order.

The complaint from Newman, Padilla’s lawyer, claims that he was taken into military custody the day of the order for interrogation, with no notice to her. She has been kept from seeing Padilla since.

“The safety of all Americans and the national security interests of the United States require that (Padilla) be detained by the Defense Department as an enemy combatant,” U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft told the press the next day.