U.S. seeking quick reversal of order to release Padilla

Supreme Court decision sought on American held in alleged dirty-bomb plot

January 08, 2004|By Cam Simpson | Cam Simpson,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration said yesterday that it will ask the Supreme Court to quickly reverse a federal appeals court ruling that ordered the release of former Chicago street gang member Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who has been held without charges as an "enemy combatant" for about 19 months.

Saying the Dec. 18 decision by an appellate court in New York "undermines the president's constitutional authority to protect the nation," the Justice Department said it would ask the Supreme Court within the next two weeks to place the Padilla case on a fast track. It proposed an April hearing in the case.

In the original decision - a major setback for the administration - a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the president lacks the power to authorize the military detention of a U.S. citizen arrested on American soil.

Based on intelligence developed from at least one al-Qaida captive, FBI agents in May 2002 arrested Padilla, a convert to Islam born in New York, as he stepped off a plane at O'Hare International Airport. After holding him without charges for about a month, and just prior to a scheduled hearing before a federal judge in the case, President Bush authorized Padilla's military detention.

Padilla has been held incommunicado, and without the constitutional protections afforded criminal defendants, at a naval brig in Charleston, S.C., ever since.

Officials have alleged that Padilla was sent to the United States by senior al-Qaida leaders and that his most likely mission was to launch an attack with a so-called "dirty bomb," an explosive device that spreads radioactive material.

The administration could have asked the 2nd Circuit to reconsider the case but instead will send it directly to the nation's highest court, Solicitor General Theodore Olson said in court papers yesterday. The Justice Department wants the Supreme Court to hear the case during its final session of oral arguments in April and on a rushed basis. The court's calendar already is nearly full.

Quick action is needed because the lower-court ruling "incorrectly resolves issues of extraordinary public significance," Olson said yesterday. He said the decision rests on a "novel and erroneous" interpretation of U.S. law.

Donna Newman, Padilla's court-appointed lawyer, said she had hoped the government would at least have allowed her to visit Padilla before seeking to overturn the ruling. But she also said she might not stand in the government's way to get the case before the Supreme Court quickly.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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