Dirty bomb suspect talks with lawyers

Navy officials monitor meeting for Padilla

March 04, 2004|By Stevenson Swanson | Stevenson Swanson,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

NEW YORK - Alleged dirty bomb plotter Jose Padilla conferred with his attorneys for more than two hours yesterday, the first meeting the former Chicago gang member has had with them since he was declared an enemy combatant nearly two years ago.

But, unlike conventional attorney-client sessions, the meeting at the naval brig in Charleston, S.C., was monitored and recorded by Navy officials.

Because of that, Donna Newman and Andrew Patel, Padilla's court-appointed attorneys, said they did not discuss the details of the government's claim that the Muslim convert was plotting to explode a radioactive device when he was arrested in May 2002 at O'Hare International Airport.

"One of the first things we told Mr. Padilla was that there were innumerable things we would love to discuss with him, but we would not be able to because this did not qualify as a confidential discussion," Patel said in a telephone interview.

The lawyers said Padilla, 33, whose mental and physical state has been the subject of speculation while he has been held incommunicado, was alert and attentive as they briefed him.

"He appeared to be physically OK," said Newman in a separate telephone interview. "But a final judgment about his overall condition has to await a medical evaluation."

Most of the visit was spent reviewing legal developments in his case, which has become one of the most closely watched civil liberties disputes in the Bush administration's war on terror.

"He thanked us for our efforts and thanked us for coming to see him," said Patel.

The government says that the president's power as commander-in-chief gives him the authority in a time of war to hold American citizens indefinitely without charges and without access to an attorney.

Civil liberties advocates say such detentions violate an individual's constitutional rights.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments late next month in the Padilla case and in the case of another U.S. citizen, Yasser Hamdi.

Although both were declared enemy combatants, the circumstances of their cases are drastically different.

Hamdi, who was born in the U.S. but moved to Saudi Arabia as a child, was captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2001 while fighting with Taliban forces.

Padilla, who was born in Brooklyn and raised in Chicago, was arrested on U.S. soil upon his return from Pakistan, where he allegedly met with al-Qaida leaders to plot strategy for detonating a radioactive dirty bomb in the United States.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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