Padilla: Stalinist Show Trial US-style


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

August 17, 2007

Padilla Is Guilty on All Charges in Terror Trial

MIAMI, Aug. 16 ‹ In a significant victory for the Bush administration, a federal
jury found Jose Padilla guilty of terrorism conspiracy charges on Thursday after
little more than a day of deliberation.

Mr. Padilla, a Brooklyn-born convert to Islam who became one of the first 
Americans designated an ³enemy combatant² in the anxious months after Sept. 11, 
2001, now faces life in prison. He was released last year from a long and highly
unusual military confinement to face criminal charges in Federal District Court 

The government¹s chief evidence was a faded application form that prosecutors 
said Mr. Padilla, 36, filled out to attend a Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan 
in 2000.

The jurors, seven men and five women from Miami-Dade County, would not speak 
publicly at the courthouse and left through a side entrance. But one juror, who 
asked that her name not be used, said later in a telephone interview that she 
had all but made up her mind before deliberations began.

³We had to be sure,² the juror said in Spanish. ³We wanted to make sure we went 
through all the evidence. But the evidence was strong, and we all agreed on 

Mr. Padilla¹s extraordinary legal journey began in May 2002, when he was 
arrested at O¹Hare International Airport in Chicago, where he grew up.

Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Mr. Padilla¹s capture a month later, 
interrupting a trip to Moscow to say that an ³unfolding terrorist plot to attack
the United States by exploding a radioactive dirty bomb² ‹ one that could have 
caused ³mass death and injury² ‹ had been foiled.

After being held in isolation in a military brig in South Carolina for three and
a half years, Mr. Padilla (pronounced puh-DEE-yuh) was transferred to civilian 
custody here last year after the Supreme Court considered taking up his case. 
His lawyers tried in vain to have him found incompetent to stand trial, saying 
he had been tortured in the brig. The government denied that he was ever 

For the Bush administration, the guilty verdict salvaged a case that had 
severely tested its approach to terrorism. Mr. Padilla¹s military detention ‹ 
and his sudden transfer to the criminal courts in 2006 on different grounds than
those initially announced ‹ made his case the centerpiece of a heated debate 
over that approach.

³We commend the jury for its work in this trial and thank it for upholding a 
core American principle of impartial justice for all,² said Gordon D. Johndroe, 
a spokesman for the White House. ³Jose Padilla received a fair trial and a just 

But some experts said the very success of the prosecution raised doubts about 
the administration¹s insistence that the terrorism threat cannot be handled in 
the civilian justice system.

³This demonstrates, at least for now, that the United States is fully capable of
prosecuting terrorism while affording defendants the full procedural protections
of the Constitution,² said Michael Greenberger, who served in the Clinton 
administration Justice Department and teaches terrorism law at the University of
Maryland law school.

President Bush and his aides have often criticized the Clinton administration 
for treating terror as a crime, and they have created an alternate system of 
military detention centers and military tribunals, or commissions, to try 
terrorist suspects.

The dirty bomb accusations were not mentioned during Mr. Padilla¹s three-month 
trial here, nor was his military confinement. The government said that it had 
gotten the information by questioning other terrorism suspects abroad, and 
federal rules of evidence prohibit or limit the use of information obtained 
during such interrogations.

Instead, Mr. Padilla was added to the case against two men of Middle Eastern 
descent, one of whom Mr. Padilla, a former gang member with a criminal record, 
had met at a mosque in Broward County. The three were charged with belonging to 
a North American terrorism support cell that provided money, recruits and 
supplies to Islamic extremists around the world.

Like Mr. Padilla, the co-defendants, Adham Hassoun and Kifah Jayyousi, were 
convicted of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people in a foreign country, 
which could keep them in prison for life. All were also convicted on two lesser 
material support counts. The judge, Marcia G. Cooke, scheduled sentencing for 
Dec. 5.

Mr. Padilla¹s lawyers declined to comment after the verdict, but his mother, 
Estela Ortega Lebron, said her son might appeal. Lawyers for Mr. Hassoun and Mr.
Jayyousi said they would definitely appeal; Kenneth Swartz, a lawyer for Mr. 
Hassoun, said his client would have been acquitted had Mr. Padilla not been 
added to the case.

³We always thought this was a political trial,² he said. ³Jose Padilla¹s 
presence in this trial was a problem.²

Though the trial included dozens of witnesses and transcripts of wiretapped 
phone calls between the defendants, and jurors had been given a sheaf of 
complicated instructions for reaching a verdict, they came to a decision around 
noon on Thursday, their second day of deliberating.

James Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University, said the fact that the Qaeda
training camp form had six of Mr. Padilla¹s fingerprints was ³overwhelmingly 
powerful² and had very likely swayed the jurors.

Mr. Padilla¹s lawyers had argued that he might have merely handled the form 
during his confinement. The defense maintained that Mr. Padilla had traveled to 
the Middle East in 2000 and spent time in Pakistan because he was studying to 
become an imam. Lawyers for Mr. Hassoun and Mr. Jayyousi said they sent checks 
and supplies to places like Chechnya and Somalia to help persecuted Muslims.

The government recorded thousands of calls in which Mr. Hassoun and Mr. Jayyousi
sometimes discussed ³playing football² or ³eating cheese² ‹ code, prosecutors 
said, for assisting in violent jihad. But Mr. Padilla¹s voice was heard in only 
seven calls, and he was not accused of using code.

Prosecutors also played parts of a 1997 television interview with Osama bin 
Laden for the jury, in which he called for violent jihad against the United 
States. They then played wiretapped calls in which Mr. Hassoun and Mr. Jayyousi 
excitedly discussed the interview.

Because there is no evidence that Mr. Padilla saw or discussed the interview, 
Judge Cooke instructed jurors not to consider it evidence against him. But Mr. 
Swartz and Jeanne Baker, the lawyers for Mr. Hassoun, said they thought the 
video had been devastating for all three defendants. ³This is definitely a 
post-9/11 prosecution where the government wanted to send a false message to the
nation that we are safe,² Ms. Baker said. ³That¹s what sent the jury in the 
wrong direction.²

Scott L. Silliman, a law professor and director of the Center on Law, Ethics and
National Security at Duke University, said the verdict posed ³a kind of a 
dilemma² for the Bush administration by undercutting its argument for military 

Professor Silliman said the treatment of Mr. Padilla at first as an enemy 
combatant and later as a criminal defendant exposed the ³ad-hoc approach² of the
administration toward accused terrorists in the first years after the Sept. 11 

But Craig S. Morford, the acting deputy attorney general, said at a news 
conference in Washington that terrorism must be handled on a case-by-case basis.

The Padilla verdict, he said, ³clearly shows that in some cases, yes, the system
can handle it.² In other instances, he said, the need to protect secret 
intelligence and other factors make terrorism cases unsuitable for the criminal 
justice system.

Abby Goodnough reported from Miami, and Scott Shane from Washington. Terry 
Aguayo contributed reporting from Miami.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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