MIAMI (AP) — Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen held for 3½ years as an enemy combatant, was convicted today of helping Islamic extremists and plotting overseas attacks in a case that came to symbolize the Bush administration’s zeal to clamp down on terrorism.
But it was hardly a complete victory for the government. When Padilla was arrested in the months following the 2001 terrorist attacks, authorities touted him as a key al-Qaida operative who planned to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a U.S. city. That allegation never made it to court.
Instead, after a three-month trial and only a day and a half of deliberations, the 36-year-old Padilla and his foreign-born co-defendants were convicted of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people and two counts of providing material support to terrorists.
Padilla showed no emotion and stared straight ahead as he heard the verdict that could bring him a life prison sentence. One person in the family section started to sob.
The three were accused of being part of a North American support cell that provided supplies, money and recruits to groups of Islamic extremists. The defense contended they were trying to help persecuted Muslims in war zones with relief and humanitarian aid.
The White House thanked the jury for a “just” verdict.
“We commend the jury for its work in this trial and thank it for upholding a core American principle of impartial justice for all,” said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House. “Jose Padilla received a fair trial and a just verdict.”
Estela Lebron, Padilla’s mother, said outside the courthouse: “The winner is George Bush.” Earlier in the courtroom, she said she felt “a little bit sad” at the verdict but expected her son’s lawyers would appeal.
“I don’t know how they found Jose guilty. There was no evidence he was speaking in code,” she said, referring to FBI wiretap intercepts in which Padilla was overheard talking to co-defendant Adham Amin Hassoun.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke set sentencing for Dec. 5.
“We’re very disappointed,” said Hassoun attorney Kenneth Swartz. “We were hoping for a different verdict.”
Members of the jury declined interview requests from the media and were escorted out of the courthouse through a side exit by U.S. marshals.
Neal Sonnett, a prominent Miami defense lawyer who heads an American Bar Association task force on treatment of enemy combatants, said the verdict proves that the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is unnecessary to deal with terrorism suspects.
“This verdict once again demonstrates that federal courts are perfectly capable of handling terrorism cases,” Sonnett said.