- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 11, 2012

NEW YORK — A civil liberties group asked the Organization of American States‘ human rights commission Tuesday to investigate the U.S. government for what it says are violations of the rights of convicted terrorism plotter Jose Padilla.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the U.S. violated Padilla’s rights when it labeled him an “enemy combatant” a decade ago and subjected him to interrogation that amounted to torture, including sleep and sensory deprivation in solitary confinement.

The watchdog legal group told The Associated Press it had filed a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which serves as the human-rights investigation arm of the Washington-based OAS. The regional international organization promotes cooperation among the 35 independent countries of the Americas.

Jamil Dakwar, the ACLU’s human rights program director, said this is the first-ever petition to be filed to the OAS commission by an American citizen against the U.S. government alleging torture and abuse.

It asks the OAS body to recommend that the United States publicly acknowledge the violations and apologize for its unlawful conduct.

The State Department and the Justice Department were queried about the case Monday and Tuesday. State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson referred queries concerning “persons held in custody of the United States” to the Justice Department.

Among the allegations in the ACLU’s petition are that:

Padilla’s interrogation included “painful stress positions, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation, which caused him severe physical and psychological trauma that persists to this day.” It characterized these as “physical and psychological torture and abuse.”

Padilla was denied contact with his lawyers or family during interrogation.

• He was not allowed to practice his religion, Islam. The copy of the Quran he was initially allowed was confiscated.

• His mental state deteriorated so badly that he often refused to meet with lawyers or his family, fearing that would result in his return to military custody.

The ACLU said it was filing the petition on behalf of Padilla and his mother Estela Lebron, contending her rights were also violated when she was not allowed to communicate with or visit her son for years. It said her health has suffered as a result.

Padilla, now 42, a one-time Chicago gang member and car thief, converted to Islam and had lived in Egypt for four years prior to his arrest. He was detained in 2002 in Chicago when he flew back to visit his mother. He was designated an “enemy combatant” — a status applied by the administration of President George W. Bush to al Qaeda and Taliban terror suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. It meant that he was placed in military custody and denied access to the U.S. civilian justice system.

Padilla was initially held as a “material witness” to the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Authorities at the time said he was on a terrorist mission to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a major U.S. city, but he was held at the Navy brig in South Carolina for more than three years without being charged. Padilla eventually was added to an existing terrorism indictment, and was convicted in U.S. federal court in 2007 of supporting terrorism in Kosovo, Bosnia and Chechnya, and is serving a 17-year sentence.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights can undertake investigations of complaints, and in the past has probed massacres in Peru, Colombia and Guatemala. It can also issue “precautionary orders” to ask for the protection of the rights of people in cases under review, and has done so in the case of several Guantanamo detainees who were not U.S. citizens.

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