- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) A federal court has the authority to decide whether a former Chicago gang member accused of plotting with terrorists to detonate a radioactive "dirty" bomb is detained properly as an enemy combatant, a judge ruled yesterday.
Until he makes that decision, U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey said, Jose Padilla may meet with his attorneys. Padilla, a U.S. citizen, had been barred from meeting with attorneys since he was declared an enemy combatant in June.
The ruling was a blow to the government, which had argued that Padilla had no right to challenge its actions in court because of the enemy-combatant status.
However, the judge agreed that the government had the power to detain unlawful combatants.
Padilla's attorneys, Donna Newman and Andrew Patel, say he is being held illegally.
The government maintains that Padilla has no rights as an enemy combatant. It also said he could use contact with his attorneys to pass messages unwittingly to fellow conspirators, but Judge Mukasey said rules could be crafted to prevent that scenario.
The government said Padilla twice met with senior al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan in March and discussed a plot to detonate a radiological weapon in the United States.
He was arrested May 8 at Chicago O'Hare International Airport on a material-witness warrant issued by a grand jury. He has been held in a Navy brig since June. The government says the enemy-combatant declaration allows his detention without formal criminal charges.
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney James B. Comey had no immediate comment on Judge Mukasey's ruling.
Miss Newman said she was pleased. "It is a significant decision. It's certainly a thorough decision," the defense lawyer said. "I need to review it."
Although the opinion opened a legal window for lawyers to fight on Padilla's behalf, the judge wrote supportively of the government's powers.
"The president has both constitutional and statutory authority to exercise the powers of commander in chief, including the power to detain unlawful combatants, and it matters not that Padilla is a United States citizen captured on United States soil," Judge Mukasey wrote.

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