- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2007

MIAMI (AP) — A federal judge refused to dismiss terrorism charges against an al Qaeda suspect over claims he was tortured in U.S. military custody, but the possibility that the accusations could resurface at his upcoming trial was left open.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke said Jose Padilla’s torture charges could become relevant during his trial if prosecutors seek to use evidence gathered from him during his 3 years in isolation at a Navy brig.

“Should any Naval Brig statements be introduced at trial … the circumstances surrounding the making of those statements may be relevant and hence admissible,” Judge Cooke wrote in a 12-page ruling filed late Monday.

The ruling removes one of the biggest remaining obstacles to the start of the trial next week for Mr. Padilla and two co-defendants charged with conspiracy and terrorism material support, purportedly for being part of a North American support network for Islamist groups worldwide.

Judge Cooke’s order stressed that she was not passing judgment on the torture charges. Rather, she said the effort to dismiss the case for “outrageous government conduct” was faulty on legal grounds.

Lawyers for Mr. Padilla assert that as an “enemy combatant” he was routinely subjected to harsh treatment and torture as a detainee.

He said that he was forced to stand in painful stress positions, given LSD or some other drug as a “truth serum,” subjected to loud noises and noxious odors, and forced to endure sleep deprivation, harsh lights and extreme heat and cold.

To support their assertions, his attorneys released brig photographs of Mr. Padilla in chains and wearing blacked-out goggles and noise-reducing ear coverings.

The Pentagon and Justice Department have repeatedly denied the accusations. Officials with the brig in Charleston, S.C., have said the 36-year-old U.S. citizen and Muslim convert was not mistreated, though they acknowledged occasional removal of the mattress in his cell and of his copy of the Koran.

In her ruling, Judge Cooke said the dismissal motion wasn’t backed up by case law and failed on legal grounds because prosecutors aren’t using any evidence collected during Mr. Padilla’s time in the brig.

To rule otherwise would “effectively provide a defendant with amnesty for any uncharged crime so long as the government violated the defendant’s due process rights at some prior point,” she wrote.

Prosecutors have said they cannot use most of what Mr. Padilla told them during interrogations because they were conducted without a lawyer present and Mr. Padilla was never told of his Miranda-precedent right to remain silent.

Mr. Padilla’s four lawyers did not respond to e-mail messages seeking comment yesterday. The Justice Department and Miami U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta declined to comment.

Mr. Padilla was initially arrested in 2002 on suspicion of an al Qaeda plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a U.S. city, but that charge is not part of the Miami criminal case. Prosecutors do assert that Mr. Padilla filled out a form in 2000 to join an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. He has pleaded not guilty and could get life in prison if convicted.

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