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U.S. Moves to Keep Radioactive Bomb Plot Suspect Behind Bars

Terrorism: Justice Department asks a judge to reject freedom request, saying Jose Padilla's lawyer and a New York federal court both lack standing.

June 27, 2002|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — The Justice Department asked a federal judge Wednesday to reject a request to free Jose Padilla, a suspect in an alleged Al Qaeda plot to explode a radioactive bomb in the United States, arguing that both his lawyer and a New York federal court lack authority in the case.

Padilla's lawyer, Donna R. Newman, filed papers with U.S. District Court in Manhattan on June 19 charging that his constitutional rights were violated when he was moved to the high-security Consolidated Naval Brig in Charleston, S.C.

Padilla was being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center here under a material witness warrant.

On June 9, President Bush determined that Padilla, an American citizen, was an "enemy combatant" and should be in the custody of the United States military.

''The authority of the United States to seize and detain enemy combatants is well settled--and vital to our core military objectives,'' government lawyers said in their filing. ''... the authority to capture and detain is not diminished by the fact that the enemy combatant is an American citizen.''

Not 'Next Friend'

In its submission to U.S. District Judge Michael B. Mukasey, who signed the order transferring Padilla, the Justice Department argued that Newman lacked sufficient standing to continue to represent Padilla because the lawyer didn't have a "significant relationship" with the detainee.

Federal prosecutors said that while Padilla's defense lawyer had "done her job as appointed counsel on a now-dismissed material witness matter," it did not mean she had met the rigorous test to be a "next friend" to bring further legal action.

Next friend standing is typically reserved for those who have a close personal relationship with a detainee, such as a parent, spouse or sibling, prosecutors said.

The Justice Department also said the federal court in Manhattan no longer had jurisdiction to consider Newman's petition either to free Padilla, halt his interrogation or allow her to meet with him.

Government lawyers said the only proper respondent for a petition to challenge Padilla's detention was the commanding officer of the brig in South Carolina where he is being held.

"It is well settled that a court of the United States has no jurisdiction to enjoin the president in the performance of his official duties or otherwise to compel the president to perform any official act," the Justice Department added.

If Mukasey ruled in favor of Newman's continued representation of Padilla, prosecutors said the case should then be transferred from New York to the district court in South Carolina.

On May 8, Padilla, a Brooklyn-born Muslim convert who took the name Adbullah al Muhajir, was arrested by the FBI in Chicago moments after he arrived from Switzerland.

Government officials alleged that he was conducting a scouting mission for a bomb attack.

Padilla was held on a material witness warrant and transferred to New York where a grand jury investigating terrorism has been meeting.

Lawyer's Claim

"The evidence linking Padilla to the alleged dirty bomb plot is weak at best," Newman charged in court papers. "There is insufficient evidence for the government to obtain an indictment against Padilla."

Newman asked Mukasey to schedule a hearing during which the government would present proof to support its claims.

Mukasey is not expected to rule until at least next month.

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