'Enemy Combatant' Padilla Found Guilty

Case tested limits of Bush administration's 'war on terror.'

Aug. 16, 2007 — -- A federal jury in Miami has found Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen arrested in Chicago, guilty of conspiracy to murder and terrorism support charges.

After deliberating for little more than a day, the jury returned the verdict which has a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

In many ways Padilla is a test case for President Bush's legal war on terror since the attacks of September 11th.

The White House reacted swiftly to the verdict issuing a statement saying, "We commend the jury for its work in this trial and thank it for upholding a core American principle of impartial justice for all. José Padilla received a fair trial and a just verdict."

Padilla, a U.S citizen born in New York, has lived through a unique experience in the United States judicial system. He began his legal odyssey in 2002 with a dramatic arrest in Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

Then-attorney general John Ashcroft interrupted a trip in Russia to give an unusual televised statement telling the world of Padilla's capture. Ashcroft said that authorities had "disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive 'dirty bomb.'" Padilla had been detained arriving at O'Hare from a flight originating in Pakistan.

Michael Greenberger, Director of University of Maryland's Center for Health and Homeland Security, said the announcement introduced the administration's novel legal strategy. "The Ashcroft announcement was the first articulation of what came to be called the enemy combatant theory, and the first time a United States citizen would be deemed an enemy combatant."

Padilla was taken to a military brig and held virtually in communicado while the legal battles regarding his incarceration were waged in and outside of court.

Bush's lawyers argued that Padilla "engaged in conduct that constituted hostile and war like acts" and wrote the case "presents questions of exceptional national significance concerning the authority of the Commander in Chief to wage the ongoing conflict against al Qaeda."

Donna Newman, a lawyer for Padilla countered that the President could not hold Padilla indefinitely without charging him. In court papers she wrote, "Padilla was not captured in combat, nor is he alleged to be a soldier or member of a military organization."

And then, after Padilla had spent nearly three years in the military brig with few links to the outside world, the Bush administration suddenly reversed course.

In 2006, just before the Supreme Court was set to decide whether to hear Padilla's case, the Bush administration suddenly transferred Padilla to Miami. Padilla was no longer an enemy combatant. References to a dirty bomb disappeared. Overnight, the so called "enemy combatant" became a criminal defendant, sent to regular federal court charged with conspiracy to commit murder and terrorism support charges.

Padilla faces possible life imprisonment, but the charges in Miami federal court are far less serious than the administration's initial charges.

At trial in Miami, prosecutors referred to Padilla as a "star recruit" for Al Qaeda, and accused him of completing an application form linked to Al Qaeda called a "Mujahideen Data Form." But Padilla's lawyers argued that he had traveled oversea to study, not to kill. His defense lawyers argued that he and his other co-defendants were working towards humanitarian purposes.