Padilla appears in court

Following a ruling this week by the Supreme Court, José Padilla has finally appeared before a civilian judge—which means that the high court will likely not have to weigh in any time soon on whether he was held legally as an “enemy combatant” under the US constitution. From the AP, Jan. 5:

Jose Padilla, the alleged al-Qaida operative held as an “enemy combatant” for more than three years, was transferred to civilian custody Thursday and made his first appearance in court.

Padilla was flown to Florida from a military brig in South Carolina and then taken under heavy security to the federal detention center in downtown Miami. He faces criminal charges that he was part of a U.S. terror cell that recruited fighters and raised money for global Islamic holy war.

Padilla, a former Chicago gang member, has been held by the Bush administration without criminal charges since his arrest in May 2002 at O’Hare International Airport on a material witness warrant on suspicion of a plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” inside the United States. Bush later declared him an “enemy combatant.”

At the brief hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Garber explained Padilla’s rights as a criminal defendant and asked if he understood those rights.

“Yes, I do,” said Padilla, who was dressed in a bright orange prison jumpsuit and was shackled at the wrists and ankles. He wore glasses and had a short haircut.

Garber set a Friday afternoon hearing for Padilla to enter a plea and to determine if he will remain in custody or be released on bail. Prosecutors said they would seek pretrial detention.

The charges brought in an indictment unsealed in November do not involve the “dirty bomb” allegations, contending instead that Padilla joined a North American terror support network that sent him overseas to train with al-Qaida and to “murder, maim and kidnap” people on foreign soil.

Padilla’s long detention by the Bush administration has spawned multiple court rulings over the scope of presidential power in the war on terror. The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to use Padilla’s case to define that power over U.S. citizens who are detained on American soil.

The transfer of Padilla from military to civilian custody was approved Wednesday by the Supreme Court, which overruled a previous decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The lower court had refused to allow the transfer in a decision sharply critical of the Bush administration for using different sets of facts to hold Padilla as an enemy combatant and then obtain a grand jury indictment on criminal charges.

Padilla is accused of being one of the recruits of two co-defendants in the Miami case: Kifah Wael Jayyousi, a Jordanian who became a U.S. citizen in 1987, and Lebanese-born Palestinian Adhan Amin Hassoun.

They are charged with raising money and recruiting operatives for violent Islamic causes in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Algeria, Kashmir and elsewhere. Much of the government’s case is based on some 50,000 wiretaps that date back a decade. Their trial is expected in the fall.

Jayyousi was also in Miami federal court Thursday, winning a ruling from U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke that he be released on bail. Cooke set a $1.3 million bond, ordered electronic monitoring and that Jayyousi not leave the South Florida area.

Jayyousi has been in special solitary confinement since his arrest in March 2005. His lawyer, William Swor, argued that he should be released because he needs to prepare for a complex trial, is enduring difficult jail conditions and is not a risk to flee to avoid prosecution.

“There is a presumption of innocence,” said the attorney, William Swor. “There is a due process right to prepare for a case.”

Cooke agreed, saying that federal prosecutors had not provided enough evidence that Jayyousi would flee.

Jayyousi, a 44-year-old Jordanian who became a U.S. citizen in 1987, and Hassoun are accused of raising money and recruiting operatives for violent Islamic causes in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Algeria, Kashmir and elsewhere.

Swor said Jayyousi deserved bail because he has no criminal history, served in the U.S. Navy, has family and property in Detroit and returned to the United States from Qatar in 2005 knowing that he was likely to be arrested. Swor also said Jayyousi would surrender his passport, wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and adhere to any other restrictions.

“We’re going to come back here. We’re going to try this case,” Swor said.

Prosecutors acknowledged that Jayyousi is not a danger to the community but insisted he could easily flee because of a web of radical Islamic contacts he has around the world. Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Killinger also said that the crimes Jayyousi is accused of involve providing direct assistance to terrorists who committed bombings, beheadings, kidnappings and other violent crimes.

“He does have significant contacts and ties. He was in contact with jihadists overseas,” Killinger said.

Killinger also cited evidence that Jayyousi was a follower of blind sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is serving a life prison sentence for conspiring to blow up New York City landmarks and assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

See our last post on the Padilla case.