Padilla case raises torture concerns

The Bush administration decided to charge designated “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla, a US citizen who was initially said to have been preparing a radioactive “dirty bomb” attack on US soil, with less serious crimes because it was unwilling to allow testimony from two senior al-Qaeda members, government officials said.

The two detained leaders are alleged 9-11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and purported top al-Qaeda recuiter Abu Zubaydah. They are said to be the main sources linking Jose Padilla to the “dirty bomb” plot. Both continue to be held in secret prisons by the CIA.

Accusations about plots to detonate a “dirty bomb” and use natural gas lines to bomb apartment buildings had featured prominently in past administration statements about Padilla, who was in military custody for more than three years after his arrest in May 2002.

But they were not mentioned in his indictment on lesser charges of supporting terrorist activity overseas that were released Nov. 22. The decision not to charge him in connection with the supposed domestic plots was prompted by fears that the use of Mohammed and Zubaydah as witnesses could expose classified information.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisal for addressing questions Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had declined to answer. Concerns were also raised that the testimony of the two purported al-Qaeda leaders could open up charges from defense lawyers that their earlier statements were extracted by torture. These concerns were echoed by Clive Stafford, British lawyer for Binyan Mohammed, accused by the US as a co-conspirator in the “dirty bomb” plot. Stafford asserts that his client was “renditioned” to Morocco after his 2002 capture in Pakistan. “They took him to Morocco to be tortured. He signed a confession saying whatever they wanted to hear, which is that he worked with Jose Padilla to do the dirty bomb plot. He says that’s absolute nonsense, and he doesn’t know Jose Padilla.” (NYT, Nov. 24)

See our last post on the Padilla case.