Appeals court reverses lower court, says ‘dirty bomb’ suspect can be held without charges
RICHMOND, Va. – In a victory for the Bush administration, a federal appeals court ruled Friday that the government can continue to hold indefinitely an American accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb.”A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously to reverse a judge’s order that the government either charge or free Jose Padilla, who has been in custody for more than three years.”The exceedingly important question before us is whether the President of the United States possesses the authority to detain militarily a citizen of this country who is closely associated with al-Qaida, an entity with which the United States is at war,” Judge J. Michael Luttig wrote. “We conclude that the President does possess such authority.”A federal judge in South Carolina ruled in February that the government cannot hold Padilla indefinitely as an “enemy combatant,” a designation President Bush gave him in 2002. The government views Padilla as a militant who planned attacks on the United States.Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in a statement he was pleased with the ruling.”As the court noted today, the authority to detain enemy combatants like Jose Padilla plays an important role in protecting American citizens from the very kind of savage attack that took place almost four years ago to the day,” Gonzales said.Padilla’s attorney said his client would probably appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, adding that the appeals court decision could have grave implications for all Americans.”It’s a matter of how paranoid you are,” Andrew Patel said. “What it could mean is that the president conceivably could sign a piece of paper when he has hearsay information that somebody has done something he doesn’t like and send them to jail – without a hearing (or) a trial.”The administration has said Padilla, a former Chicago gang member, sought to blow up hotels and apartment buildings in the United States and planned an attack with a “dirty bomb” radiological device.Padilla was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in 2002 after returning from Pakistan. The federal government has said he was trained in weapons and explosives by members of al-Qaida.Padilla, a New York-born convert to Islam, is one of only two U.S. citizens designated as enemy combatants. The second, Louisiana native Yaser Hamdi, was released last October after the Justice Department said he no longer posed a threat to the United States and no longer had any intelligence value.Hamdi, who was captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2001, gave up his American citizenship and returned to his family in Saudi Arabia as a condition of his release.The American Civil Liberties Union expressed dismay over the ruling.”So long as the civilian courts are open and functioning, American citizens arrested in the United States are entitled to due process protections provided by a traditional criminal trial,” ACLU Legal Director Steven Shapiro said in a statement.Luttig, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court, was joined in his opinion by Judges M. Blane Michael and William B. Traxler Jr.Vail – Colorado
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