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U.S. says Padilla will be held 'indefinitely'

Jose Padilla  

From Kelli Arena
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States will hold "dirty bomb" suspect Jose Padilla indefinitely, and the Bush administration says the executive branch alone can decide when a person qualifies as an enemy combatant.

Justice Department lawyers announced that position Thursday night to the staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee, congressional and administration officials told CNN on Friday.

Padilla, an American Muslim convert, was arrested in May in Chicago after flying from Pakistan to the United States via Switzerland. The government has labeled him an enemy combatant and transferred him into military custody.

In a closed-door meeting with congressional staffers, Justice officials said President Bush made the decision to transfer Padilla to military custody and argued there was precedent set by other court cases, including a 1942 Supreme Court case that officials say allows the government to label U.S. citizens enemy combatants. (Full story)

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Justice Department staff told congressional officials that Padilla would have "limited" access to an attorney to help determine the question of whether he has rights in the civilian court system, according to Capitol Hill sources. An attorney representing Padilla has filed a motion in U.S. District Court to have him released.

Padilla is accused of being part of an al Qaeda plot to build and set off a dirty bomb -- a conventional bomb laced with radioactive material -- in the United States. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said the government's primary interest in Padilla right now is not trying him in a court, but rather figuring out what he may know so authorities can help prevent a future attack.

Padilla is being held in a Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina. Sources told CNN that he is not cooperating with investigators, and there is some skepticism about what information he might be able to offer.

Investigative sources said Padilla is not considered a high-level catch, and one official suggested that "if he could have led them to cells or high-level terrorists, they wouldn't have taken him into custody when he got off that plane."

He was arrested May 8 after taking a flight to Chicago, Illinois from Zurich, Switzerland. Sources said it is believed Padilla was on a scouting trip when he arrived in the United States.

So far, there is one person in custody in Pakistan who has been identified as a Padilla associate in the dirty bomb plot. The Pakistanis also have others in custody for questioning to determine whether they may have been part of the scheme.




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