Court to hear 'enemy combatant' appeal
From Phil Hirschkorn
NEW YORK (CNN) -- A year after Jose Padilla was tossed into a Navy brig as an "enemy combatant," a federal appeals court has agreed to speed up a decision on whether the alleged "dirty bomber" should be allowed to meet with lawyers trying to challenge his detention.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York has granted motions to hear an appeal in the case on an "expedited" basis, as both the Justice Department and Padilla's lawyers requested in April.
The appellate court will schedule oral arguments after October 13, the court's order said, and the case is expected to be heard by the end of the year.
Attorney General John Ashcroft has alleged that Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was involved in an al Qaeda plot to detonate a radiological device -- a so-called dirty bomb -- possibly in the Washington, D.C. area.
A Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican who converted to militant Islam, Padilla was taken into custody by the FBI last May at Chicago's O'Hare airport after flying from Pakistan. Officials have said a top al Qaeda lieutenant, Abu Zubaydah, now a captive, provided a key tip about Padilla.
Rather than charge him criminally, President Bush declared Padilla an enemy combatant June 9, 2002, and he was transferred to the custody of the military. Since last June, he has been held at a Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina, set up to house both U.S. and non-U.S. citizens designated as enemy combatants.
The Justice Department has been fighting attempts by lawyers representing Padilla to meet with him to discuss his case, arguing that could jeopardize national security.
Defense attorney Donna Newman said prosecutors are trying to "put him in a black hole so he has access to nobody."
"There is the criminal justice system. There is a military justice system. He is in neither," she said. "A citizen is still being held incommunicado without charges being filed, based on the government's assertion that they can do it."
U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey ruled that Bush, as commander-in-chief, had the authority to detain Padilla as an enemy combatant. But the judge ruled that Padilla should be able to meet with lawyers to contest the government's evidence.
After Mukasey refused the Justice Department's request to reconsider that decision on national security grounds, federal prosecutors decided to appeal his ruling to the 2nd Circuit.
An American Bar Association task force last August criticized the Bush administration for not allowing U.S. citizens jailed as enemy combatants to go to court and consult a lawyer.
The courts should have no role in reviewing these designations, Bush administration lawyers have argued, because they are inherently military decisions, which the executive branch is uniquely qualified -- and empowered by the Constitution -- to make.
Prosecutors declined to comment on the appeal.
Raised in Chicago, Illinois, Padilla served prison time for a juvenile murder in Illinois and for gun possession in Florida.