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Attorneys for accused enemy combatant demand U.S. prove its case

From Phil Hirschkorn

September 11 attacks
Crime, Law and Justice

(CNN) -- Attorneys for imprisoned "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla argued in federal court that their client should be charged with a crime or released.

The defense attorneys and federal prosecutors appeared at a Wednesday hearing in U.S. District Court in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The Supreme Court last June ordered that the case, which originated in New York, be heard there, because Padilla is being held at the Charleston Naval Brig. (Last year's Supreme Court terror rulings)

Padilla, a 33-year-old American suspected of plotting with al Qaeda to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" and to blow up apartment buildings in the United States, was arrested in May 2002 after arriving in Chicago on an overseas flight.

He was initially transferred to New York as a material witness in the grand jury investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and has never faced criminal charges. Instead, one month after his arrest, President Bush declared him such a "grave threat" to national security that he was transferred to military custody and labeled an "enemy combatant."

Padilla, who has been detained for two and half years as a military prisoner, was also denied access to an attorney for two years.

On Wednesday, defense attorneys and prosecutors argued over the legality of Padilla's detention for more than two hours before U.S. District Judge Henry Floyd. Padilla did not attend.

The government relied on the U.S. Constitution and the congressional authorization of the use of force against the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks as grounds for Bush's action.

"The argument basically is under (the congressional authorization) and the president's inherent authority as commander-in-chief, he had the appropriate authority to declare Mr. Padilla an enemy combatant under these facts and detain him," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Miller Shealy.

Both sides pointed to Supreme Court's decision in the companion case of former "enemy combatant" Yaser Hamdi to bolster their views.

The court held the president has the authority to detain "enemy combatants" captured on the battlefield, but justices also ruled that detainees are entitled to a fact-finding hearing, which the government precluded in Hamdi's case by releasing him to his native Saudi Arabia last October.

Padilla's attorneys argued the president's authority does not extend to American citizens caught on American soil, such as Padilla. And unlike Hamdi, who was allegedly carrying an assault rifle and traveling with Taliban troops, Padilla was carrying no weapons and wearing civilian clothes, the attorneys said.

Floyd suggested he would likely issue a ruling in 30 to 45 days on a defense motion seeking Padilla's release.

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