Jose Padilla, an American citizen whom the Bush Administration designated an “enemy combatant” for his alleged links to al-Qaeda and kept in military confinement for over three years without redress to habeas corpus, was sentenced to 208 months (17 years, four months) in prison by U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke. Judge Cooke originally imposed a sentence of 250 months, but subtracted the 42 months that Padilla already has served, reducing his sentence by three years and eight months.
The federal prosecutor had asked for a life sentence. With additional time off for good behavior during his prison term, the 37-year old Padilla could be a free man before he reaches the age of 50.
In August 2007, Padilla and his co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, had been convicted of conspiring to murder, maim or kidnap persons and of providing material support to terrorists.
Judge Cooke departed from federal sentencing guidelines in delivering the sentence. She cited the “harsh” treatment Padilla received as an enemy combatant, which included “white” torture. Padilla’s lawyers, in a pretrial hearing in which they sought to have him deemed mentally incompetent and thus incapable of standing trial, presented evidence that Padilla had suffered mental damage inflicted by sensory deprivation while in military confinement. Padilla had been subjected to brutal extremes of temperature, sound and light.
The psychiatrist Angela Hegarty, who examined Padilla for 22 hours, testified that solitary confinement and the sensory deprivation inflicted on Padilla while he was in Navy confinement had destroyed him mentally.
“What happened at the brig was essentially the destruction of a human being’s mind,” she said.
In justifying leniency and rejecting the government’s call for a harsh sentence, Judge Cooke also noted that Padilla and his co-conspirators had actually caused no damage and had not hurt anyone.
“There is no evidence that these defendants personally maimed, kidnapped or killed anyone in the United States or elsewhere,” Judge Cooke said.
Cooke cited the recommended sentences in the cases of Terry Nichols, a conspirator in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people in the Murrah Federal Building, and Zacarias Moussaoui, convicted of conspiring with the 9/11 terrorists. The recommended sentences of both had been 30 years to life.
Padilla’s defense attorneys had argued that the only person so far convicted in a military war crimes tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Australian citizen David Hicks, already is out of prison. Judge Cooke cited the Hicks case in rendering her decision.
The sentence received by Padilla’s co-defendants, Hassoun and Jayyousi, also were reduced by Judge Cooke, to 15 years, 8 months and 12 years, 8 months, respectively. Additional reductions for time served and for having no prior criminal record could mean that they will serve less than 10 years in prison.
The federal prosecutors said that they planned to appeal the sentence as being too lenient.
The former chief inspector general for Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Judge Cooke was appointed by President George W. Bush to the federal bench in 2004. She was the first African American woman to become a federal judge in the history of Florida.
Padilla, an ethnic Puerto Rican born in Brooklyn, New York, once was a member of a Chicago gang. Convicted of armed robbery as a juvenile, he was incarcerated as a juvenile after being convicted of aggravated assault for kicking another gang member in the head after that person died. As an adult, he was convicted on an armed weapons offense. He converted to Islam after serving time in prison. After the failure of his first marriage, he subsequently married an Egyptian woman and lived abroad.
After allegedly training and conspiring with anti-American terrorists, Padilla was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on March 8, 2002. The federal government alleged that Padilla was charged by 9/11 mastermined Khalid Shaikh Mohammed of al-Quaeda that he destroy three high-rise buildings with a weapon consisting of a radiological “dirty bomb” and natural gas. At the time of his arrest, Padilla had in his poessesion over $10,000 in cash, a cell phone, and e-mail addresses of al-Qaeda operatives.
Arrested originally as a material witness, Padilla subsequently was charged by the U.S. Department of Defense as being an “enemy combatant” and removed from the civilian criminal justice system. The federal government charged Padilla with having plotted to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” as justification of remanding him to military detention. Those charges subsequently were dropped by the federal government.
William Swor, the lawyer representing Kifah Jayyousi, denounced the federal government for bringing the case against his client, Padilla and Adham Amin Hassoun. Noting that Jayyousi had published a newsletter voicing unpopular opinions, he said, “The government hasn’t made America any safer nor promoted the rule of law. It has just made America less free.”
During the trial, the federal prosecutors claimed that Padilla, Hassoun and Jayyousi were part of an al-Qaeda cell based in Florida. Hassoun was depicted as the recruiter, Padilla as the recruit, and Jayyousi as the financier and propagandist.
Jayyousi claimed he had never met Padilla.
Hassoun, who did know Padilla, was accused of financing his trip to Egypt. Hassoun also was accused of running a local office of the charity Benevolence International as a front for al-Qaeda.
“It is definitely a defeat for the government,” said attorney Jeanne Baker, who served as co-counsel for Hassoun during the trial.
CNN.com, “Padilla Judge drops terror charge”
Washington Post, “Ex ‘dirty-bomb’ suspect sentences”