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‘Enemy Combatant’ Padilla Convicted of Supporting Terrorists

August 16, 2007 at 6:10 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: That terror conviction of Jose Padilla, Curt Anderson of the Associated Press covered the three-month-long trial, and he joins us now from Miami.

Curt Anderson, welcome.

CURT ANDERSON, The Associated Press: Thanks, Jim, good to be here.

JIM LEHRER: What exactly was it that Jose Padilla was convicted of doing today?

CURT ANDERSON: He was essentially convicted of presenting himself, volunteering to become an al-Qaida trainee at a camp in Afghanistan. The main piece of evidence against him was a form that he filled out back in 2000 to join the al-Farouq camp, which was one of the biggest and supposedly best in Afghanistan.

Beyond that, there was very little other evidence against him. Most of it was the form which had his fingerprints on it, and that seemed to be enough to convince the jury that he had provided himself as material support to the al-Qaida terrorist group.

JIM LEHRER: Was there any evidence that he actually went to the camp and trained and got ready to be a “terrorist,” end quote?

CURT ANDERSON: They stopped short of presenting that evidence directly regarding Padilla himself, but prosecutors brought other people — notably a number of the Lackawanna Six group up in upstate New York — to testify that he had gone to that same camp at a different time and had learned to use explosives and AK-47 and trained in a various ways like that. He was seen as a stand-in for Padilla, since they did not want to — the prosecutors did not want to go that far in this case regarding Padilla himself.

JIM LEHRER: And the reason they didn’t want to — why would they not want to go any further? Was there a legal reason or what?

CURT ANDERSON: Yes. They were barred, primarily because Padilla, as many people know, was held as an enemy combatant for three-and-a-half years. He was interrogated extensively during all that time. And supposedly, if you believe the government, admitted to most of this information, the things he did and plots that he supposedly took part in.

None of that can be used in federal court because he was never read his rights, he never had a lawyer present to advise him, as we normally would have in our system, in federal civilian courts, so the case stopped short of actually his attendance at the camp.

The enemy combatant process

Curt Anderson
Associated Press
When [Padilla] was apprehended at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport back in '02, you might recall about a month later President Bush designated him an enemy combatant.

JIM LEHRER: I see. And the reason for that was because he began under a process -- under the enemy combatant process rather than the normal civilian process that finally led to his trial, correct?

CURT ANDERSON: Yes, that's right. When he was apprehended at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport back in '02, you might recall about a month later President Bush designated him an enemy combatant. Then Attorney General Ashcroft had a press conference from Moscow declaring this a great victory in stopping the supposed dirty bomb plot that he was involved in. That was never brought up in this trial. The case here was kind of a shell of what they really had, supposedly, on Padilla.

JIM LEHRER: And was there ever any evidence put forth in public about that dirty bomb incident?

CURT ANDERSON: In public, yes. Back before Padilla was brought to Miami, in 2004, the Justice Department had a kind of an unusual press conference to detail what they said were Padilla's admissions to at least exploring the dirty bomb plot with people such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged plotter of 9/11 attacks.

And they did that because, at the time, they were in the midst of a battle over whether the president had the authority to continue detaining Padilla, a U.S. citizen, as an enemy combatant. And the Supreme Court was getting ready to possibly take the case up when the administration shifted gears and decided to charge him criminally, take him out of the military system, and send him here.

JIM LEHRER: Now, just for the record, a dirty bomb is a little small nuclear device, right?

CURT ANDERSON: Yes, it's radioactive dispersal, I think is what you'd say. It doesn't kill a whole lot of people, but it would be very frightening and certainly would be, you know, something that al-Qaida would want to do.

A troubled youth

Curt Anderson
Associated Press
[Padilla] comes out of prison, and he starts going to the mosque, and that's where he meets a man named Adam Hassoun. Adam Hassoun was also convicted today of the same charges.

JIM LEHRER: Now, tell us about Jose Padilla. Where did he come from? He's 36 years old, but where did he come from? How did he get from where he started to where he is now?

CURT ANDERSON: He was born in Brooklyn. He's of Puerto Rican descent. He moved with his family to Chicago as a youngster, grew up there, got involved with street gangs, had a long rap sheet in Chicago, including a conviction as a juvenile of a murder, where he was present, not the one who actually committed the murder.

His mother moved he and other family members to south Florida. He got into more trouble and converted to Islam while in prison here in Florida. So he comes out of prison, and he starts going to the mosque, and that's where he meets a man named Adam Hassoun. Adam Hassoun was also convicted today of the same charges. And Hassoun was the leader of this cell to support Islamic extremism.

And that's kind of his journey. He got in with Hassoun, got convinced to become a Mujahedeen fighter, went over to Egypt in 1998, traveled from there to Afghanistan, and then wound up in O'Hare airport with the FBI on him.

JIM LEHRER: What is known, if anything, about his family, about his education, occupation, some of the basics?

CURT ANDERSON: Yes, well, he got a GED, didn't do very well in school. It took him a while to get that.

JIM LEHRER: That's a GED, he took an exam to get a high school diploma, right?

CURT ANDERSON: Correct, yes. And he mostly worked in fast food, say, Taco Bell, things like that. He worked as a busboy at a Hilton Hotel and setting up for conferences and things like that. He seemed to be sort of a person who was continually looking for kind of what his path was going to be.

I mentioned the gang membership. You had various stretches of jail time. So this was just the latest thing, it seemed like for him.

His mother is still living just north of Miami in Broward County. She was at the trial today. She said she's just looking forward to his chance to appeal. She thinks that he was essentially railroaded, which, you know, you would expect her to say.

Osama bin Laden video

Curt Anderson
Associated Press
[Padilla] never confessed in this proceeding. As I mentioned, if you believe the government, he did in the interrogations.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. Now, the trial itself, it went on for three months. Were there any dramatic moments, Curt?

CURT ANDERSON: I'd say the most dramatic was actually an appearance by Osama bin Laden. The prosecutors wanted to play a videotaped interview that bin Laden gave back in '98 to the jury, because Hassoun, the ringleader I mentioned earlier, and the other defendant, Kifah Jayyousi, had talked about this interview in wiretapped telephone conversations that the FBI had picked up.

And what the importance of that was that the jury got to see bin Laden on a huge screen in front of them talking about, you know, doing violence to American interests overseas and the al-Qaida mantra, as it were. And so I think that was a very powerful moment. And there was a lot of legal fight over whether that would be allowed, and that just served to associate everyone in the room on the defense side with bin Laden.

JIM LEHRER: And just finally, Padilla himself, did he always protest that his innocence? Did he say he was innocent, or did he ever, ever confess?

CURT ANDERSON: He never confessed in this proceeding. As I mentioned, if you believe the government, he did in the interrogations. But, no, his defense was, "Hey, look, I went overseas, sure. All I wanted to do was study Islam better and learn Arabic in Egypt, and that's it. I had no designs to become a Mujahedeen fighter. I didn't want to do violence to anyone and so forth."

But with the form, the bin Laden video, and then some of the discussions on the wiretaps that were picked up, it seemed that the jury, who deliberated only 11 hours, did not buy that.

JIM LEHRER: OK. And the sentencing will be in, what, November, December?

CURT ANDERSON: December 5th. All three defendants face life in prison. The main charge is called conspiracy to murder, kidnap or maim people overseas. They were convicted of that; that carries a potential life sentence.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Curt Anderson, thank you very much.