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Judge Says Padilla Can Meet With His Lawyers

March 11, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

NEW YORK -- A federal judge Tuesday rejected a government attempt to bar a former Chicago gang member accused in a dirty bomb plot from meeting with defense lawyers.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey in Manhattan said in a written ruling that he considered and rejected a plea by the government to reverse his December decision to let defense lawyers meet with Jose Padilla, 31.

"Lest any confusion remain, this is not a suggestion or a request that Padilla be permitted to consult with counsel, and it is certainly not an invitation to conduct a further `dialogue' about whether he will be permitted to do so. It is a ruling -- a determination -- that he will be permitted to do so," the judge said.

In December, Mukasey ruled that Padilla could meet with lawyers seeking to prove that he was wrongly detained as an enemy combatant after the government accused him of plotting with al-Qaida to detonate a radioactive dirty bomb.

In an unusual request, the government then appealed to Mukasey to reverse his decision, saying prosecutors had failed to clarify "the grave damage to national security" that could result if Padilla isolated interrogation was interrupted.

At a hearing in January, Mukasey told Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement that he was puzzled by the government's bid, which seemingly ignores court rules governing requests for judges to reconsider their rulings.

"I am pleased that he reaffirmed Padilla's access to counsel," Donna Newman, a defense lawyer fighting to meet with Padilla, said after learning of the ruling.

"It is comforting for all United States citizens that if they were to be seized by the military and held incommunicado, at least an attorney can have access to them and be their voice," she said.

Marvin Smilon, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney James Comey, said he did not have any immediate comment.

Padilla was arrested May 8 in Chicago as he returned from a trip to Pakistan. He was first held as a material witness in a grand jury probe of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. On June 9, he was designated an enemy combatant.

The government said he approached Abu Zubaydah, al-Qaida's top terrorism coordinator, in Afghanistan in 2001 and proposed stealing radioactive material to detonate a dirty bomb in the United States.

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