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THE NEW YORK TIMES
Terror Suspect's Path From Streets To Brig
By DEBORAH SONTAG
April 25, 2004
Jose Padilla, who was born in Brooklyn and reared in Chicago, at age 10.
About 10 months after Jose Padilla disappeared into a naval brig in South Carolina, a Pentagon official appeared at his mother's workplace in Florida with a greeting card. When Estela Ortega Lebron saw the familiar pinched handwriting, she trembled, knowing, before even reading the card, that it was for real, the first evidence of her son's existence since he was seized by the American military in June 2002.
"In the name of God the merciful the mercy giver," Mr. Padilla wrote, "I have been allowed to write you a card and just letting you know I'm doing fine and in good health. Do not believe what is being said about me in the news it is untrue and I pray that we can have a reunion. Love your son Pucho." Pucho was Mr. Padilla's childhood nickname.
That card was the sum and substance of Mr. Padilla's communication with the outside world for about 21 months. Brooklyn-born and Chicago-bred, a Muslim convert of Puerto Rican descent, Mr. Padilla, 33, was first arrested at O'Hare International Airport in May 2002. A month later, President Bush took the extraordinary step of declaring him an "enemy combatant," and the military placed Mr. Padilla, whom the government accused of plotting a radiological "dirty bomb" attack, in solitary confinement.
Last month, more than a year after a federal judge ordered the government to permit Mr. Padilla to see his lawyers, the government relented. It did not allow a traditional attorney-client meeting, though. Military officials hovered and a videocamera recorded the encounter.
The government also acceded to a longstanding request from the International Committee of the Red Cross for a private visit with Mr. Padilla, and the visit itself was something of a milestone. Until this year, the International Red Cross, which visits prisoners of war and political prisoners around the world, had never intervened in the detention of an American by Americans in America.
Mr. Padilla's detention confounds traditional notions of the way justice works in America. His case, which goes before the Supreme Court on Wednesday, is shrouded in secrecy. No charges have been filed against him. And the government has offered just a hint of any evidence it has, asking the courts to defer to its judgment that, as Mr. Bush proclaimed, "this guy Padilla's a bad guy."
In Plantation, Fla., Mr. Padilla's mother, a condo owner, churchgoer and sales consultant for a human resources company, is as baffled as she is distressed. "Why are they doing this to an American?" she asked. "If we go to all these other countries to promote democracy hello? why can't we practice it at home? I'm like, `Give me proof.' If my son did something, charge him. Give him his day in court."
Jose Padilla's wife, Shamia'a, at the couple's home near Tanta, Egypt.
The Bush administration says that the norms of criminal justice do not apply here, that the government has moved from a peacetime to a wartime footing. It is within the wartime authority of the president as commander in chief, the government says, to detain Mr. Padilla indefinitely in order to interrogate him and prevent him from engaging in terrorism.
Padilla v. Rumsfeld raises fundamental questions about presidential power and the checks and balances on that power during the campaign against terror. Lawyers on both sides agree that this is one of the most important cases of its kind in at least 50 years. Yet Mr. Padilla himself has been little more than a fuzzy image in a grainy photo, and the process by which the government decided to detain him without trial has been opaque.
Now Mr. Padilla's mother, his ex-wife in Florida, his second wife in Egypt and friends have broken their anxious silence. Together with accounts from former and current government officials and court papers, they trace Mr. Padilla's journey from Pentecostal child preacher to Muslim convert to suspected terrorist, from a Taco Bell in Davie, Fla., to a pilgrimage site in Mecca to the Charleston, S.C., brig.
That journey covered significant territory, geographically, emotionally and spiritually, and family and friends paint a vivid picture of Jose Padilla. If he lived a double life, they were unaware of it. And the American government has said so little beyond its initial, startling allegations about Mr. Padilla that it is difficult to reconcile the two portrayals the man his relatives thought they knew and the man the government calls an enemy of his homeland.
Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Mr. Padilla's capture from Moscow on June 10, 2002, saying that an "unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive dirty bomb" had been disrupted, an attack with the potential to cause "mass death and injury."
Later, other officials emphasized that the "unfolding terrorist plot" had not progressed beyond "loose talk," as Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, put it.
The government has asked the public and the courts to accept that Mr. Padilla would not be locked up incommunicado if he were not a danger to national security and a highly valuable intelligence source. One of Mr. Padilla's lawyers, Donna R. Newman, calls it the "because-we-say-so doctrine."
The central allegations against Mr. Padilla are contained in one unsealed memorandum, a declaration by Michael H. Mobbs, a Pentagon official. Mr. Padilla, the memo says, is an associate of Al Qaeda who, in travels to Afghanistan and Pakistan, met with senior Qaeda officials, trained in wiring explosives, "researched" dirty bombs, concocted plans for attacks on the United States and, "it is believed," returned to the United States to "conduct reconnaissance and/or attacks" on behalf of Al Qaeda.
The declaration was based on Mr. Mobbs's review of reports from "multiple intelligence sources." In a footnote, Mr. Mobbs said that two of those sources might not have been "completely candid" and might have tried to provide some disinformation. One source recanted some information, and another was being treated "with various types of drugs" for a medical condition. But, the footnote continued, much of their information checked out.
The Mobbs declaration omitted one piece of information from a sealed warrant used for Mr. Padilla's arrest. On the request of Mr. Padilla's lawyers, a federal judge unsealed it:
Mr. Padilla, in the opinion of the government's informants, was unwilling to die for the cause.
Crime and Conversion
Born in Cumberland Hospital in Brooklyn, raised alongside four siblings in working-class Chicago, Jose Padilla looks like a handsome, confident, ordinary boy in family photos. He wears a powder-blue suit for Christmas at 10, a top hat and tails for a cousin's cotillion at 12, a Chicago Cubs uniform for a mock Sport magazine cover at 19.
The photos do not show his teenage stumbling, of which there was plenty. Mr. Padilla, who grew up without his father, hung out on the streets, flashed gang symbols, drank. At 14, he got involved disastrously with an older friend in a murder that began as a petty robbery.
Mr. Padilla and his friend were drinking on a street corner in Chicago when they decided to rob a couple of Mexican immigrants. The immigrants put up a fight and chased them until Mr. Padilla's friend tired of running and, for the net gain of a watch and about $9 in pesos, stabbed one of the immigrants, Elio Evangelista, to death.
Mr. Padilla then kicked the victim in the head "because he felt like it," according to his juvenile records. Mr. Padilla was placed in juvenile detention until he was 19.
When Mr. Padilla was 19, his first son, Joshua, was born. Soon afterward, he left town, following his mother, who suffered from arthritis, to South Florida.
In about 1991, Mr. Padilla met Cherie Maria Stultz, a soft-spoken, formally courteous woman who had immigrated from Jamaica as a child. The attraction, Ms. Stultz said in an interview, was physical. She was drawn to his eyes and to his build. They started dating. Ms. Stultz was working at a Burger King, and Mr. Padilla at a hotel. They went to the movies a lot.
Several months after they met, Mr. Padilla, who was 20, got into a traffic dispute on a thoroughfare in Broward County, according to law enforcement records. He cut off another driver and, for punctuation, flashed a revolver at him.
The other driver, trying to read Mr. Padilla's license plate, then followed him to a gas station. Mr. Padilla responded by firing off a single shot into the air, he later told the police. He was charged with three felony counts and sent to the Broward County jail.
A few months into his detention, Mr. Padilla got aggressive with a guard and was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer. He told Ms. Stultz during a visit that he had done something he regretted, and he vowed to turn his life around.
"He was upset at himself for getting into trouble again," said Ms. Stultz, now 36. "He wanted to stop stop all that and make a better place for himself in the world."
Still in jail, Mr. Padilla began fasting, working out compulsively and reading the Bible from cover to cover, Ms. Stultz said. One day, he told her about a kind of out-of-body experience accompanied by a couple of visions. In one, he saw a man in a turban surrounded by the dust of the desert. In the other, he saw a beautiful woman in a dark corridor at the end of which was a door with "crystal, loving light" peeking out from beneath. He wanted to go through the doorway but the woman told him he was not ready. "Those two dreams made him change his way of life," Ms. Stultz said.
Pleading guilty to both sets of charges, Mr. Padilla got out of jail after 10 months. It was the summer of 1992, he was 21, and he did not end up behind bars again until the F.B.I. took him into custody nearly 10 years later. He also did not, as Mr. Ashcroft stated, travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan "subsequent to his release from prison." He spent the six years after his release from jail, not from prison living in Florida.
On his release, Mr. Padilla applied for a job at the Taco Bell in Davie where Ms. Stultz worked. Muhammed Javed, a Pakistani-American and co-founder of the Broward School of Islamic Studies, was the manager. He hired Mr. Padilla on his girlfriend's recommendation, and never regretted it.
For more than two years, Mr. Padilla received deliveries, threw away boxes and prepared food alongside Ms. Stultz, and both were excellent employees, Mr. Javed said in an interview at an IHOP near the Taco Bell.
Ms. Stultz expressed an interest in Islam, Mr. Javed said. "I told her I couldn't discuss religion at Taco Bell," he said. Mr. Javed invited her to his home, where his wife gave classes in the scriptures to women. Occasionally Mr. Padilla accompanied her, until Mr. Javed's wife suggested that he go to the mosque with the men.
When he saw men there wearing turbans, he remembered his vision and "felt that's where he belonged," Ms. Stultz said. "He's the type of person where he needs a dominant thing to keep him from going astray. He stopped drinking alcohol and removed pork from his diet."
That they both accepted Islam touched Mr. Javed considerably. "If I could describe the feeling in Muslims when you find a convert," he said, "I would describe it as right to the heavens."
Ms. Stultz and Mr. Padilla lived humbly, working at a variety of jobs that paid minimum wage or slightly more. With the exception of traffic infractions, Mr. Padilla kept out of trouble with the law. He became a quiet, studious regular at Arabic and scripture classes at the Darul Uloom mosque in Pembroke Pines and then at Masjid Al-Iman in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Maulana Shafayat Mohammed, the Trinidadian-born imam at Darul Uloom who is known for preaching against the misuse of Islamic teachings to justify violence, described Mr. Padilla as a student hungry for knowledge, "neither quarrelsome nor radical but rather willing to listen and obey." Raed Awad, the Palestinian-born former imam at Masjid Al-Iman, said Mr. Padilla seemed to have taken religion to heart, perhaps because in his criminal years he had "tried the other side of society."
In 1994, Mr. Padilla, with "Jose" still tattooed on his right forearm, formally changed his name to Ibrahim. His family was not thrilled with his conversion.
"I was upset because he joined the Muslim religion," Mr. Padilla's mother, a Pentecostalist, acknowledged. "This boy grew up in the Christian church. He was baptized in water and everything. He received the tongues when he was 8 and as a child preached the word of God. He's crazy about the Lord."
Mrs. Lebron said she grew to respect her son's decision because she wanted to keep him in her life. It took her a while, though, to get used to seeing him draped in a red-and-white-checked keffiyeh, and to hearing his stories about anti-Muslim prejudice. One time, his car was stoned and the windows broken, she said.
Although they first took out a marriage license in 1991, Ms. Stultz and Mr. Padilla waited until January 1996 to marry in a quiet ceremony at the Broward County courthouse. Gradually, perhaps because they were young, inexperienced and isolated by religion from their families, their relationship grew rocky, Ms. Stultz said. They sought counseling from Mr. Awad.
In 1998, Mr. Padilla decided that he wanted to immerse himself more fully in the Arabic language and in Islam. Mr. Awad said it was common for mosques in America to encourage converts by offering them scholarships to study abroad. At Masjid Al-Iman, he said, a collection was taken to pay for Mr. Padilla's ticket and travel expenses.
Mr. Padilla's family thought he was nuts. "I said, `Why are you going to go to the Middle East when you have nobody there?' " his mother said. Ms. Stultz was upset. She told him she would not accompany him. The idea was "too strange," she said. But she never suspected that he had a hidden agenda. "In his time with me, I never heard of the word Al Qaeda, never heard of anything terroristic," she said. (Former administration officials said there was no evidence that Mr. Padilla was recruited by Al Qaeda in South Florida.)
Right before Mr. Padilla left, Mr. Javed bumped into him at a mosque. Mr. Padilla told him that he was leaving to teach English in Cairo. "I was baffled, thinking, `You yourself don't speak proper English,' " Mr. Javed said. "But I said, `O.K., Jose, more power to you.' And then Jose disappeared from the scene."
An American in Egypt
In Egypt, Mr. Padilla called his wife once a month for the first six months. He offered little information. He complained about the pollution in Cairo and told her she would not like it there, she said. Periodically he called his mother, asking after the family.
Another American convert in Egypt met Mr. Padilla, whom he knew as Ibrahim, through a friend. "My friend said, `Here's another brother from the States,' " the man said in an interview. (The man asked that his name be withheld, saying that he did not want to attract government scrutiny.)
The American converts tended to congregate in Nasser City, a Cairo suburb, the man said. Most of them journeyed to Egypt "to experience what everybody calls the real Islamic experience, to hear the calls to prayer, to pray at the mosque five times a day as a natural part of life." Mr. Padilla in particular, he said, "had like a real zeal for knowledge."
After a year or so in Egypt, the man said, Mr. Padilla expressed an interest in marrying: "He's human, and he's young." At that time, the man was living in a village outside Tanta in the Egyptian delta. He presented Mr. Padilla to a villager, Abu Shamia'a, as a suitor for his daughter, Shamia'a, who was then 19. There was a formal meeting. "You get a bunch of Pepsis and you sit down and the woman's in the other room," the man said. "Then you go over and take a look and see if your heart feels something. Ibrahim was interested."
Shamia'a herself was not certain. She now wears black from head to toe, with only her eyes peeking out. But at that time, she was not even veiled and she did not know if she wanted to take on a fully religious life. Mr. Padilla suggested that she ask God for guidance, and after she prayed, she began to feel differently. "I felt God had sent someone to help me be a better Muslim," she said last week in an interview in her village.
Abu Shamia'a, a retired laborer, was pleased with the new son-in-law who always carried a small Arabic-English dictionary to supplement his impressive Arabic. Mr. Padilla had only $480 in savings, Abu Shamia'a said, so he married his daughter off not for financial reasons but for religious ones. Mr. Padilla used to say that time spent away from the Koran was wasted time, Abu Shamia'a said.
In Florida, Ms. Stultz learned of her husband's betrothal from an Egyptian-American friend. Horrified, she called and pleaded with Mr. Padilla not to proceed with another marriage. "He said I should go ahead with my life," she said. "I was sad. I wasn't going to get married again. There was a bond between us."
Ms. Stultz filed for divorce, calling her marriage "irretrievably broken," and the marriage was dissolved.
After his second wedding, in July 1999, Mr. Padilla moved his new wife to Cairo, where he worked days teaching English at a private school and nights as a gym trainer and martial arts instructor. In early 2000, he traveled to Saudi Arabia for the hajj, the annual religious pilgrimage to the birthplace of Islam. Shamia'a declined to accompany him because she was pregnant.
Some time after returning from the hajj, Mr. Padilla told his wife that he had an offer to teach English in Yemen. "To him it was an opportunity to see a different world and learn more about his religion," she said. Shamia'a gave birth to a son in September 2000, and Mr. Padilla first saw the baby, who he thought was the spitting image of himself, when he returned to Egypt on vacation.
Mr. Padilla called his mother in Florida to announce the birth of his son, Hussein. "My God, why would somebody name their son that?" Mrs. Lebron asked Ms. Stultz at the time. She did not know that Mr. Padilla had named his son after a grandson of the prophet of Islam.
Because Mr. Padilla was gone all the time, Abu Shamia'a moved his daughter and grandson back to his simple cement house in the village. In May 2001, on Mr. Padilla's next visit home, he was ill with hepatitis C, his skin yellow. He spent his vacation visiting clinics until one doctor prescribed a treatment based on honey and a strict diet in addition to medicine. Feeling better, he told his wife and father-in-law, who find it hard to believe that he was not being straight with them, that it was time to return to Yemen.
"He was working and learning in Yemen, that is all that that he did there," his wife said. "He did nothing wrong. I swear to God."
'The Hunt Was On'
In the spring of 2002, Abu Zubaydah, a senior official of Al Qaeda who was in American custody at an undisclosed location overseas, told his interrogators about Mr. Padilla and the alleged dirty bomb plot, government officials say.
He did not name Mr. Padilla but described him physically and referred to him as a Latin American man who went by a Muslim name, an official with the Department of Homeland Security said.
Intelligence agents began searching commercial and law enforcement databases under that Muslim name. At about the same time, Mr. Padilla was briefly detained in Pakistan on a passport violation. This helped a customs intelligence agent link the name given by Abu Zubaydah to "an Arab alias not mentioned by the detainee," the official said.
That "alias" led the agent to Mr. Padilla's Florida driver's license, the official said. The photo was shown to "a detainee," presumably Abu Zubaydah, who confirmed that Mr. Padilla was the "Latin American" he had been describing. The Pakistanis also viewed the photo and made a confirmation.
"Then, essentially, the hunt was on," the official said.
In the weeks leading to his arrest, Mr. Padilla made two trips to Zurich, possibly just in transit between countries in the Middle East. "Warnings came directly from U.S. intelligence that Padilla was coming through Switzerland," a senior European intelligence official said. "The Swiss had nothing on him. Their involvement was strictly at the request of the Americans."
On April 4, Mr. Padilla arrived in Zurich on a flight from Karachi and checked into a downtown hotel, his movements and phone calls closely monitored by Swiss officials working with the C.I.A. He made several calls to Pakistan, the European official said.
After four days in Zurich, Mr. Padilla returned to Egypt to see his family. It was a joyous reunion. Shamia'a had just given birth to a second son, Hassan. Mr. Padilla spent a month in the village, renting his wife her own house there and leaving her with her yearly allowance plus rent, she said.
In early May, Mr. Padilla's Egyptian family drove him to the airport for what they thought was a long-overdue trip to the United States to see his American family. "This was the last time we saw him," Shamia'a said, tears dripping onto her veil.
In the United States, Mrs. Lebron was eagerly awaiting Mr. Padilla's phone call from Chicago, where he was planning to stop first to surprise his American son, Joshua. Instead, she got a call from a stranger a lawyer in New York.
'A Rather Weak Case'
Mr. Padilla flew through Zurich once more. On May 8, 2002, he checked in at the Zurich airport for a flight to Chicago. Swiss security officials screened him carefully, and he boarded the plane accompanied, unknowingly, by Swiss and American agents. There was some debate within the American government about whether Mr. Padilla should be followed once he landed or picked up immediately; it was decided that no chances should be taken.
At O'Hare, Mr. Padilla was arrested by F.B.I. agents on a material witness warrant. The material witness statute allows the authorities to detain a person to compel his testimony in a criminal proceeding, which in the case of Mr. Padilla was to be a New York grand jury investigating the Sept. 11 attacks. Since the attacks, the government has used the material witness warrant as a counterterrorism tool, to hold terrorism suspects before it has evidence to support a criminal arrest or indictment. Sometimes the suspects never go before a grand jury, and sometimes no charges are ever filed.
From Chicago, Mr. Padilla was transferred to New York and imprisoned on a high-security floor, 10 South, at the Metropolitan Correction Center in Lower Manhattan. The court appointed Ms. Newman, a Jersey City-based criminal defense lawyer who accepts indigent cases two days a year, to represent him.
"When I first met him, he was brought out in a `three-piece suit' shackles, leg irons and a metal belt," Ms. Newman said. "I was handed an affidavit alleging that he was involved in a plot, according to informants, and saying that the informants were unreliable."
As Ms. Newman recalls, she raised her eyebrows when she read the affidavit. So too did Dale Watson, who was then the F.B.I.'s executive assistant director for counterterrorism, when he read Mr. Padilla's complete file.
"My recollection was this was a rather weak case," Mr. Watson, who retired from the F.B.I. later that year, said. "There was some information, but it needed a lot more work on the investigative side to flush out all the facts."
Ms. Newman saw Mr. Padilla about a dozen times. During that time, Mr. Padilla's mother was summoned to appear before a grand jury in New York. "The F.B.I. talked to me like I was a nobody," Mrs. Lebron said. "They told me I had to go to the grand jury and if I lied, I would be locked up. And I was like, `Excuse me!' " F.B.I. agents promised that she would be able to visit her son while in New York, she said, "but they lied."
On June 10, two days before a hearing in which Ms. Newman was going to challenge Mr. Padilla's continued detention, she got a call on her car phone from an assistant United States attorney. "He said, `Donna, the military has taken your client,' " she said. "I thought it was a joke."
The Learning Curve
Mr. Padilla was arrested at a moment when the Bush administration was getting fed up with criminal prosecutions of terror suspects and wanted to avail itself instead of what it saw as the president's wartime power to detain them militarily.
"The president's response from 9/11 forward was to use every power and means at his disposal to try to prevent another attack," said Brad Berenson, a former associate White House counsel. The administration believed that dealing with the threat of terrorism in the context of war was appropriate and "forward leaning," he said.
But there was a learning curve. "There was not immediately a clear pattern or process to harmonize the treatment of all these folks," a former administration official said, referring to terror suspects and combatants.
The Bush administration grew disenchanted with the law enforcement approach after encountering difficulties in the prosecutions of John Walker Lindh and Zacarias Moussaoui. Mr. Lindh, an American citizen captured in Afghanistan, ended up plea-bargaining for a 20-year prison term, avoiding a life sentence. Mr. Moussaoui, a Frenchman of Moroccan descent who faced charges in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, demanded access to the testimony of Qaeda officials who might aid his defense, throwing his case into protracted legal battles when the administration refused.
Those experiences convinced officials that a broader cost-benefit analysis was in order before pursuing other prosecutions.
Mr. Padilla certainly could have been charged with "a variety of offenses" based on the same facts that the president relied on to declare him an enemy combatant, in the opinion of Janet Reno, the former attorney general, who, with other law enforcement officials, filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Mr. Padilla. Congress, Ms. Reno noted, has passed a number of statutes expanding the government's authority to prosecute terrorists "before they strike."
But bringing criminal charges would have been complicated. As Alberto R. Gonzales, counsel to the president, explained in a speech in late February: "We could have abundant information that an individual has committed a crime such as material support for terrorism but the information may come from an extremely sensitive and valuable intelligence source. To use that information in a criminal prosecution would mean compromising that intelligence source and potentially putting more American lives at risk."
In other words, to make a case against Mr. Padilla, the government, which was relying on informants, would have to have been willing to bring Abu Zubaydah or other captured Qaeda officials into an American courtroom, or to make some arrangements for their testimony to be introduced.
Mr. Padilla's mother was offended by what she saw as unequal treatment of Mr. Lindh and her son. "That John Walker Lindh. They didn't make him disappear, take away his rights," she said. "I guess maybe because his father's a lawyer. He's white, whatever."
The administration initially availed itself of the material witness warrant statute to hold Mr. Padilla. But after a federal judge in the Southern District of New York ruled that the government could not detain material witnesses for grand jury investigations, as opposed to detaining them for trials, the administration feared that Michael B. Mukasey, the chief federal judge in the Southern District, would follow suit in Mr. Padilla's case and release him.
(In actuality, that fear was probably unfounded. Several months later, Judge Mukasey upheld the detention of a material witness in another case, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals later reversed the other judge's ruling.)
So the administration shifted gears.
There were already hundreds of enemy combatants in custody, but they were aliens seized in Afghanistan and Pakistan and detained at the American naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Among them, as it turned out, was a Louisiana-born man, Yaser Hamdi, who had grown up in Saudi Arabia. In April 2002, when Mr. Hamdi's citizenship was discovered, he was transferred to a military brig in the United States and his status as an enemy combatant remained intact. His case will be argued before the Supreme Court on Wednesday, too.
Mr. Padilla's situation was different, though. He was not only born and raised in the United States; he had been taken into custody in the United States by civilian law enforcement authorities. Designating Mr. Padilla an enemy combatant was a conscious tactical decision at the very highest level of the American government.
It was not a transparent one, however. In late February, more than a year and a half after naming Mr. Padilla an enemy combatant, Mr. Gonzales undertook to explain what he described as a "careful, thorough and deliberative process."
"We realize that our relative silence on this issue has come at a cost," Mr. Gonzales told a committee of the American Bar Association. "Many people have characterized mischaracterized our actions in the war on terrorism as inconsistent with the rule of law." People have imagined the worst, Mr. Gonzales continued, suggesting that "the decision-making process is a black box that raises the specter of arbitrary action."
In fact, he claimed, there have been individuals who did not pass the levels of review required to become enemy combatants, which he described as involving legal and factual assessments by the director of central intelligence, the secretary of defense and the attorney general.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, a week earlier, had initiated the administration's effort to explain its thinking. "Detaining people without trials seems unusual," he said. "After all, our country stands for freedom and it stands for the protection of rights." The inclination of most Americans," he added, was "to think in terms of criminal law and punishment rather than the law of war, which has as its purpose first to keep the enemy off the battlefield so that they can't kill more innocent people."
Deborah Pearlstein, an expert in counterterrorism at Human Rights First, said the administration misrepresented international humanitarian law. "There is nothing in the law of war that says you can hold somebody indefinitely with no rights," she said. "That's just false."
The Legal Battle Begins
In Egypt, Mr. Padilla's wife and father-in-law said, they were questioned by their country's state security services for three days after his capture. Abu Shamia'a asked his daughter if she wanted to get a divorce. Shuddering with sobs, she repeated her answer in an interview last week.
"I can never find a man like him in this whole world," she said, "and I'll stand by him in this ordeal as long as it shall take."
After Mr. Padilla was transferred to the brig, Ms. Newman filed a habeas corpus petition for his release, starting the legal battle that would go all the way to the Supreme Court. Andrew G. Patel, a defense lawyer in Manhattan with experience in terrorism cases, was appointed Ms. Newman's co-counsel by the court. The military did not allow them contact with their client.
Initially, some members of Congress expressed concern. But Representative Adam B. Schiff, a Democrat from California and a former federal prosecutor, said that "solidarity with the administration on fighting terrorism trumped the otherwise strong libertarian leanings" of many in Congress. Mr. Schiff failed to make headway with a bill that would have authorized the president to detain enemy combatants so long as they were provided with access to counsel and judicial review.
After Mr. Padilla was interned in the brig, the F.B.I. spent months fighting for access to him, a former senior counterterrorism official said. In the fall of 2002, when military interrogators were frustrated in their efforts to get anything out of Mr. Padilla, they allowed the federal agents in. "Those conversations were not initially fruitful," the former official said, adding that he did not know whether the interrogations ever produced significant information. The Defense Department will not comment on the condition of Mr. Padilla's detention or his interrogation.
In December 2002, Judge Mukasey handed the Bush administration a partial victory. He ruled that the president had the power to detain enemy combatants, regardless of whether they were Americans or where they were apprehended. It did not matter that the war on terror had not been formally declared or that it had no clear end, he said, and the president's power was bolstered by Congress's authorization after Sept. 11, 2001, of "necessary and appropriate force."
But the judge did not deal with whether Mr. Bush had sufficient evidence to detain Mr. Padilla per se. And he ordered that Mr. Padilla be allowed to consult with his lawyers, calling his need to do so "obvious."
The administration refused, asking the judge to reverse his order. It produced a declaration by the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, stating that Mr. Padilla was unlikely to cooperate if he thought a lawyer was trying to free him. "Only after such time as Padilla has perceived that help is not on the way can the United States reasonably expect to obtain all possible intelligence information from Padilla," Admiral Jacoby wrote.
Judge Mukasey declined to reverse himself, insisting that if Mr. Padilla were not permitted to see his lawyers and respond to the allegations against him, "I cannot confirm that Padilla has not been arbitrarily detained."
The government informed Judge Mukasey that it would continue to ignore his order, and it appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
While that appeal was pending, a Pentagon official, accompanied by two local police officers, dropped in on Mr. Padilla's mother at her office. The official began addressing her in Spanish. Mrs. Lebron, who was born in New York to a mother who left Puerto Rico in 1939, was furious: "I'm like, `You don't need to send me nobody bilingual. I'm American. I speak the language.' "
The Pentagon official told her that her son was O.K., Mrs. Lebron recalled, to which she testily responded: "How do you know he's O.K.? You saw him? If you didn't see him, don't come tell me he's O.K. Whatever you came to get, you're not going to get it."
The official left her with the greeting card, in which Mr. Padilla had included the account of a dream they once shared a story "that only you and I know, with the exception of the people who read the card," he wrote, referring to the military censors.
Mrs. Lebron could do nothing but pray in response. "I know that God has my son in his hands," she said.
In December, the Second Circuit appeals court directed the government to release Mr. Padilla within 30 days or to hold him on "legislatively conferred" grounds such as by charging him with a crime and affording him constitutional protections. The president possessed no inherent constitutional authority as commander in chief to detain as enemy combatants American citizens captured on American soil, the court said in a 2-to-1 ruling. Even the dissenting judge said he thought Mr. Padilla deserved to see his lawyer.
The ruling renewed a debate behind the scenes among the administration's top lawyers about what level of judicial review was appropriate in Mr. Padilla's case. Nobody had pushed for a full-fledged trial-like process in which the courts would be called on to make their own determination about whether Mr. Padilla was an enemy combatant, a former official said.
At least one very senior lawyer, however, argued that it would be prudent to make some "concessions" to Mr. Padilla's lawyers to help the administration's approach survive judicial review, the official said. Such concessions might have included allowing Mr. Padilla's lawyers to see the "output from his interrogations" or letting the lawyers ask him questions through his interrogators. Those ideas were never approved.
But in February, as it was appealing to the Supreme Court, the government decided to allow Mr. Padilla a supervised, monitored visit with his lawyers. On March 3, they flew to South Carolina.
Mr. Padilla looked clean-shaven with close-cropped hair, Mr. Patel said, and did not wear a Muslim cap. "He was attentive, responsive and polite, which puts him in the top 10 percent of the clients I deal with," Mr. Patel said. "He was very grateful for what we were doing. He appeared to be in good health, but I'm not an expert on the effects of long-term isolation."
Ms. Newman and Mr. Patel explained the limits on what Mr. Padilla could say with the government listening. After having fought for nearly two years to see their client, they finally sat face to face with Jose Padilla but could not satisfy their intense need to understand him better.
"I told him I had hundreds of questions and I was literally biting my tongue but not now," Mr. Patel said.
Reporting for this article was contributed by Samar Aboul-Fotouh, Michael Moss, Lowell Bergman, Don Van Natta Jr. and Tim Golden.