NEW YORK – A federal judge on Tuesday cleared the way for a man accused of plotting to detonate a radiological dirty bomb in the United States to meet with his lawyers for the first time.
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 allowing Jose Padilla to meet with lawyers. Although the judge had permitted Padilla access to counsel, Padilla was not allowed to see a lawyer while the judge was reconsidering the ruling.
Padilla, a 31-year-old former Chicago gang member, 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 Padilla approached Abu Zubaydah, Al Qaeda's top terrorism coordinator, in Afghanistan in 2001 and proposed stealing radioactive material to detonate a dirty bomb in the United States.
The government has said he twice met with senior Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan in March and discussed the dirty-bomb plot.
Donna Newman, a lawyer fighting to meet with Padilla, said: "I am pleased that [the judge] reaffirmed Padilla's access to counsel. 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."
Marvin Smilon, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney James Comey, said he did not have any immediate comment.
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 Qaeda 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's isolated interrogation were 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.