WASHINGTON – Jose Padilla (search), a U.S. citizen being held as an enemy combatant in the war on terror, continues to provide valuable intelligence to the government and will not be allowed access to a lawyer until those collection efforts cease, officials said Tuesday.
Senior Justice Department officials, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said Padilla eventually will be allowed a lawyer but that a delay was essential because of national security concerns.
Padilla's value as an intelligence source, one official said, "would potentially be hampered and jeopardized by access to counsel."
Padilla, a former Chicago gang member, is accused of plotting with Al Qaeda operatives to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb." He was arrested in May 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on a flight from Pakistan and was designated an enemy combatant a month later.
An order issued by President Bush in November 2001 allows captives to be detained if they were members of Al Qaeda, engaged in or aided terrorism or harbored terrorists or if it is "the interest of the United States" to hold an individual.
The Justice Department has been battling in court to prevent Padilla and the only other U.S. citizen held as an enemy combatant, Louisiana native Yaser Esam Hamdi (search), from getting lawyers while they are being interrogated. But the officials said Tuesday they never intended to permanently block Hamdi and Padilla from having lawyers.
Earlier this month, Hamdi was granted access to an attorney because officials decided his value as an intelligence source had been exhausted. The Justice Department officials said such a determination had not yet been made for Padilla.
They would not describe details of information Padilla has provided, but said it could run from giving names of associates to helping U.S. officials confirm intelligence fragments picked up overseas.
Padilla's challenge to the government's denial of a lawyer is currently before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. The Supreme Court is mulling over whether to accept an appeal brought by Hamdi's father over the initial denial of an attorney for him.
The Supreme Court already has agreed to hear another case about the government's policies in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. That case asks whether some 650 detainees at the government's terrorism prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may challenge their treatment in U.S. courts.
The Pentagon has announced that an Australian prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, David Hicks (search), can have access to outside counsel.