Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (search) on Tuesday defended the Bush administration's detention of Jose Padilla (search), following a judge's ruling that the "dirty bomb" suspect must be charged with a crime or freed.
While lawmakers urged compliance with the ruling Monday by U.S. District Judge Henry Floyd in Spartanburg, S.C., Gonzales said the Supreme Court has upheld the proposition that the government can hold someone it declares an enemy combatant (search) "for the duration of the hostilities."
The administration's position troubled Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., and Frank Wolf, R-Va., who said the fight against terrorism is unlike other conflicts in U.S. history.
"I will not live to see the end to the War on Terror," Wolf said. "We cannot continue to keep an American citizen. This is not (Usama) bin Laden."
Serrano said that if the government has the evidence to back its claims against Padilla, "then bring him to trial."
Padilla, a former gang member who was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., has been held for 21 months without being charged. He was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in 2002 after returning from Pakistan.
The government views Padilla as a militant who planned attacks on the United States, including with a dirty bomb (search) radiological device, and has said he received weapons and explosives training from members of Al Qaeda (search).
Floyd ruled that the government can not hold Padilla indefinitely as an "enemy combatant," a designation President Bush gave him in 2002. The administration said it will appeal the order.
Padilla is one of only two U.S. citizens designated as enemy combatants. The second, Louisiana native Yaser Hamdi (search), was released in October after the Justice Department said he no longer posed a threat to the United States and no longer had any intelligence value.
Hamdi, who was captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2001, gave up his American citizenship and returned to his family in Saudi Arabia as a condition of his release.
The Supreme Court ruled last year that the president had authority to hold Hamdi as an enemy combatant. But the court also gave Hamdi the right to challenge his detention.
Gonzales, making his first appearance on Capitol Hill since he became attorney general last month, said the Padilla case presented some hard issues, which he acknowledged federal courts would resolve.
"The administration has no interest in holding someone indefinitely," he told the House Appropriations law enforcement subcommittee. "We are working very hard in looking at ways to have ultimate disposition of everyone that this government detains."
Gonzales added, "On the other hand, we also have an obligation to get information ... so that we can better protect this country."