MIAMI – The federal judge overseeing the terrorism case against Jose Padilla imposed tight restrictions Tuesday on the handling of classified material to prevent disclosure of national security secrets when classified evidence is turned over to the defense.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke agreed to a prosecution motion on the information, expected to include secret FBI investigations, material provided to the United States by foreign governments and Padilla's own words from interrogations during his 3 1/2 years in military custody as an "enemy combatant."
The former Chicago gang member was once accused of plotting as an Al Qaeda operative to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" inside the U.S., but those allegations weren't mentioned in the indictment.
Padilla and four others are charged with being part of a North American terror support cell that provided recruits, money and supplies to Islamic extremists worldwide. All have pleaded not guilty.
Cooke said the order would allow defense lawyers to begin examining secret evidence under special conditions so they can prepare for a trial scheduled for September.
"We've got to go forward," Cooke said at a hearing.
Padilla, a former Florida resident, was added to the Miami terror case late last year amid a legal struggle over President Bush's authority to hold him indefinitely as an "enemy combatant" without criminal charge.
In court documents, prosecutors outlined some of the classified material expected to come up in the trial:
— Results of surveillance conducted by the FBI in a separate investigation authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees eavesdropping and other monitoring of suspected foreign agents in the United States.
— A request to limit defense questioning of a witness about the chain of custody of a specific piece of evidence. No details were given, but the defense has raised questions about a "mujahideen data form" Padilla allegedly filled out to attend an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.
— Information provided to the U.S. by an unspecified foreign government. The material may eventually be declassified, prosecutors said.
— Written and recorded statements Padilla made while in military custody. Some information about Padilla's interrogations has already been made public and the Justice Department is seeking declassification of most of the remaining evidence.
Defense attorneys objected that Cooke's order was premature and overly broad. They were particularly incensed by a related government proposal that they sign a document verifying that they understand the laws regarding classified material and the potential penalties for violations.
"It chills us in our ability to prepare a defense. It's just overbearing," said Kenneth Swartz, who represents defendant Adham Amin Hassoun.
The judge agreed with defense lawyers on that point and asked prosecutors to come up with a less burdensome agreement for defense attorneys to sign.