MIAMI – A videotape showing Pentagon officials' final interrogation of Al Qaeda suspect Jose Padilla is missing, raising questions about whether federal prosecutors have lost other recordings and evidence in the case.
The tape is classified, but Padilla's attorneys said they believe something happened during that interrogation that could explain why Padilla does not trust them and suspects they are government agents.
Padilla attorney Anthony Natale said in court papers that the March 2, 2004, interrogation at the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., could contain information the government conveyed to Padilla that "directly impacts upon his relationship with his attorneys."
Prosecutors and the Pentagon have said they cannot find the tape despite an intensive search.
Authorities made 88 video recordings of Padilla being interrogated during the 3 1/2 years he was held at the brig as an "enemy combatant," officials said. Eighty-seven tapes have been given to the defense, leaving only the last session unaccounted for.
"I don't know what happened to it," Pentagon attorney James Schmidli said during a recent court hearing.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke was incredulous that anything connected to such a high-profile defendant could be lost.
"Do you understand how it might be difficult for me to understand that a tape related to this particular individual just got mislaid?" Cooke told prosecutors at a hearing last month.
Padilla, a 36-year-old U.S. citizen, is scheduled to stand trial April 16 along with two co-defendants on charges of being part of a North American terror support cell.
When he was arrested in 2002, Padilla was initially accused of mounting an Al Qaeda plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States, but the criminal case does not include those allegations.
Padilla's lawyers sought the brig tapes, medical records and other details about his incarceration to back up claims that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his long isolation and repeated interrogations.
The judge ruled Feb. 28 that Padilla is competent to stand trial.
Miami criminal defense lawyer David O. Markus said the missing tape makes the government agents look like "Keystone cops."
"You can't help but be suspicious," Markus said. "It's the government's burden to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt. When it 'loses' evidence, defense lawyers are right to cry foul."
Padilla's attorneys have also accused the Bush administration of mistreating and even torturing Padilla at the brig, before he was transferred to civilian custody. Justice Department and Pentagon officials have repeatedly denied those claims.
While in the brig, Padilla was represented by New York attorneys Andrew Patel and Donna Newman. Patel remains on the defense team, and neither he nor Natale responded to telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment about the lost tape. Pentagon officials also declined to comment Friday.
Stephanie Pell, one of the Padilla prosecutors, said more than 150 hours of interrogation tapes have been given to defense lawyers. She said the lost tape was actually on a DVD that did not get transferred onto a format used by the Padilla defense team.
"It's somehow buried in the massive amount of information that we have turned over to defense," Pell said.
The judge ordered prosecutors to give defense lawyers a written summary of notes taken by agents during the interrogation session. But Natale said there may be more tapes missing and other interrogations that were not recorded.
Defense lawyers say brig logs indicate that there were 72 hours of Padilla interviews that either were not taped or for which tapes may be missing. Natale said it seems unlikely that any interrogation session with Padilla was not videotaped "when he was videoed taking showers."
Pell said that figure may be a miscalculation due to a misreading of the logs or mistakes in the handwritten entries. And not every Padilla interview was taped, she said. "We do not believe there is 72 missing hours," Pell said. "We can't provide what we don't have."