MIAMI – Five years after his arrest at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, Jose Padilla heads to court — but with no mention of the "dirty bomb" allegations that first made headlines.
Padilla and two co-defendants are accused of being part of a support cell that funneled fighters, money and supplies to Islamic extremists in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, Tajikistan and elsewhere around the world. Jury selection was to begin Monday.
Padilla, held for 3 1/2 years as an enemy combatant, and co-defendants Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi face charges of conspiracy to "murder, kidnap and maim" people overseas and of providing support to terror groups. All three pleaded not guilty. They could face life in prison if convicted.
In 2002, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Padilla's arrest and said authorities had thwarted an Al Qaeda plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a major city. Those allegations have been dropped.
Padilla was hastily added to an existing case in Miami in November 2005, a few days before a Supreme Court deadline for Bush administration briefs on the question of the president's powers to continue holding him in military prison without charge.
Padilla claimed he was tortured while interrogated in military custody — a charge repeatedly denied by the Bush administration — and sought unsuccessfully to have his case dismissed for "outrageous government conduct."
Federal officials claim Padilla admitted involvement and training with Al Qaeda during his brig interrogations, as well as the proposed "dirty bomb" plot and 50,000 intercepted telephone calls and bugged conversations in Arabic with purported code words.
Yet there's little proof that the three were directly responsible for any specific acts of terrorism. In court papers, prosecutors listed generalized victims such as Serbian and Croat forces in the 1990s Bosnian war, the Russian army in Chechnya and "moderate" Muslim governments in Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere.
Defense lawyers say providing assistance to one faction in these conflicts does not necessarily amount to a crime.
"Killing only becomes murder under certain specific circumstances," said Hassoun's lawyer, Jeanne Baker. "Defending Muslims is not committing murder."
Padilla's voice is only heard on eight of the FBI wiretaps and he is mentioned on about 20 others. One of those says he had gone to "the area of Usama," an apparent reference to bin Laden's Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.