MIAMI – The defense rested its case Tuesday in the trial of Jose Padilla and two other men charged with supporting terrorism, with Padilla's lawyers calling no witnesses or putting on any evidence.
The defense action, coming on day 53 of the trial, clears the way for prosecutors to put on rebuttal witnesses in advance of closing arguments next week from both sides. Jurors could begin deliberations next week as well.
Padilla, 36, is accused along with Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, both 45, of participating in a support network for Islamic extremist groups around the world. They face life in prison if convicted on all charges.
Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was held for 3 1/2 years as an enemy combatant after his 2002 arrest on suspicion of plotting with Al-Qaeda to blow up a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a major U.S. city. Those allegations are not part of the Miami case, to which Padilla was added in late 2005 amid a legal clash over President Bush's authority to continue holding him without charge.
The main piece of evidence against Padilla is a "mujahedeen data form" prosecutors say he filled out in 2000 to attend an Al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. The form, found in late 2001 by the CIA along with dozens of others, bears Padilla's fingerprints, the government says.
However, Padilla's voice is barely heard on the thousands of FBI wiretap intercepts collected during an investigation of Hassoun, Jayyousi and others from 1993 to 2001. Prosecutors say those intercepts show a conspiracy among the men to assist Al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups in places like Chechnya, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Somalia and Lebanon.
The ultimate goal, according to the prosecution, was to use violence to establish governments following a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
The defense countered that the aim was to provide humanitarian assistance to oppressed and persecuted Muslims in these conflict zones, or at most to help legitimate fighters defend against invading military forces. Defense lawyers also say prosecutors have failed to link their clients directly to any specific acts of violence.
Although Padilla is the star defendant, his involvement in the conspiracy prosecutors have described appeared to be minimal. His lawyers say he decided to move to Egypt and travel to Pakistan in the late 1990s to further his studies of Arabic and Islam with the intent of becoming an imam.
U.S. officials say Padilla admitted a much deeper involvement with Al-Qaeda — including exploring the "dirty bomb" plot — during his incarceration in a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. But none of that evidence could be used at trial because he was interrogated without being advised of his legal rights and because he had no access to a lawyer.