CHARLESTON, S.C. – A lawsuit that claims a man convicted of plotting terrorism was illegally detained and then tortured inside a military prison should be allowed to move forward, his attorneys said Monday.
The lawsuit claims Jose Padilla was illegally detained as an enemy combatant and then held in a Navy brig for 44 months. It names government and brig officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as defendants.
Padilla is "an American citizen who was subjected to unprecedented torture and abuse not far from this courtroom," Ben Wizner, the litigation director for the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, told U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel.
"There is a floor for human treatment in any U.S. prison below which no officer can go," Wizner added.
Attorneys say Padilla was at times kept in total darkness and isolation, deprived of sleep and religious materials, and kept from family and attorneys.
Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was arrested in 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on suspicion of plotting to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb." He was held at the Consolidated Naval Brig outside Charleston until 2006, when he was turned over to civilian authorities and taken to Miami.
Padilla and two others were convicted in 2007 of sending money, recruits and supplies to Islamic extremist groups. Padilla has appealed his 17-year sentence.
While Padilla's attorneys want only a dollar in damages from most of the civil lawsuit defendants, they do want a judge to rule that his treatment was unconstitutional.
"So there isn't another Jose Padilla in another brig in a blackened cell," Wizner said.
Meanwhile, defense attorneys said the lawsuit should be dismissed.
Defense attorney Greg Bowman said that the lawsuit challenged the military chain of command, and that the defendants have qualified immunity from lawsuits.
Padilla also cannot sue the military in civil court because he was an enemy soldier, Bowman said.
Bowman also said information from interrogations and other documents could compromise national security.
However, Wizner responded that Padilla's testimony would be the basis of the case. He said Gergel could view any documents in private if necessary to avoid national security concerns.
Gergel said he hoped to rule soon on whether the case can go forward.