Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Padilla Sentencing Reset for January

By CURT ANDERSON – 23 hours ago

MIAMI (AP) — Attorneys for convicted terrorism conspirator Jose Padilla contend he was so badly mistreated by his own government during 3 1/2 years in military custody that he deserves far less than the life prison sentence sought by federal prosecutors.

A sentencing hearing set to begin this week for Padilla was postponed Tuesday due to a death in the judge's family, court officials said. The hearing, expected to last four days, was rescheduled to begin Jan. 7.

Padilla, 37, and his foreign-born co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, were convicted Aug. 16 of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. All three were also convicted of two terrorism material support counts, which carry potential 15-year sentences each.

In court filings, attorneys for Padilla also say U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke should look at whether the U.S. citizen would be more harshly punished than other terrorism suspects, and should take into consideration the conditions they described as harsh at a maximum-security federal prison in Florence, Colo.

The key piece of evidence was a five-page form Padilla filled out in July 2000 to attend an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan, which links the other two defendants as well to Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization.

Federal prosecutors say life behind bars is the proper sentence for all three for taking part in a network that provided recruits, money and support for Islamic extremist groups, including al-Qaida, in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Somalia and elsewhere around the world.

Lawyers for Padilla contend that government agents "intentionally inflicted psychological pain and suffering" during his long, isolated incarceration without criminal charge at a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C.

"They have focused on my son and have projected him in front of the nation like a monster, and where is Osama bin Laden?" Padilla's mother, Estela Ortega, said by telephone from her home in Fort Lauderdale.

Sentencing guidelines recommend a term of 30 years to life for Padilla and life for the other two. Cooke is not required to follow those guidelines and will consider more than 80 objections raised by the three defendants.

Padilla was held there after President Bush declared him an enemy combatant in June 2002, a month after his arrest at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on what U.S. officials originally claimed was an al-Qaida mission to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a major city. Those allegations were dropped before Padilla was added to an existing terrorism support indictment in Miami in late 2005.

Pentagon and Justice Department officials have repeatedly and forcefully denied that Padilla was tortured or mistreated at the brig.

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