Court Resoundingly Rejects Government's Attempt to Block "Dirty Bomb" Suspect From Meeting with His Lawyers

March 11, 2003 12:00 am

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NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union today welcomed a ruling by a federal district court directing the government to allow Jose Padilla, a United States citizen accused in a “dirty bomb” plot, to meet with his lawyers.

“It is unfortunate that the government needs such a forceful reminder of its basic legal obligations,” said Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the ACLU. “We would loudly condemn any other government that placed an American citizen in jail without access to a lawyer. As the court today affirmed, our own government should be bound by at least that same standard.”

In a strongly worded ruling, U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey rejected the government’s plea to reverse his December decision to let defense lawyers meet with Padilla.

“Lest any confusion remain, this is not a suggestion or a request that Padilla be permitted to consult with counsel, and it is certainly not an invitation to conduct a further ‘dialogue’ about whether he will be permitted to do so,” Judge Mukasey said. “It is a ruling — a determination — that he will be permitted to do so.”

In September, the ACLU and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief challenging the government’s decision to detain Padilla in a military jail without charges or trial and without access to a lawyer.

Padilla, also known as Abdullah Al-Mujahir, was arrested last May in Chicago as he returned from a trip to Pakistan. He was first held as a material witness in a grand jury probe of the September 11 terrorist attack. On June 9, he was designated an enemy combatant. He has been held ever since in a military jail without access to counsel.

On December 4, Judge Mukasey ruled that Padilla was entitled to have his status as an “enemy combatant” reviewed in federal court and that he must be allowed to consult with his lawyers before his status is resolved. Today’s decision comes in response to the government’s “motion to reconsider” that ruling.

Mukasey also reaffirmed today that Padilla is entitled to present any evidence he has that would undermine the government’s claim that he is an enemy combatant.

The ACLU’s legal brief is online at

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