December 8, 2005

Senator probes Justice Dept handling of Padilla

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman
Arlen Specter on Thursday said he was launching a formal
inquiry into Justice Department treatment of an American
charged by the government after being held by the military for
more than three years as an "enemy combatant."

"I'm making a formal inquiry of the Department of Justice
as to why they're handling (Jose) Padilla as they have,"
Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, told reporters. He said he
may hold a committee hearing on the matter.

A U.S. appeals court on November 30 delayed Padilla's
transfer to a civilian jail, saying the government must explain
why it used different facts to justify his military detention
from those included in last month's indictment, which charged
him with conspiracy to murder and aiding terrorists abroad.

Human rights activists and some lawmakers questioned the
government's authority to detain Padilla without charges
indefinitely as an "enemy combatant," and his lawyers asked the
Supreme Court last month to limit this authority.

The Justice Department argued the Supreme Court petition
was no longer relevant since Padilla had now been charged.

"I think there's a real question raised when you hold a
citizen for three and a half years on a charge that he's going
to explode a dirty bomb, and then, when the Supreme Court is
considering taking jurisdiction of the case, to withdraw. That
troubles me," Specter said.

Specter said that "depending on what responses we get" from
the Justice Department, he may hold a hearing on the matter.

The criminal indictment against Padilla did not refer to
accusations made by U.S. officials after his arrest in May 2002
that he plotted with al Qaeda to set off a radioactive "dirty
bomb" in America and blow up apartment buildings using natural
gas. Instead, it said Padilla and four other men had run a U.S.
support cell providing money and recruits for a jihad campaign

Padilla's case has been viewed as a key test of whether the
government can continue with its policy of holding "enemy
combatants" in prison for long periods without charging them
with crimes.