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Judge Throws Out Suit By Torture Victim on Grounds It Would Inconvenience Important People


Judge throws out Padilla suit over alleged torture

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday threw out a lawsuit brought by a man convicted of plotting terrorism and who alleged he was tortured at a Navy brig in South Carolina, saying a trial would create "an international spectacle."

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled Jose Padilla, arrested as an enemy combatant, had no right to sue for constitutional violations and that the defendants in the case enjoyed qualified immunity.

Padilla claimed he was illegally detained as an enemy combatant and then held in a brig near Charleston where he was tortured. His lawsuit named government and brig officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Padilla alleged he was tortured by being kept in 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 until 2006, when he was turned over to civilian authorities and taken to Miami. The following year he and two others were convicted of sending money, recruits and supplies to Islamic extremist groups.

Padilla has appealed his 17-year sentence.

Gergel, who heard arguments Monday on a motion to dismiss the brig lawsuit, ruled the defendants could not be sued over Padilla's treatment.

"There was then no 'clearly established' federal law on these issues, and the courts were only then beginning to sort out the legal rights of those designated as enemy combatants," he judge wrote in a 32-page order.

Ben Wizner, the litigation director for the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, told Gergel at Monday's hearing that, if the case went to trial, he planned to have Padilla testify.

The judge expressed concern about that.

"A trial on the merits would be an international spectacle with Padilla, a convicted terrorist, summoning America's present and former leaders to a federal courthouse to answer his charges," he wrote.

Wizner said the court has ruled "that Donald Rumsfeld is above the law and Jose Padilla is beneath it."

But he warned "if the law does not protect Jose Padilla, it protects none of us, and the executive branch can simply label citizens enemies of the state and strip them of all rights-including the absolute right not to be tortured."

He added if Padilla's lawsuit does not get a trial, similar abuses could occur in the future and said attorneys are considering what their next step will be.

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