WASHINGTON, Jan 23 (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on
Monday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit by an American citizen
who claimed he had been illegally detained and tortured at a
military jail in South Carolina.
The ruling found the claims by Jose Padilla, who has been
convicted on terrorism charges, to be without merit. It held he
had no right to sue for certain alleged constitutional
violations and concluded the judiciary cannot review such
sensitive military decisions.
Padilla, a former Chicago gang member and a Muslim convert
turned al Qaeda recruit, sued a number of former and current
high-level government and military officials, including former
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the current Defense
Secretary, Leon Panetta.
Padilla sought a declaration that his designation as an
enemy combatant, his military detention and his treatment in
custody were unconstitutional. He sought nominal damages of one
dollar from each defendant.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented
Padilla, denounced the ruling.
"By dismissing this lawsuit, the appeals court handed the
government a blank check to commit any abuse in the name of
national security, even the brutal torture of a U.S. citizen on
U.S. soil," said Ben Wizner, an ACLU attorney who argued the
A federal judge in South Carolina dismissed the lawsuit last
year and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, based
in Richmond, Virginia, agreed.
It said that Padilla could not use a lawsuit seeking money
damages to review sensitive military decisions about national
security, and that the courts were not the proper forum for his
objections to policies adopted by the government and the U.S.
Congress that resulted in his detention and interrogation.
While designations of persons as a special threat to national
security may be subject to various checks and certain legal
proceedings, they cannot be reviewed by the judiciary in a
lawsuit seeking money damages, the appeals court held.
Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson said in the opinion that allowing
such lawsuits "would expose past executive deliberations
affecting sensitive matters of national security to the prospect
of searching judicial scrutiny."
He said it would inhibit future discussions if top
government officials faced prolonged civil litigation and
potential personal liability.
Padilla was taken into custody in Chicago in May 2002 after
arriving at O'Hare International Airport from Pakistan via
President George W. Bush declared Padilla an enemy combatant
a month later, saying he possessed valuable intelligence about
al Qaeda. Padilla was taken to a Navy jail in South Carolina and
held there for more than three years.
Padilla was convicted in 2007 in a U.S. court in Miami on
charges of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people abroad,
conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism and
providing material support for terrorism.
A different U.S. appeals court ruled in September that the
17-year prison sentence that Padilla received was too lenient
and ordered that he be re-sentenced.
(Reporting by James Vicini)
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