Lawyers working on behalf of former military detainee and convicted terror conspirator Jose Padilla are asking an international human rights commission to investigate his detention without charge and alleged torture by the US government.
A 68-page petition filed on Tuesday with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights charges that the US military subjected Mr. Padilla to a combination of harsh conditions of confinement and brutal interrogation techniques in an effort to extract intelligence information about Al Qaeda.
The petition was filed by Padilla’s mother, Estela Lebron, on behalf of her and her son. Lawsuits raising the same allegations in US courts have been dismissed.
Padilla, a US citizen and Muslim convert, had lived overseas for a number of years, and government agents suspected he was a member of Al Qaeda sent to the US to detonate a radiological “dirty bomb.”
He later stood trial in Miami on charges of providing material support to Al Qaeda by volunteering to serve in the group. The trial included no mention of a dirty-bomb plot.
Padilla was convicted and is serving a 17-year prison term in solitary confinement at the maximum security prison in Florence, Colo.
An appeals court overturned his sentence as too lenient and has ordered the trial judge to issue a new sentence. The re-sentencing was set for Nov. 28, but was delayed for two months at the request of defense lawyers who expressed concern about Padilla’s mental health.
The complaint asks the human rights commission, an arm of the 35-member Organization of American States, to investigate Padilla’s treatment by the military and to declare the US government responsible for violating its obligations under a human rights treaty, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
Those rights include the right to be free from torture and inhuman treatment. The complaint also asks the commission to recommend that the US admit the violations and apologize. It also asks that the US annul its designation of Padilla as an “enemy combatant.”
The central accusation in the petition is that US personnel engaged in torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of Padilla during his nearly four years in custody in the naval brig near Charleston, S.C.
“Given the duration, severity, and calculated nature of the United States’ abuse of Mr. Padilla, there is no question that he was tortured,” the document says.
Although he was transferred from the military prison to the criminal justice system in 2006, Padilla’s lawyers say he continues to suffer psychological trauma from his military detention and that his mental state has worsened.
“Mrs. Lebron believes that the psychological damage to her son is irreparable, and that anyone who knows Mr. Padilla would realize that he will never be the same,” the petition says.
The complaint also charges that US actions against Padilla and others may have been racially and religiously motivated.
“This program of arbitrary detention and torture has been largely limited to non-white Muslim suspects, such as Mr. Padilla,” the petition says.
The lawyers told the commission that US laws provide redress for torture and other human rights abuses. But they added that “in every suit brought to date, the US government has successfully claimed that US officials are immune from suit or that the lawsuit should be dismissed at the very outset because its continuance would undermine US national security interests.”
“The US justice system denied a day in court to a US citizen who was arrested and then tortured on US soil by his own government,” Steven Watt of the ACLU said in a statement.
“The US has historically been a leader in ensuring access to justice for human rights violations around the world, but it has effectively closed the courtroom door to all victims and survivors of the Bush administration’s torture regime,” Mr. Watt said. “Denied redress in US courts, torture survivors like Padilla are now left with no choice but to turn to international justice.”
Lebron said that after repeated setbacks in US courts the international petition may be her last chance to achieve a measure of justice for her son.
“No human being deserves what happened to our family,” she said in a statement. “I will continue to work for my son and for justice as long as I’m breathing. As a mother, I want to make sure this never happens to anyone else.”