MIAMI (AP) _ The long-delayed terrorism support and conspiracy trial of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen held for 3 1/2 years as an ``enemy combatant,'' can go ahead next month after a federal judge ruled him mentally competent.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke rejected defense arguments Wednesday that the suspected al-Qaida operative suffered severe mental damage during his years of interrogation and isolation in a military brig.
She also determined Padilla was able to assist his attorneys.
Padilla showed no reaction in court, as usual, and federal prosecutors and defense attorneys declined to comment after the ruling. The judge's decision means the trial can start April 16.
Padilla's lawyers had asked Cooke to order that Padilla be sent to treatment for at least three months for post-traumatic stress disorder, which they contend stems from his long custody at a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., where he was sent after his 2002 arrest.
A psychiatrist and a psychologist hired by the defense concluded that the disorder impaired his ability to assist lawyers. A court-appointed psychologist who works for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons rejected that diagnosis and said Padilla is competent, even if he has some anxiety and anti-social personality problems.
In ruling Padilla competent to stand trial, Cooke said that Padilla had showed he understood ``legal nuances'' of pretrial motions and noted that he had signed a document verifying the truth of allegations made by the defense that he was tortured and mistreated at the brig.
``The defendant's situation is unique. He understands that,'' she said.
She stressed that her decision should not be read as a ruling on Padilla's torture claims. Bush administration officials have vehemently deny Padilla was mistreated in the brig.
Padilla, a 36-year-old U.S. citizen and former Chicago gang member, is charged along with two co-defendants with being part of a North American terror support cell that provided money, recruits and supplies to Islamic extremists around the world. All three have pleaded not guilty and face possible life imprisonment.
At the competency hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Shipley suggested ``al-Qaida training'' was behind his choice not to cooperate on certain issues. Prosecutors contend that Padilla, a Muslim convert, attended an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan that included indoctrination on resistance if captured.
U.S. authorities claimed shortly after Padilla's arrest in May 2002 that he had arrived at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on an al-Qaida mission to detonate a radioactive ``dirty bomb'' in the United States.
He was declared an enemy combatant by President Bush and sent to the brig, where he remained while a legal fight raged over the president's wartime detention powers.
Padilla was added to the Miami terrorism support case in late 2005, just before the U.S. Supreme Court was to consider the presidential detention issue. The ``dirty bomb'' allegation does not appear in the Miami criminal indictment.