Years Of Isolation Have Made Padilla Incompetent To Stand Trial

Thursday, February 22nd 2007, 9:24 pm
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) _ Accused al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla suffers from intense stress and anxiety stemming from his isolated years in military custody and cannot adequately help his lawyers prepare for trial, two defense mental experts testified Thursday.

Defense lawyers hope to delve more deeply into Padilla's treatment at a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., later in the federal hearing, when they are allowed to question brig officials directly involved in his custody. Those officials have never spoken publicly about the case, and the hearing will continue Monday.

``He is immobilized by his anxiety,'' said Patricia Zapf, a forensic psychologist who administered tests on Padilla last October. ``He believes he will go back to the brig and he will die there.''

The hearing before U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke on Padilla's competency is crucial in deciding whether he and two co-defendants will stand trial in April.

Padilla, a 36-year-old U.S. citizen, is charged 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.

The Bush administration initially claimed that Padilla was on an al-Qaida mission to detonate a radioactive ``dirty bomb'' in a major U.S. city when he was arrested in May 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

He was designated an ``enemy combatant'' and was imprisoned by the military without criminal charges. But the dirty-bomb allegations are not part of the Miami case.

Padilla has claimed in court filings that he was tortured at the brig, which U.S. officials have denied. Prosecutors say he is competent for trial.

``It has always been our policy to treat all detainees humanely,'' Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Defense Department spokesman, said Thursday. ``The government in the strongest terms denies Padilla's allegations of torture, allegations made without support and without citing a shred of record evidence.''

Dr. Angela Hegarty, a forensic neuropsychiatrist, said she concluded after examining and testing Padilla for more than 22 hours last fall that he is mentally incompetent for trial because he has post-traumatic stress disorder. Zapf reached the same diagnosis and recommended that Padilla receive treatment.

Padilla's symptoms are most acute when he is asked to talk about his 3 1/2 years in the brig, including interrogations techniques used on him, or to review evidence in his criminal case, including transcripts of intercepted telephone conversations, Hegarty said.

``He doesn't want to because it hurts so much, and because it hurts so much he shuts down,'' Hegarty said.

When Padilla his asked about his case or the brig, Zapf said, he becomes noticeably tense, begins to sweat, tries to change the subject and rocks back and forth while hunched over. She said he was adamant that he did not want to testify in his own defense.

``He said he can't relive it, he can't go through it again, and he can't name names,'' Zapf said.

During cross-examination, prosecutor John Shipley pointed to a test administered by Hegarty in which Padilla scored zero on the portions indicating post-traumatic stress disorder. Those segments involved questions about flashbacks, nightmares, depression and other symptoms.

``Nothing in this test supports your diagnosis at all, isn't that correct?'' Shipley asked.

``No,'' Hegarty replied, noting that the test answers were only one component of her decision.