Judge grants delay to finish mental exams of Padilla


Published: Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 12:02 a.m.

MIAMI — A federal judge on Friday gave prison officials another week to complete mental examinations to determine if alleged al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla is competent to stand trial.

Bureau of Prisons officials sought an even longer delay until Jan. 30. They said in court papers that Padilla is not "compliant with psychological testing" and must be observed by staff members to complete the evaluation. The documents provided no further details.

The tests were originally supposed to be completed by Friday.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke insisted that the examinations be finished before the scheduled Jan. 22 trial date so she can rule on a number of other outstanding issues, including Padilla's claim that the case should be dismissed because he was tortured during 3 years in military custody as an "enemy combatant."

"This court cannot proceed to trial until these motions are adequately resolved," Cooke said in a two-page order Friday.

Justice Department and Pentagon officials have repeatedly denied the torture allegations.

Cooke gave prisons officials until next Friday to finish the evaluation of Padilla and until Jan. 16 to deliver a competency report to her. Two mental experts hired by defense lawyers have concluded that Padilla suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is unable to adequately assist his attorneys.

Padilla, a 36-year-old U.S. citizen, is charged along with two others in the U.S. with being part of a support cell that provided money, recruits and supplies to violent Islamic extremists around the world. All three have pleaded not guilty. Two others charged in the case are in custody overseas.

Padilla was arrested in 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport for what U.S. officials originally called a plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States. President Bush designated him an "enemy combatant" and he was held without criminal charge at a Navy brig in South Carolina until he was added to the Miami terror support case in late 2005. The "dirty bomb" allegations are not mentioned in the Miami indictment.

Aside from the competency issue, the Jan. 22 trial date is in jeopardy because federal prosecutors have appealed Cooke's dismissal of a key terrorism count in the case. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear oral arguments on that issue Wednesday in Atlanta, and Cooke has said the trial will not go forward until that question is settled.

The dismissed count carries a potential life prison sentence, while the two remaining terror support counts carry possible 15-year sentences each. Cooke ruled that the dismissed count improperly duplicated other parts of the same indictment.

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