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Jose Padilla Cannot Sue Officials for Enemy Combatant Status, Torture

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 24, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that convicted terrorist plotter Jose Padilla cannot sue U.S. government officials for alleged constitutional violations, reports Reuters.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously agreed that Padilla’s lawsuit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other government officers, alleging that he was “unconstitutionally detained and tortured” on a South Carolina military base, lacked merit. The appellate judges further ruled that Congress has exclusive jurisdiction over military detention cases, and that Congress had not provided a path for civil damages, reports the Associated Press.

Padilla was convicted in 2007 on charges of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people abroad, conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism and providing material support for terrorism. President George W. Bush declared Padilla an enemy combatant, prompting the military base detention and alleged torture that formed the basis of Padilla's complaint, reports Reuters.

Padilla was seeking nominal damages from the defendants, and a judicial declaration that the enemy combatant designation, and his treatment while in custody, were unconstitutional.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represented Padilla, released a statement yesterday criticizing the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision. "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," ACLU National Security Project Litigation Director Ben Wizner said.

Jose Padilla has not been successful in the federal appellate courts. In September, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a district court demonstrated a "clear error of judgment" in sentencing Padilla to only 17 years -- 12 years below the Sentencing Guidelines range -- for his role aiding terrorists. The appellate court remanded Padilla's case to the district court for a harsher sentence.

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