A U.S judge has set January 12 as the day American-born terror suspect Jose Padilla will enter a plea to charges that he was involved in a conspiracy to commit terrorist acts overseas. The ruling in a civilian court came after the U.S. military detained Mr. Padilla for years without a trial.
The judge's decision in a Miami courtroom came 48 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court determined that Mr. Padilla could be transferred from military to civilian control, and after more than three years during which he was held in detention as an "enemy combatant" in the war on terror.
Mr. Padilla was arrested in 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare airport. At the time government officials alleged he was part of an al-Qaida plot to detonate a radioactive bomb inside the United States.
Officials maintained as an "enemy combatant" Mr. Padilla could be detained indefinitely.
Late last year, in what appeared to be an abrupt reversal, a grand jury in Miami charged Mr. Padilla with supporting terrorists overseas, with no mention of the alleged bomb plot.
David Remes, a lawyer in Washington who specializes in constitutional law, says the government's legal maneuvers raise questions about the decision to hold him for years in a military prison.
"It makes a mockery of the government's original claims that he was a dangerous terrorist who was setting out to explode a dirty bomb in the United States," he said. "When push came to shove the government could not make that case so they invented an entirely new indictment for use in a civilian court in a criminal trial and he is no longer part of the enemy combatant, military justice process."
David Remes says the case against Mr. Padilla represents a struggle between the executive and judicial branches of government.
He says while Mr. Padilla will now be able to defend himself in a civilian court, it hardly represents a major victory for the defendant.
"Like the exoneration of a prisoner after being wrongly incarcerated for 15 years, it can't come as a moment of great joy to Padilla that now, after three-and-a-half years, he is going to have a chance to face a criminal court," he added. "Sure, it is better than what he had before, but look at what he has had to endure until now."
A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to be interviewed for this story, saying only that prosecutors are pleased the case against Mr. Padilla is moving forward.
The Supreme Court is still considering whether to hear arguments on the question of whether the government has the power to hold American citizens as "enemy combatants" without trial.