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US Judge Rejects Torture Claims in Trial of Alleged al-Qaida Member

A U.S. judge has refused to drop terrorism charges against an alleged U.S.-born al-Qaida operative because of claims that he was tortured. From Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports the ruling is unlikely to settle concerns about torture against Jose Padilla or other terrorism suspects in U.S. custody.

Judge Marcia Clark rejected the motion filed by defense attorneys for Jose Padilla, who is accused of giving material support to the al-Qaida terrorist organization. Padilla's attorneys had argued he was frequently subject to harsh conditions and torture during the 3 1/2 years he was held at a military prison in South Carolina. Defense attorneys said the measures included isolation, sleep deprivation, exposure to very cold temperatures and the use of drugs intended to act as truth serums on Padilla.

U.S. military and justice officials have repeatedly denied claims that Padilla was abused while in U.S. custody.

In her ruling, Judge Clark said that the alleged abuses took place after investigators gathered the evidence they say they plan to use against Padilla at trial. Prosecutors say Padilla signed a form in 2000 to join a terrorist training camp. The judge also said that she could deny prosecutors the chance to present any information gathered during Padilla's time in military custody.

The alleged al-Qaida operative was transferred from military custody to a federal prison in Miami in January 2006. The civilian trial against him and two other terrorist suspects is set to open next week.

The ruling on the torture claims was seen as a key step to allow the trial to move forward. But it may not settle the concerns over abusive detention methods, says Jennifer Daskal, U.S. program advocacy director for Human Rights Watch in Washington. "It does not in any way lay to rest any of the claims that [Padilla] has made, or any of the other allegations that the Bush administration has authorized and approved, and [that] officials have engaged in abusive interrogation techniques," he said.

Daskal says one option for Padilla's lawyers is to file a civil suit against the government, alleging that officials used torture and abusive interrogation against him.

Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have expressed similar concerns about prison conditions and interrogation methods at the military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where 385 foreign-born terrorism suspects are being held. Several detainees have gone on a hunger strike to protest harsh conditions at the base. This week, U.S. officials at the base said 13 detainees were being force-fed to ensure their health.