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US Terror Conspirator Sentenced to 17 Years in Prison

A federal judge has ordered an American Muslim convert to serve more than 17 years in prison for conspiring with al-Qaida, and he was accused of trying to explode a radioactive "dirty bomb." In Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports that prosecutors were seeking a life prison term against Jose Padilla.

Judge Marcia Cooke handed down the prison term against Jose Padilla following his conviction last August on charges of conspiring to kill or injure Americans abroad. She also ordered co-defendant Adham Amin Hassoun to serve more than 15 years in prison, and sentenced Kifah Wael Jayyousi to more than 12 years.

Cooke ruled against life prison terms in the case, because she said there was no evidence that the men personally harmed or killed anyone. She also said she took into consideration the three and a half years that Padilla spent in a military brig after being declared an "enemy combatant."

Padilla was arrested at a Chicago airport in 2002 after arriving on a flight from Pakistan, and accused of taking part in a plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb." He was transferred to civilian custody in 2006 to face terrorism charges, which did not include the alleged bomb plot.

Earlier, Padilla's attorneys had claimed that Padilla was unfit for trial because he suffered mental abuse and torture while in military custody. Judge Cooke rejected the claims and allowed the case to proceed.

Steve Vladeck, associate law professor at American University in Washington, says the torture claims played a key role in the case. "The fact that it [torture claim] comes back now in the sentencing stage as a basis for adopting a much, much lighter sentence than what the government was seeking is really surprising, and a big setback for the government," he said.

In a statement, Amnesty International said justice still has not been served in the case, because officials have not addressed the torture claims. U.S. officials have denied the allegations, which include the use of sleep deprivation, stress positions and truth serums on Padilla.

Vladeck says the sentencing decision may raise new questions about Padilla's torture claims. "The question is: is a lighter sentence really enough of a remedy if what happened to Padilla in military custody was really illegal in the first place?," he said.

Prosecutors say they plan to appeal the prison sentences as too lenient. Attorneys for Padilla already appealed his conviction on terrorism conspiracy charges.