A federal judge in New York Wednesday gave the U.S. government until June 21 to respond to a motion to release Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen held in military custody for allegedly plotting to detonate a radioactive bomb. Mr. Padilla's attorney is arguing the government does not have enough evidence to hold him.
In a brief, ten-minute hearing, Federal Judge Michael Mukasey said he could not decide whether Mr. Padilla, also known as Abdullah al-Muhajir, should be released. Instead, he said the government had until June 21 to have the petition for Mr. Padilla's release dismissed or transferred to another jurisdiction.
Mr. Padilla has already been turned over to military custody under suspicion that he was planning to carry out a so-called "dirty bomb" attack against civilians in the United States.
An attorney appointed to represent Mr. Padilla before he was transferred from New York as an "enemy combatant" to a naval facility for questioning, says she has filed a writ of habeas corpus to bring her client to court.
Speaking on ABC's Good Morning America, Donna Newman, the attorney appointed to defend Mr. Padilla, said her client, a U.S. citizen has been denied his constitutional right to an attorney. "What is happening here and what everyone should be upset about," she said, "is that they have taken him away without any indication of when they will release him, without access to an attorney. And one has to question why are they're so fearful of an attorney's involvement if they have all this evidence."
She said the government's case linking Mr. Padilla to the "dirty bomb" plot is "weak at best."
Mr. Padilla, who is a native New Yorker, has been described by the Bush administration as a dangerous operative of the al-Qaida terrorist network. He was arrested in early May in Chicago after spending time in Pakistan.
In a White House briefing on Wednesday, White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer quoted a 1942 Supreme Court ruling that he says justifies holding a U.S. citizen in military custody without being charged. He said, "Citizens who associate themselves with the military arm of the enemy government and with its aid, guidance and direction enter this country bent on hostile acts are enemy belligerents in the meaning of the Hague Convention and the law of war. And that is the legal underpinning for the actions that were taken."
Mr. Fleischer added President Bush believes that United States is safer because Mr. Padilla is off the streets. But his lawyer argues the government does not have enough evidence to indict Mr. Padilla on the "dirty bomb" charges.