updated 2/28/2007 8:08:11 PM ET 2007-03-01T01:08:11

Suspected al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla is mentally competent to stand trial on terrorism support charges, a federal judge ruled Wednesday in a victory for the federal government.

“This defendant clearly has the capacity to assist his attorneys,” U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke said in the ruling issued on the fourth and final day of competency hearings.

Earlier, Cooke, perhaps hinting at the ruling to follow, said that one psychologist found Padilla gracious and that he has not demonstrated odd behavior in the courtroom or in custody.

“I think everyone would agree that Mr. Padilla is almost polite to a fault,” Cooke said, without indicating when she would rule.

Defense says client won’t talk
But the judge also questioned prosecutors about defense lawyers’ claims that the 36-year-old U.S. citizen will not discuss many aspects of his case. Defense attorneys say Padilla suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from isolation and torture during 3½ years as an enemy combatant at a Navy brig.

“By refusing to discuss vast sections of his case — is that not in and of itself an inability to assist counsel?” Cooke asked.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Shipley insisted there is ample evidence that Padilla has been assisting in his defense. Prosecutors also contend Padilla, a Muslim convert, attended an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan that included indoctrination on resistance if captured.

“That is a decision made by this defendant. That doesn’t mean he’s incompetent,” Shipley said.

Anthony Natale, one of Padilla’s four court-appointed lawyers, urged Cooke to find Padilla legally incompetent to stand trial and send him to a mental health facility for at least three months.

Post-traumatic stress suspected
A psychiatrist and a psychologist hired by the defense concluded Padilla suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder that impairs his ability to assist lawyers. A court-appointed psychologist who works for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons rejected that diagnosis and determined that Padilla is competent, even if he has some anxiety and anti-social personality problems.

Padilla and two other men are charged with being part of a North American terrorist support cell that provided money, recruits and supplies to Islamic extremist groups. They face life in prison if convicted.

The trial is to begin April 16.

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