updated 2/11/2004 6:07:51 PM ET 2004-02-11T23:07:51

An American citizen held incommunicado by the military for more than a year as an alleged al-Qaida supporter will be allowed to see a lawyer, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

But, according to one of his attorneys, the government says it will monitor any meetings with Jose Padilla, who is being held at a U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C.

That arrangement “would make it impossible to have an attorney-client conversation,” said lawyer Andrew Patel.

No meeting has been scheduled.

The Bush administration says Padilla, working under a senior al-Qaida operative in Pakistan, plotted to detonate a radioactive dirty bomb in the United States.

In a statement, the Pentagon said it had determined that providing Padilla access to an attorney would not compromise national security or interfere with efforts to use him as an intelligence source.

Still, the Pentagon maintained it was not required to let him speak with a lawyer.

“Such access is not required by domestic or international law and should not be treated as a precedent,” the statement said.

Attorney Patel said Padilla’s legal team was reviewing the conditions offered by the government.

“We need to study it and figure out what we want to do,” he said.

Padilla’s attorneys have challenged the government’s right to hold him indefinitely, without charges or trial, as a violation of his rights as a U.S. citizen. The government, meanwhile, calls him an enemy combatant who can be held for the duration of the war on terrorism.

The Bush administration lost the case in federal court and wants the Supreme Court to step in. In December, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling, ordered Padilla released from military custody unless the government charges him.

Supreme Court may take up case
That ruling is on hold while the Supreme Court considers taking the case. A decision on that point may come as early as this month.

The Bush administration also argues that it may keep such prisoners incommunicado, without access to lawyers or other outsiders. Even so, the government recently allowed a lawyer to visit Yaser Esam Hamdi, another American citizen held in South Carolina.

Hamdi is alleged to be a Taliban foot soldier picked up during fighting in Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The Supreme Court has already agreed to hear Hamdi’s appeal, filed without his knowledge by an outside lawyer. The government won the Hamdi case in lower courts, and the Supreme Court could now agree to hear both cases side by side.

Also Wednesday, the Bush administration filed additional legal papers in the Padilla case at the Supreme Court, and Solicitor General Theodore Olson described the lower court’s ruling as fundamentally flawed.

“There is no question that the opinion raises issues of extraordinary national significance requiring this court’s review,” he wrote.

Olson specifically asked the court to hear the case on the same day it hears the Hamdi case. Oral arguments in the Hamdi case are to take place sometime in April.

Hearing the cases at once could set up a ruling by summer on whether the president’s wartime powers allow the open-ended detention of American citizens, whether captured at home or abroad.

The FBI arrested Padilla, a former gang member from Chicago, in May 2002, as we was arriving in his hometown from overseas. Counterterrorism officials contended he was in the United States to scout targets for attacks, and was working for Abu Zubaydah, a senior al-Qaida planner who has since been captured.

Padilla met with one of his lawyers before he was transferred to military custody in June of that year.

The officials also said he worked on building a dirty bomb, a device that would use conventional explosives to disperse radioactive materials over a wide area.

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