Convicted terrorism conspirator Jose Padilla sued a key architect of the Bush administration's counterterrorism policies Friday, claiming the official's legal arguments led to Padilla's alleged mistreatment and illegal detention at a Navy brig.
The lawsuit claims that John Yoo, a former senior Justice Department official, wrote several legal memos that led President Bush to designate Padilla as an enemy combatant shortly after the U.S. citizen was arrested in May 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on suspicion of involvement in an al-Qaida plot.
Yoo at the time was deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, which provided many of the main legal justifications for Bush administration policy on treatment of terror detainees.
The lawsuit, filed by Padilla and his mother, Estela Lebron, asks only $1 in damages, seeking mainly a judgment declaring that the policies violated the Constitution.
"This is ultimately about right and wrong, not money," said Padilla attorney Jonathan Freiman, a professor at Yale Law School.
‘Green light’ to detention?
Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, declined comment in an e-mail. His Los Angeles-based lawyer did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.
Padilla attorney Jonathan Freiman said Yoo was sued because "he gave the green light" to how to deal with Padilla, which ultimately led to his detention without criminal charge for 3 1/2 years at a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in northern California, repeats Padilla's claims that he was subjected to extreme interrogation techniques and mistreatment he contends amounted to torture. Justice Department and Pentagon officials have repeatedly denied Padilla's claims.
The alleged mistreatment included forced hooding, deprivation of light and sleep, extreme heat and cold, stress positions, threats of death, use of drugs and introduction of odors into his cell. Padilla used these same claims in an attempt to be declared mentally incompetent to stand trial in Miami, but a federal judge rejected the attempt.
Convicted in August
Padilla and two co-defendants were convicted in August of terrorism conspiracy and material support charges, with sentencing scheduled for next week in a Miami federal court. All three men face up to life in prison.
Padilla was added to the Miami terrorism case in late 2005 shortly before challenges to his military detention were to go before the U.S. Supreme Court. He was initially accused of plotting with al-Qaida to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a major U.S. city, but those charges were dropped.
Ultimately the jury in his trial was told only that Padilla was recruited by Islamic extremists in the U.S. and filled out an application to attend an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan.