Attorneys for Jose Padilla and two other men convicted last summer of terrorism and conspiracy argued for leniency Wednesday during the second day of their sentencing hearing.
The men maintain their innocence, and their attorneys have pledged to appeal the convictions. But even if their clients were involved in a global Islamic extremist movement, as prosecutors contend, the men were minor figures, not leaders, defense attorneys argued.
"I can't imagine a more minor role than someone in my client's position," Jeanne Baker, an attorney for Adham Amin Hassoun, told U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke. "They talked, and that's about all they did."
But prosecutors said the three were part of a conspiracy involving armed conflicts over decades in such places as Kosovo, Afghanistan, Somalia and Chechnya and involving tens of thousands of people.
Prosecutor Russell Killinger called Padilla "a trained al-Qaida killer" and his bid for leniency "astonishing."
Three men convicted in August
Padilla, Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi were convicted in August of terrorism conspiracy and material support charges for being part of a North American support cell for al-Qaida and other Islamic extremist groups. Prosecutors said that Hassoun was a recruiter, that Jayyousi was a financier and propagandist, and that Padilla was an al-Qaida recruit.
Padilla, a 37-year-old U.S. citizen, was held for more than three years as an enemy combatant after his May 2002 arrest at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on suspicion of plotting to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" inside the U.S. Those allegations were dropped, and Padilla was added in 2005 to an existing Miami terrorism support case.
According to prosecutors, Hassoun met Padilla at a Florida mosque and helped sponsor his decision to move to Egypt in 1998. Padilla eventually made his way to Afghanistan, where in 2000 he filled out a form introduced at trial to attend an al-Qaida terrorist training camp, they said.
Baker, however, said the evidence showed only that Hassoun was interested in Padilla pursuing Islamic and Arabic studies in Egypt and that he wasn't behind Padilla's travels to Afghanistan.
"If there was recruitment at the beginning, it was to go and be a better Muslim," she said.
Work was for charity, lawyer says
Charitable Jayyousi's attorney William Swor argued similarly that evidence didn't show his client was a supervisor in a criminal conspiracy. Jayyousi's primary management decisions involved helping charitable relief organizations for oppressed Muslims around the world, he said.
Killinger urged the judge not to focus on "snippets" of evidence and to remember how all the evidence showed the three men were key parts of an Islamic extremist support cell vital to violent attacks in numerous countries.
"You have to look at the whole fabric of this case," Killinger said.
With several witnesses scheduled to testify and legal arguments to be made, Cooke said the hearing would likely continue into next week.