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NYCLU Files Appeals Brief In Support Of Release Of Jose Padilla

The New York Civil Liberties Union today joined with the American Civil Liberties Union and two of its affiliates in calling for the release of Jose Padilla from military detention where he’s been held as an “enemy combatant” for 3 years. The NYCLU filed an amicus brief in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit challenging the government’s action in detaining Padilla, an American citizen, in military custody without formally charging him and bringing him to trial in accordance with law.

“The government’s willingness to erode the line between civilian and military authority disregards the wisdom and intent of the framers of the Constitution,” said Arthur Eisenberg, Legal Director of the NYCLU. “Even during the most trying times facing our nation, including the bloody Civil War, courts have held fast to the principle that the military not be allowed to usurp civilian authority.”

On May 8, 2002, Jose Padilla, who is a US citizen, flew on a commercial airline from Pakistan to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport where he was arrested by FBI agents executing a material witness arrest warrant. Padilla was then transferred to New York by FBI agents and housed in the Metropolitan Correctional Center’s maximum security wing, under the control of the Bureau of Prisons and the United States Marshal Service for approximately one month. On Sunday, June 9, 2002, two days before a scheduled conference on Padilla’s motion to vacate the material witness arrest warrant, the government informed the District Court that the President had issued an order designating Padilla an “enemy combatant,” transferring his custody to the Secretary of Defense.

The Department of Defense, without notice to Padilla’s attorney, seized Padilla and transported him to a high security military brig in South Carolina. Since then, Padilla has languished in military custody while his case has been before several courts, now entering the fifth court. Two of the courts, the federal appeals court for the Second Circuit and a federal district court in South Carolina, have ruled that Padilla is not an enemy combatant and must either be formally charged and tried in a civilian court — or released. These courts have ruled against the detention of a United States citizen unless authorized by an Act of Congress, and Congress has not authorized military detention in this case.

This case raises fundamental questions concerning the meaning of “war” in an age of terrorism and the scope of the President’s power to combat very real threats to the United States and the security of its people. Padilla has been held for three years on the theory that he is an enemy soldier captured on the battlefield. However, Padilla was not captured while engaging in hostilities against US military forces. If the government believes that Padilla was plotting to engage in terrorist acts, the criminal courts remain open and functioning and perfectly capable of adjudicating his guilt.

The NYCLU joined in filing an amicus brief with the ACLU and two of its affiliates, the ACLU of South Carolina and the ACLU of Virginia, on behalf of Padilla.

The amicus brief is available in two formats:

The brief only in accessible PDF format (74 KB)

The brief and the cover document in PDF format (4,284 KB)

PDF format files require the free Adobe Reader which is available here.

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