Washington The Bush administration on Friday tried to convince a federal appeals court that the Supreme Court shouldn't review the government's decision to imprison a U.S. citizen as an enemy combatant in the war on terrorism for more than three years without charging him with a crime.
In a dramatic change of course, the administration argued that the appellate court ruling that had allowed the government to jail Jose Padilla indefinitely was now moot because he's now been charged.
The Justice Department claimed that Padilla is a terrorist who wanted to explode a radioactive bomb and blow up apartment buildings in the United States. Last month, however, the Justice Department charged Padilla only with lesser crimes, prompting judges on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to demand an explanation.
The administration's action on Friday is intended to avert a Supreme Court showdown over its claim that the government can hold suspected terrorists indefinitely, without charges, by designating them enemy combatants.
Since Padilla was arrested in June 2002, critics of the administration have charged that the government overstepped its authority by not filing any charges or permitting a combatant to challenge his imprisonment. Earlier, a judge had ruled that Padilla should be criminally charged or else released.
Last month, Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales announced that Padilla had been indicted on unrelated charges in a plot to assist terrorists. The indictment didn't list a specific attack or link to al-Qaida.
Gonzales didn't explain or defend the shift, and it wasn't clear whether Padilla was still considered an enemy combatant. But three appellate judges on the 4th Circuit delayed Padilla's transfer and asked the Justice Department why it used "different facts" in the indictment from those it had cited for holding Padilla more than three years without charges.