Washington Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen held in a Navy brig as an enemy combatant for more than three years, was charged Tuesday with being part of a North American terror cell that sent money and recruits overseas to "murder, maim and kidnap."
However, absent from the indictment were the sensational allegations made earlier by top Justice Department officials: that Padilla sought to blow up U.S. hotels and apartment buildings and planned an attack on America with a radiological "dirty bomb."
Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales wouldn't say why none of those allegations were included in the indictment, commenting only on the charges that were returned by a Miami grand jury against Padilla and four other alleged members of a terror cell.
"The indictment alleges that Padilla traveled overseas to train as a terrorist with the intention of fighting a violent jihad," Gonzales said.
The charges are the latest twist in a case pitting the Bush administration's claim that the war on terrorism gives the government extraordinary powers to protect its citizens, on one side, against those who say the government can't be allowed to label Americans as "enemy combatants" and hold them indefinitely without charges that can be fought in court.
By charging Padilla, the administration is seeking to avoid a Supreme Court showdown over the issue.
Eric Freedman, a professor at Hofstra Law School, said the Padilla indictment was an effort by the administration "to avoid an adverse decision of the Supreme Court."
Padilla's lawyers had asked the justices to review his case last month, and the Bush administration was facing a deadline for filing its legal arguments.
Padilla's appeal argues that the government's evidence "consists of double and triple hearsay from secret witnesses, along with information allegedly obtained from Padilla himself during his two years of incommunicado interrogation."
Gonzales said there no longer was an issue for the justices to resolve since Padilla would have his day in court.
The indictment does not say Padilla belonged to al-Qaida. Instead, it asserts he was recruited into a terror support cell that was raising money and recruiting operatives beginning in 1993 to fight for radical Islamic causes in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Somalia and elsewhere. The indictment also mentions Afghanistan and Egypt, but makes no allegations of specific attacks anywhere.