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Prosecution rests case in Padilla terrorism trial

The case against Jose Padilla has been called 'thin.' The case against Jose Padilla has been called "thin."

MIAMI -- For a star defendant whose name is known around the world, Jose Padilla has become almost a bit player in his terrorism-support trial, and some observers say the federal government may not have proved its case against him.

Prosecutors rested their case yesterday after nine weeks, 22 witnesses, and dozens of FBI wiretap intercepts played at trial, most of them in Arabic with written translations for jurors. Defense lawyers for Padilla and his two codefendants begin presenting their case next week.

Much is at stake for the government, which once heralded Padilla's arrest as a success in the country's war on terror, accused him in an Al Qaeda "dirty bomb" plot, and held him for 3 1/2 years as an "enemy combatant."

Padilla's voice was heard on seven intercepts, a fraction of the 300,000 the FBI collected.

Padilla was never linked to any specific acts of terrorism or murder and, unlike his codefendants, he was not accused of using purported code words like "tourism" for "jihad" or "eggplant" for "rocket-propelled grenade."

"Although everyone has been referring to this case as the Padilla trial, the government's case against Padilla has been pretty thin," said David O. Markus, a Miami defense lawyer who has frequently written about the case on his legal blog.

Padilla, a 36-year-old Muslim convert, was arrested in 2002 as he got off a plane in Chicago, returning from Pakistan. He was carrying $10,526, a cell phone, and e-mail addresses for Al Qaeda operatives.

A month later, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft interrupted a trip to Moscow to announce the arrest, saying Padilla was part of an Al Qaeda plot to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States.

President Bush declared Padilla an enemy combatant, and he was held by the military. Just before the administration had to justify that decision to the Supreme Court, he was transferred to civilian custody and added in late 2005 to the Miami case.

The "dirty bomb" allegations were dropped, and admissions Padilla allegedly made during his confinement have not been presented. That's partly because Padilla was not allowed to consult a lawyer during questioning, but prosecutors also don't want to discuss how Padilla was treated.