Judge Says Charge Padilla or Free Him; Orders Action in Dirty Bomb Case

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A federal judge yesterday ordered the Bush administration to charge dirty bomb suspect Jose Padilla with a crime or release the U.S. citizen and Muslim convert, who has been detained indefinitely as an enemy combatant for more than 2 1/2 years.

U.S. District Judge Henry Floyd in South Carolina, where Padilla is being held in a Navy brig, ordered the administration to take action on the case within 45 days.

Judge Floyd, whom President Bush appointed to the federal bench in 2003, ripped the administration for its handling of the Padilla case.

"The president has no power, neither express nor implied, neither constitutional nor statutory, to hold the petitioner as an enemy combatant," he said in a 23-page opinion.

The judge conceded, "It is true that there may be times during which it is necessary to give the Executive Branch greater power than at other times."

However, he added that such a granting of power "is in the province of the legislature and no one else - not the Court and not the President."

Justice Department spokesman John Nowacki said the government will appeal the decision.

The administration has used the enemy-combatant classification since the September 11 attacks to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects outside the purview of the U.S. court system.

Padilla, 32, was arrested in 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, where he was arriving from Pakistan. Federal law-enforcement authorities have said Padilla, who took the name Abdullah al-Muhajir upon his conversion to Islam, is suspected in an al Qaeda terrorist scheme to detonate a "dirty bomb," which spreads deadly radioactive material, in the United States. …