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Convicted al-Qaida recruit Jose Padilla wins delay in resentencing in Miami

Jose Padilla, the convicted terrorist who once called the Fort Lauderdale-area home before joining the ranks of al-Qaida, won his bid Wednesday to delay his resentencing in Miami federal court.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke granted a defense request to postpone the resentencing from Monday until Jan. 29. His lawyer argued the delay would give Padilla — who seemed more disengaged, gaunt and pale than during his Miami trial more than five years ago — extra time to improve his mental health.

Federal Public Defender Michael Caruso said he believes the government has effectively “tortured” Padilla during his incarceration over the past decade and that he would benefit from visits from his Broward relatives at the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami, where he was transferred recently. His mother and two brothers attended Wednesday’s hearing, but did not comment.

Padilla, 42, is serving a 17-year prison at the Supermax prison in Florence, Colo., where he’s held in isolation almost all day. He faces up to life in prison at his resentencing, after a federal appeals court last year rejected the judge’s initial sentence as too lenient.

“Since his arrest in May of 2002, the government has systematically attempted to destroy Jose by psychologically torturing him and imprisoning him under the severest of conditions,” Caruso, who represented Padilla at his 2007 trial, wrote in court papers. “Not surprisingly, this psychological torture has taken a toll on Jose.”

Federal prosecutors voiced strong opposition to the delay and disputed the public defender’s depiction of Padilla’s imprisonment.

“It’s not torture,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier told the judge. “He’s not in a black hole in Calcutta.”

Last year, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that the one-time “enemy combatant” should receive harsher punishment reflecting his extensive criminal record.

The appellate court found that Judge Cooke “unreasonably discounted” Padilla’s criminal history before lowering a potential 30-year-to-life sentence.

Padilla, born in New York to Puerto Rican parents, was a former Chicago gang member with 17 arrests and a murder conviction before moving to the Fort Lauderdale area and becoming a recruit for al-Qaida, according to federal prosecutors.

The appeals court sent the controversial case back to Cooke to resentence Padilla, who trained with al-Qaida the year before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to trial evidence.

Caruso appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it declined to hear his petition.

The appeals court, in a 2-1 ruling, upheld the terrorism convictions of Padilla and two others: Adham Amin Hassoun, a Palestinian who had met him at a Broward mosque in the 1990s; and Hassoun’s colleague, Kifah Wael Jayyousi, a U.S. citizen of Jordanian descent. They were sentenced to 15 years and eight months, and 12 years and eight months, respectively.

All three defendants, convicted of conspiring to support Islamic extremists overseas, sought a new trial based on claims of improper testimony by the lead FBI agent and a terrorism expert, along with insufficient evidence and other allegations.

Padilla also challenged Cooke’s decision to reject a motion to dismiss his indictment based on “outrageous government conduct” while he was held in a Naval brig before his transfer to Miami to face terrorism charges in 2006.

Padilla was held without being charged in the South Carolina brig for 3 1/2 years — time that the Miami judge cut from his sentence.