For 1,307 days, the U.S. military held terror suspect Jose Padilla in a 9 foot by 7 foot cell in a South Carolina Navy brig.

His captors deprived him of sleep, Padilla’s lawyers say. They chained him in painful positions, injected him with mind-altering drugs, and left him in maddening isolation.

So damaged is Padilla by his treatment, his lawyers contend, that he is no longer mentally fit to stand trial. While prosecutors vigorously deny the torture claims, his lawyers argue he should not be prosecuted.

In many ways, the legal wrangling in Padilla’s case echoes the larger moral and political debate over interrogation techniques in the war on terror that has played out nationwide since Sept. 11.

What is torture? What are the rights of individuals suspected of ties to al Qaida? Is it acceptable to detain U.S. citizens, like Padilla, outside the criminal justice system in the name of national security?

To many legal scholars and human rights advocates, what happens next in Padilla’s case matters far more than the jury’s ultimate verdict.

“If everything that Padilla alleges the government did to him is true, it’s hard to imagine a prosecution could go forward that is not tainted,” said Elisa Massimino, Washington, D.C. director of Human Rights First.

Padilla, 36, a former Broward resident, was arrested in May 2002 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. He was pronounced an “enemy combatant” and imprisoned by the military for 31/2 years without charges.

In the brig, the government created a universe of isolation and deprivation designed to break the accused al Qaida “dirty bomber,” his lawyers say.


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