The 17-year prison sentence imposed on convicted terrorism plotter Jose Padilla is far too lenient for someone who trained to kill at an al-Qaida camp and also has a long, violent criminal history, a federal appeals court ruled Monday as it threw out the sentence.
A divided three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new sentencing hearing for former Chicagoan Padilla, a U.S. citizen and Muslim convert convicted in 2007 along with two co-conspirators of several terrorism-related charges.
Padilla, 40, was held for more than three years without charge as an enemy combatant before he was added to the Miami terror support case.
The ruling affirmed the convictions of Padilla, Adham Hassoun and Kifah Jayyousi on terrorism support and conspiracy charges. The sentences of Hassoun and Jayyousi -- more than 15 years and more than 12 years, respectively -- were also upheld.
Federal prosecutors objected in 2008 to Padilla's sentence and the appeals panel's majority agreed that U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, who presided over the four-month trial, made several errors in essentially discounting his sentence by 12 years.
Among the mistakes, the appeals court found, was not taking into account Padilla's training at the al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan.
"Padilla poses a heightened risk of future dangerousness due to his al-Qaida training," the judges ruled in a 73-page order. "He is far more sophisticated than an individual convicted of an ordinary street crime."
The judges also noted Padilla's 17 prior arrests, including involvement in a deadly fight as a juvenile, and ruled it was wrong for Cooke to use as a reference point several other terrorism cases in which defendants got relatively light sentences.
Padilla's lawyers tried before trial to get the case thrown out by claiming his treatment during his time at the brig amounted to torture, which U.S. officials have repeatedly denied. His attorneys say he was forced to stand in painful stress positions, given LSD or other drugs as "truth serum," deprived of sleep and even a mattress for extended periods and subjected to loud noises, extreme heat and cold and noxious odors.