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Padilla sentence: Does terror training merit life?

On Tuesday, a federal judge will announce Al Qaeda recruit's long-awaited prison sentence.

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Prosecutors in Miami are asking a federal judge to endorse a broad reading of a murder conspiracy statute and material support law to send convicted Al Qaeda recruit Jose Padilla to prison for the rest of his life.

If US District Judge Marcia Cooke agrees with the US Justice Department, the severe sentence won't be for any violent act carried out or planned by Mr. Padilla. Instead, he will be punished for what prosecutors say were his dangerous intentions – intentions to conduct unspecified future terrorist operations.

The case raises a potential landmark legal question.

Can a suspected future terrorist receive the same harsh punishment meted out against actual terrorists who were personally involved in planning or carrying out genuine bombings, assassinations, and kidnappings?

On Tuesday, Judge Cooke will answer that question when she announces Padilla's sentence.

The judge has already decided that Padilla and his two co-defendants are eligible for terms of 30 years to life in prison under a special "terrorism enhancement" within the federal sentencing guidelines. But the judge has the discretion to hand down more lenient sentences.

In a hearing on Friday, Padilla's lawyer, Acting Federal Public Defender Michael Caruso, argued that there is no comparison between his client's conduct and the conduct of convicted terrorists currently serving sentences of life in prison.

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