Padilla’s case rose to prominence because he was the first American citizen arrested in the US to be designated an enemy combatant and subjected to open-ended detention and harsh interrogation tactics.
Lawyers working on his behalf waged a multiyear effort to win a measure of judicial review to determine the legality of his detention. After years of inconclusive litigation and with the Supreme Court poised to finally consider his appeal, the government rendered the case moot by transferring Padilla from military detention to the criminal justice system.
After a trial in federal court in Miami, he was convicted of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic terror groups. He is currently serving a 17-year prison sentence.
In 2007, prior to his criminal trial, Padilla and his mother, Estela Lebron, filed a civil lawsuit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other military officials for authorizing and directing his alleged torture.
Lawyers acting on Padilla’s behalf sought a court judgment that their client’s treatment violated the Constitution. They also asked for nominal damages of $1 from each of the named defendants.
A federal judge and a federal appeals court threw the suit out, ruling that it was beyond the expertise of the federal courts to examine sensitive issues of military interrogation policy and intelligence gathering.
In urging the high court to hear the appeal, Padilla’s lawyers said the appeals court had granted military officials a “sweeping national security exemption” for gross government misconduct.
“It is hard to conceive of a more profound constitutional violation than the torture of a US citizen on US soil,” Wizner wrote in his brief urging the high court to take up Padilla’s case.
“With the court of appeals’ holding that Mr. Padilla’s claims of torture are nonjusticiable, our legal system has arrived at the bottom of the slippery slope,” he said.