WASHINGTON -- A federal judge ordered the Bush administration yesterday to either charge terrorism suspect Jose Padilla with a crime or release him.
US District Judge Henry Floyd in Spartanburg, S.C., said the government cannot hold Padilla indefinitely as an ''enemy combatant," a designation President Bush gave him in 2002. Padilla has been in custody more than 2½ years. The government contends that Padilla was planning an attack with a ''dirty bomb" radiological device.
''The court finds that the president has no power, neither expressed nor implied, neither constitutional nor statutory, to hold petitioner as an enemy combatant," Floyd wrote in a 23-page opinion that was a rebuke to the government. He gave the administration 45 days to take action.
''We think that this is a wonderful decision," said Andy Patel, Padilla's lawyer. ''It is one of those moments that all Americans should be proud of."
The Justice Department did not immediately comment on the ruling.
Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, called Floyd's order a blow to the administration. ''It's a genuine limitation on the president's belief that he can do what he wants in the war on terror," said Ratner, whose group represents many detainees at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The administration has said Padilla was Al Qaeda trained and sought to blow up hotels and apartment buildings in the United States in addition to planning an attack with a ''dirty bomb" radiological device.
Padilla was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in 2002 after returning from Pakistan.
Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey used a news conference last year to detail claims against Padilla. Comey said that if Padilla had been handled by the usual criminal justice system, he ''would likely have ended up a free man."