May 2 (Reuters): A US appeals court today ruled that John Yoo, a former legal counsel to the Bush administration, is immune from a lawsuit by an American citizen who said he had been tortured at a military jail in South Carolina.
Jose Padilla, who was convicted on terrorism charges in 2007, had accused Yoo of helping to formulate policies under which those designated as “enemy combatants” by the US government were interrogated and detained. The San Francisco-based court reversed a lower court decision which had allowed the suit to proceed.
The appeals court found it was unclear at the time of Yoo’s tenure that designated enemy combatants were entitled to the same constitutional protections as other accused criminals. It was also not clearly established at the time that Padilla’s treatment amounted to torture, the court ruled.
Padilla, a Muslim convert turned al Qaida recruit, was arrested in Chicago on his return from abroad in 2002 and initially accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a US city.
He was never charged with plotting a bomb attack, but President George W. Bush ordered authorities to hold him as an “enemy combatant” and interrogate him in a military brig where he was detained in isolation for three-and-a-half years. Padilla and two co-defendants were convicted in August 2007 on unrelated charges of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people abroad.
Padilla, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison, accused Yoo of overstepping his role as a lawyer to develop the administration’s interrogation policy. He sought a declaration that his designation as an enemy combatant, his military detention and his treatment in custody were unconstitutional.