US citizen and convicted terrorist Jose Padilla [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] filed a petition for certiorari [text, PDF] with the US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday, appealing the dismissal [JURIST report] of his lawsuit against US officials for allegedly illegally detaining him at a military jail in South Carolina. Padilla's lawsuit claims nominal monetary redress against Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta [official profile], former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld [BBC profile] and other officials, arguing that the Defense Department's methods of detaining him as an "enemy combatant" were unconstitutional. His question to the Supreme Court, however, is on the issue of whether he can bring the suit: "Whether federal officials responsible for the torture of an American citizen on American soil may be sued for damages under the Constitution." Padilla's case is being pursued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website; case materials] and his mother [press release].
The Fourth Circuit, in upholding the dismissal of the initial suit, held that Padilla could not use a lawsuit seeking monetary damages to review an issue involving national security and that the judiciary was not the proper forum to rule on the legislature-adopted policies responsible for his detention. The court reasoned that allowing such lawsuits "would expose past executive deliberations affecting sensitive matters of national security to the prospect of searching judicial scrutiny." Padilla was arrested in 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and thereafter detained as an enemy combatant. He was convicted on terrorism charges in 2007 and sentenced [JURIST reports] to 17 years in prison. In September, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that sentence was too lenient and ordering a new sentencing hearing [JURIST report]. The court noted Padilla's 17 prior arrests and objected to a reduction of his sentence for the three-and-a-half years he was detained as an "enemy combatant" on a base in South Carolina before charges were brought against him.