WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that U.S. President George W. Bush has the power to detain Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who has been held for more than three years as a suspected enemy combatant without any charges being brought against him.
"The exceedingly important question before us is whether the president of the United States possesses the authority to detain militarily a citizen of this country who is closely associated with al Qaeda," appeals court Judge J. Michael Luttig wrote for the three-judge panel.
"We conclude that the president does possess such authority," said Luttig, a conservative who has been under consideration by the Bush administration for a possible Supreme Court nomination.
Padilla, a former Chicago gang member and convert to Islam, initially was suspected by U.S. officials of plotting with al Qaeda to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States.
On May 8, 2002, Padilla was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport after returning from Pakistan. Bush then declared him an enemy combatant, and Padilla has been held in solitary confinement at a Navy brig in South Carolina.
The appeals court reversed a decision by a federal judge in South Carolina who ruled in February that Bush has no authority to have Padilla held as an enemy combatant. The judge said Padilla must be released if he is not charged with a crime.