Jose Padilla sues UC Berkley professor

January 4, 2008 8:27:45 PM PST
A former military prisoner sued a Berkeley law professor in federal court in San Francisco today for writing legal memos that justified his allegedly harsh interrogation and mistreatment in a Navy brig.

Jose Padilla claims in the lawsuit that memos written by John Yoo for the U.S. Justice Department supported an allegedly "extreme and unprecedented interrogation and detention program" violating U.S. laws and the Constitution.

Yoo, now a professor at the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley, was a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department from 2001 to 2003. In that post, he wrote memos on the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects designated as enemy combatants.

Yoo did not return messages seeking his comment on the lawsuit today.

Padilla, 37, an American citizen, was arrested in Chicago in 2002 on suspicion of plotting in an alleged "dirty bomb" scheme. He was declared an enemy combatant and kept in solitary confinement in a Navy brig in South Carolina for three and one-half years.

Padilla was never charged in the alleged bomb plot, but was indicted in 2005 on separate charges of supporting overseas jihadism. He was transferred to a federal prison in January 2006 and convicted of three counts in federal court in Miami this year. He is due to be sentenced next week.

Padilla claims that while in the brig, he was subjected to "gross physical and psychological abuse" that amounted to torture and was authorized by Yoo's memos.

The alleged abuse included extreme sleep and sensory deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures, forced sitting and standing in painful "stress" positions and threats during interrogation of being cut with a knife or killed, the lawsuit says.

The suit also claims Padilla's legal rights were violated when he was not allowed to see a lawyer for almost two years and then was given access in limited conditions in which his communications were monitored and he was not permitted to discuss his treatment.

Jonathan Freiman, a Yale law school lecturer representing Padilla in the lawsuit, charged, "John Yoo was central to the justification and creation of the torture system. Without his legal green light, it never could have happened."

The suit seeks $1 in financial compensation and a court declaration that the alleged practices were illegal and unconstitutional.

Padilla's mother, Estela Lebron, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, claiming that she was denied virtually all contact with her son while he was in the brig in violation of her constitutional rights of communication and association.