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Supported by U.S. |Reporter’s NotebookMysteries, Legal and Sartorial, at Padilla Trial Share This PagePhoto Jose Padilla, pictured in January 2006, is facing terrorism charges.Credit J. Pat Carter/Associated Press

MIAMI, July 5 — Nine weeks into his federal terrorism trial, Jose Padilla remains almost as mysterious as when he was hidden away in a naval brig for three years and eight months.

Mr. Padilla looks relaxed most days, only seldom betraying tension when his jaw muscles twitch or his shoulders hunch in his business suit. He laughs softly when his lawyers joke, and he smiles at his mother when she comes to court on Fridays. He seems to follow the tortuous proceedings closely, but what he is thinking is anyone’s guess.

Mr. Padilla, an American convert to Islam, was initially charged with plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in the United States and placed in military custody. But the government changed his status from “enemy combatant” to criminal defendant in the face of a legal challenge, and he now stands accused of attending a terrorist training camp run by Al Qaeda .

He was added to the case of two Arab men charged with supporting terrorist activities abroad, and the proceedings often focus wholly on them.


Prosecutors have tried to prove Mr. Padilla’s guilt with a training camp application they say he filled out and wiretapped phone conversations in which he took part or was discussed. But they have no witnesses who saw Mr. Padilla fill out the form, and the phone recordings make him sound more troubled than malign. They suggest Mr. Padilla, a former gang member in Chicago and fast-food worker in South Florida, struggled to fit in and learn Arabic in Egypt, where he moved in 1998.


“Basically, he is a slow learner,” one of Mr. Padilla’s associates told another in 1999, five months after he arrived in Cairo. “Basically, he doesn’t want to speak. I mean, the man doesn’t ... doesn’t move.”

Mr. Padilla could be heard speaking on seven wiretapped calls, mostly monosyllabically. Adham Hassoun, the co-defendant charged with recruiting him, repeatedly scolded Mr. Padilla for not calling enough, urged him to study Arabic harder and offered to send money whenever he needed it.

Mr. Padilla and Mr. Hassoun, a Palestinian whom he met at a mosque in Broward County, sit a few feet apart in court but rarely interact. A phalanx of marshals returns them to the adjacent federal prison every night, but the third defendant, Kifah Jayyousi, goes home with his family. Mr. Jayyousi, a Jordanian-American who is free on bail, sometimes walks with his family to a McDonald’s for lunch.

Where Mr. Padilla eats lunch is one mystery of the trial, but a far larger question looms: What must the jurors be thinking? Not yet halfway through, they are awash in dozens of transcribed calls, lessons on Muslim conflicts in places like Chechnya and Somalia and assorted definitions of jihad.

They have heard about a dizzying cast of characters in the radical Islamist world, from Osama bin Laden to a man nicknamed Fish-Fish, and listened to opposing views of whether Mr. Hassoun spoke in code on wiretapped calls. (One can imagine the jurors in deliberations, arguing over whether “eating cheese” means waging jihad or enjoying a chunk of Gruyère.)

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The government has not linked any of the defendants to specific violent acts. So unless a bombshell is pending, the jurors will have to decide whether the government’s interpretation of the intercepted calls is credible or, as the defense maintains, Mr. Padilla was training to become an imam and his co-defendants were trying to help persecuted Muslims in war-torn regions. They do not appear perplexed, nor particularly interested or bored.

Since the trial began on May 14, their own lives have sometimes proved more dramatic than the case. One juror’s sister died of cancer last week; she wept during a break the next day, prompting Judge Marcia Cooke to dismiss court early. Another was injured trying to stop a car thief; he was excused.

Several times now, the five women and seven men have shown up in color-coordinated outfits. One day, the men dressed in blue and the women in pink. On July 3, the first row wore red, the second white and the third blue, leading bloggers to wonder whether they were worrisomely frivolous or unified — or so patriotic as to condemn all accused terrorists.


The most interesting things almost always happen when the jurors are not around. That is when the lawyers complain to Judge Cooke, often bitterly, about each other’s conduct and plans. Once in a while they even fix each other with death stares, as if summoning a voodoo curse.

Tensions erupt so often that some days it seems the jurors are filing out to their break room every few minutes. The lawyers have fought over whether the government could use the term “violent jihad” (no), whether it could show jurors a CNN interview with Osama bin Laden (yes) and whether the cross-examination of a witness could last longer than direct questioning.

They complain of insufficient warning about exhibits and accuse each other of prejudicing the jury.

“Your honor, this is insanity,” John Shipley, an assistant attorney general, said last week, complaining about a late-night e-mail message he received from one of Mr. Hassoun’s lawyers.

Defense lawyers have asked repeatedly for a mistrial, most recently when jurors glimpsed Mr. Hassoun in shackles while leaving court. This week, they were angered when the government’s expert witness on terrorism refused to answer their questions on confidentiality grounds and when, one morning before his testimony, he appeared on CNN to discuss the attempted attacks in London and Glasgow.

Judge Cooke usually listens patiently while the jurors do who-knows-what — coordinate their outfits, perhaps — in the break room. But last week she blew up at Jeanne Baker, a lawyer for Mr. Hassoun, calling her “disrespectful” after Ms. Baker talked over a government objection.

“Tell the jurors to take 10 minutes,” Judge Cooke said, adding, “I’m taking 10 minutes.”

She adjourned court early that day. There are still weeks to go.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A12 of the New York edition with the headline: Mysteries, Legal and Sartorial, at Padilla Trial.

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