'Dirty Bomb' Suspect Status Argued

Jose Padilla U.S. Court, Justice
AP / CBS
The lawyer for an American citizen accused of being involved in a "dirty bomb" plot told appeals court judges Tuesday that his client shouldn't be held indefinitely without charges. But a government attorney said the president must have the authority to protect U.S. citizens.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case of Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member and Muslim convert arrested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in May 2002. Accused of being an al Qaeda operative, he was designated an "enemy combatant" by President Bush one month later.

"I may be the first lawyer to stand here and say I'm asking for my client to be indicted by a federal grand jury," Padilla's lawyer, Andrew Patel, told the three-judge appeals panel.

The Justice Department alleges that Padilla, now in a military prison in Charleston, S.C., flew from Pakistan to the U.S. on a scouting mission to detonate a so-called "dirty bomb," a conventional bomb laced with radioactive material, within the United States.

The department also alleges that Padilla planned to blow up apartment buildings by filling them with natural gas.

"It would be very, very strange to say an intent on blowing up apartment buildings and killing U.S. citizens again is not a hostile act," U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement said.

"The Administration takes comfort in the fact that this appellate court has been very receptive to the idea of giving the President broad discretion to identify and then detain U.S. citizens as 'enemy combatants,'" CBS News' Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen said. "So that bodes well for this appeal. But looming afterward is the U.S. Supreme Court and that court a few years ago said the executive branch doesn't have complete discretion to lock someone away indefinitely, even during a time of terror."