ATLANTA -- Convicted terrorism plotter Jose Padilla's attorneys asked an appeals court on Tuesday to throw out his conviction, arguing that he was the victim of "outrageous governmental conduct."
Padilla gained notoriety when he was accused in 2002 of plotting to blow up a radioactive "dirty bomb," though those claims were eventually dropped. He was later convicted along with two others in an unrelated terrorism plot.
Padilla's lawyer told the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that his client should have been granted an evidentiary hearing before the 2007 trial that would have proved he was being mistreated by the government.
Lawyers for Padilla and his co-conspirators also argued that a federal judge made a series of errors that helped lead the jury toward a guilty conviction.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, contended that Padilla's prison sentence of more than 17 years was too lenient.
Padilla and co-conspirators Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi were convicted in 2007 after a three-month trial in which prosecutors said they sent money, recruits and supplies to Islamic extremist groups.
Padilla, a U.S. citizen and Muslim convert, had been arrested in 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on suspicion of plotting to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb," and then held for 3 1/2 years as an enemy combatant without charge.
Amid legal challenges to his detention, the Justice Department in late 2005 added Padilla to the separate Miami terror support case involving Hassoun and Jayyousi. The dirty bomb allegations were dropped.
In court filings and during arguments Tuesday, Padilla's attorney Michael Caruso contended there should have been an evidentiary hearing before the trial that would have proven he is the victim of "outrageous governmental conduct." He said his client was mistreated and tortured on a Navy brig, charges that federal officials have repeatedly denied.
"There can be no dispute that we have that here -- extremely prolonged isolation, psychological and physical abuse, prolonged interrogation," said Caruso. "We have conduct that shocks the conscience."
During the trial, Padilla was billed as a "star recruit," while Hassoun was the recruiter and Jayyousi served as a financier and propagandist. According to testimony, Hassoun recruited Padilla at a Florida mosque to attend an al-Qaida terrorist training camp in Afghanistan.
Sentencing guidelines had called for as much as life in prison for all three, but U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke used her discretion to go below the minimum. Padilla got about 17 years, Hassoun was sentenced to over 15 years and Jayyousi to 12 years and eight months.
On Tuesday, lawyers for the three men tried to chip away at the government's case.
Jayyousi's attorney Matthew Hellman contended that video of an old Osama bin Laden interview that was used in an attempt to link the three to the world's most notorious terrorist was "extremely prejudicial."
"It had no evidence whatsoever for the allegations against Jayyousi," said Hellman.
Lawrence Rosenberg, a lawyer for Hassoun, argued that assertions by an FBI agent that he used phrases like "tourism" and "football" as code for violent jihad were faulty. He said his client's overseas assistance was for peaceful purposes.
Government attorney John Shipley countered that the evidence helped paint a picture of a "conspiracy to support the establishment of radical Islamic regimes." And he said Padilla's sentence should be stiffer in partly because it isn't enough to deter the 39-year-old from future offenses.
"The sentence that was imposed here was too low for a career offender who is violent and also had al-Qaida training," said Shipley.