PLANTATION, Fla. - Introduced to the nation in 2002 as a "known terrorist" with jihadist ambitions, a Plantation woman said her son is nothing of the sort.
In May 2002, Jose Padilla was arrested by federal agents at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Federal officials said Padilla was carrying $9,000 in cash to be spent on harming Americans. After the arrest, FBI agents came to Estela Lebron's home where she says they used her to "set up" her son.
Lebron said she knows Padilla as "Pucho." She said he was one of five kids raised in a religious home. Lebron said Padilla wanted to be a preacher.
"He used to make people cry in my house," she said. "He used to sit on that table, talk to you, preach to you at that age. He make you cry."
She said she kept her silence while he was held for more than three years without charges in a Navy brig as an enemy combatant, and tortured.
Now though, she is bringing a civil lawsuit against the federal government, backed by Yale Law School.
In the suit, Lebron said her son was subjected to extreme isolation, interrogation under threat of torture and sensory deprivation. It claims Padilla's rights were violated and he was improperly labeled as an enemy combatant.
"No blanket, no light, dark, dark, dark, dark," Lebron said. "If you don't give my son a blanket to cover himself at nighttime, and if you let him sleep on the floor and he's being locked up in a nine by eleven cell, what makes you think that's not torture?"
Padilla was ultimately charged and convicted of terror conspiracy charges. U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke sentenced him to 17 years in prison, citing the fact that there was no evidence he had actually harmed anyone. Last month, an appellate court overturned that sentence, ruling that it was too lenient.
"Padilla poses a heightened risk of future dangerousness due to his al-Qaeda training," the judges wrote. "He is far more sophisticated than an individual convicted of an ordinary street crime."
Now 40-years-old, Padilla is in a "super-max" federal prison in Colorado where his mother says he remains in isolation ? along with other iconic criminals like Terry Nichols, Zacarias Massaoui, and the "Unabomber," Ted Kaczynski.
His mother says she is speaking up for her son now to try to bring him home.
"They say so many things about him but they have no proof," she said in between sobs. "You have to show me the proof."
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