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Tortured Punished, Torturer Cleared: The Story of Ahmed Abu-Ali.

By       Message WILLIAM FISHER     Permalink
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This article originally appeared in the pages of Prism Magazine.


The year is 2003. In Saudi Arabia, the semester at the university American-born Ahmed Abu-Ali is attending in Medina is coming to an end. It's exam time. Soon, he'll be on a jet headed for his family's home in Falls Church, Virginia.

But 23-year-old Abu-Ali never makes it to the airport. Or anywhere close. Instead he is arrested by Saudi security services "for questioning," and imprisoned. And that's where he would stay for the next twenty months. With no lawyer and no charge against him.

And where, Abu-Ali charges, he was routinely tortured, including the occasion when a "confession" was squeezed from him under extreme duress. It was a "confession" of a conspiracy to organize an Al Qaeda cell in the US, and to use guns or a suicide mission to kill the president of the United States.

At the same time, Abu-Ali's parents, naturalized US citizens living in Northern Virginia, find themselves crazed by the frustration of effectively having their son "disappeared" -- a victim of extraordinary rendition in plain sight -- and being unable to get a coherent story from either the Saudis, who are holding him, or the US, which they strongly suspect is apparently managing his incarceration.

Finally, in August 2004, after the FBI executed a search warrant on their home, Abu-Ali's parents' frustration reached a boiling point. They filed a habeas corpus lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, seeking a legal justification of Abu-Ali's detention, and his ultimate release.

The legal team for the habeas action included high-profile constitutional rights scholar, Georgetown University law professor David Cole and other prominent civil rights lawyers, including Morton Sklar.

The government's position had been that Abu-Ali was too dangerous to be brought to the US. But then it dropped its legal IED. It flew Abu-Ali to the United States. This mooted Judge Bates's question, as lawyer Cassel put it, "whether the government could proceed upon secret evidence to block his return."

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Now that he was back in the States, it was a stretch to deny that the Abu-Ali's Saudi detention was not with U.S. consent - indeed, according to attorney David Cole, his return was arguably facilitated at the U.S.'s behest.

It was only Judge Bates's interest in Abu Ali's case that changed the government's mind.

Judge Bates was concerned about the potentially indefinite imprisonment of a U.S. citizen, with the U.S.'s consent, in a foreign prison where due process is ignored and torture is common.

He had reason to be suspicious. Saudi Arabia's human rights record had long been a disaster. It is generally acknowledged to be the most orthodox and repressive of the Arab regimes in the Middle East. It retains that role, even after the so-called Arab Awakening and the grisly situation in Syria.

The State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2003 says Saudi Arabian security forces "tortured detainees" and that "torture and abuse were used to obtain confessions from prisoners."   The report also cites " " credible reports that security forces continued to torture and abuse detainees and prisoners, arbitrarily arrest and detain persons, and hold them in incommunicado detention."

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But now that Abu Ali was physically in the US, the government had to charge him with something -- presumably that would reassure the public that the government was waging the "war on terror" relentlessly and successfully.

Abu-Ali was arraigned on February 22. The Government used Abu-Ali's Saudi-prison confession, with an FBI agent testifying at the hearing on the bail motion, that Ali had confessed to Saudi officials that "he associated with persons involved with al-Qaeda, received things of value from them, and talked with one or more of them about how to assassinate President Bush, whether by car bomb or shooting."

The government's charge of conspiracy also seemed questionable. When the indictment was made available to the public, it raised an even larger question about the entire prosecution. Nowhere in the indictment is Abu-Ali tied to any terrorist event or action. Legal experts asked, "If his only transgression was conversation -- speech -- what is the crime? Where's the beef?"

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William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)

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