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Update [2005-2-22 13:57:15 by SusanHu]: New info below fold. Latest: Court memorandum + more bio details

There's a big but. A couple weeks ago, Plutonium Page e-mailed me, thinking I'd like to do a diary about Ahmed Abu Ali, a U.S. citizen from Virginia, a high school valedictorian who was being tortured incommunicado, without access to counsel, in a Saudi Arabian prison.  He was, the article reported, one of the now infamous CIA "ghost detainees."  His parents have been frantically trying to get help for him.  I did a lot of research and saved it on -- of course -- my broken computer.  Bear with me while I piece this together again.

This morning, AM radio and TV news are reporting  :

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - A former Virginia high school valedictorian who had been  in Saudi Arabia as a suspected terrorist was charged Tuesday with conspiring to assassinate President Bush and with supporting the al-Qaida terrorist network.

: continued below :

Update [2005-2-22 19:51:27 by SusanHu]: At the end of the diary, there's a stunning direct quote from the court memorandum on habeas corpus that directly places responsibility for Abu Ali's detention in Saudi Arabia on the U.S.

Update [2005-2-22 13:55:2 by SusanHu]: What? Where did the assassination plot come from?

Update [2005-2-22 14:42:23 by SusanHu]: For starters, as Pete Williams just reported on MSNBC, none of the filed charges mentions an assassination plot, only participation in terrorist-type groups.

In 2003, according to attorney Elaine Cassel in Counterpunch:

The November 22 Washington Post reported an alarming story about a Virginia resident and American citizen, 22 year-old Ahmed Abu Ali. In June, as he was preparing to return home to Falls Church from Saudi Arabia where he is a student. He was detained by Saudi Arabian authorities, at the request of the U.S., supposedly for the purposes of "interrogation" about his involvement in a plot, along with other Northern Virginia residents, to provide aid to rebels in Kashmir, who are fighting the Indian takeover of that region. Ali disputes his involvement in the activities of some of his acquaintances who have pled to vague charges of training to fight against a friend of the U.S. (India) in a prosecution in Alexandria, Virginia federal court.
How did we get from aiding rebels in Kashmir to plotting to assassinate Bush? It's just a question.
Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, 23, a U.S. citizen, made an initial appearance Tuesday in U.S. District Court but did not enter a plea. He contended that he was tortured while detained in Saudi Arabia since June of 2003 and offered through his lawyer to show the judge his scars.  MSNBC

Abu Ali's parents have fought hard to publicize their son's "extraordinary rendition" to a Saudi prison and to compel the government to disclose what it " it knows about Abu Ali and his detention."

His appearance today in a U.S. court is a shock because the government had not disclosed he'd been transferred from Saudi Arabia.  I do not know if his parents had any idea of his whereabouts before today; I will endeavor to find out.

First, a bit of background:

Abu Ali was born in Houston and moved to Falls Church, Va., where he was valedictorian of his high school class. Federal prosecutors say Abu Ali joined an al-Qaida cell in Saudi Arabia in 2001. The alleged Bush plot occurred while he was studying in that country. MSNBC

Update [2005-2-22 16:11:3 by SusanHu]: This from the new New York Times article on the case:

... Mr. Ali was valedictorian of his 1999 high school class at the Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria, where school officials described him as "an exceptional student," with special talent in mathematics and science. Bending to the wishes of his parents, Omar and Faten Abu Ali, Mr. Ali entered the University of Maryland in the fall of 1999 to study engineering on a scholarship, The Post reported. But he was unhappy and left the next year to further his Islamic studies, first in Fairfax County, Va., and later in Medina.

Update [2005-2-23 2:10:26 by SusanHu]: Midnight special: Here's more detail from the latest New York Times article:

Mr. Abu Ali is the oldest of five children of Omar and Faten Abu Ali, who moved to Houston from their native Jordan in the 1970's for the father to study mathematics. The father has worked at the Saudi Embassy in Washington for more than 20 years in computer operations, embassy officials said.

After the family moved to Northern Virginia in the suburbs of Washington, Mr. Abu Ali attended high school at the Islamic Saudi Academy, a private school in Alexandria that serves hundreds of children of Saudi citizens and is subsidized by the Saudi government. ...

Mr. Abu Ali taught Islamic studies to young children at the Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church in his spare time during high school. After studying engineering briefly at the University of Maryland, he moved to Saudi Arabia in 2000 to study the Koran at the Islamic University of Medina. ,,,

[H]e wanted to be a teacher or a Muslim scholar."

Mr. Abu Ali returned to Virginia in 2000 but resumed his studies in Saudi Arabia in the fall of 2002. It was then, the Justice Department asserted in Mr. Abu Ali's indictment, that he sought to become an operative of Al Qaeda through contacts with his former roommate at the Islamic University of Medina.

It's possible he was a jihad wannabe or an actual plotter, although the U.S. may have blown the case by allowing him to be a "ghost detainee" in a Saudi prison. Update [2005-2-22 16:11:3 by SusanHu]: The New York Times reports that "cores of his supporters laughed when the charges were read [in court today]."

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usLook. I have no idea what Abu Ali was up to in Saudi Arabia in 2001.  He could have been plotting assassination, bombings, or god knows what.

But a seminal legal problem here is that we may never know what he really was up to.  Why?  Because he was tortured in a Saudi prison, perhaps through the CIA's extraordinary rendition system whereby citizens of any country can be secretly detained, without arrest warrant, and forcibly taken to countries such as Egypt where torture is known to be practiced.

Update [2005-2-22 14:42:23 by SusanHu]: Then there's this astonishing revelation in the Nov. 2004 Washington Post by Salem Ali, an attorney on behalf of Abi Ali, who says that Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon D. Kromberg told him, "He's no good for us here, he has no fingernails left."

Now, if that isn't a concession -- albeit of the most perverse sort -- that Abu Ali's torture renders him unable to be charged in a U.S. court, I don't know what is. (And, in a press conference just aired on MSNBC, Abu Ali's attorney said that testimony obtained through torture is unreliable.)

As we all know here, torture is not only unreliable, but an affront to our basic decency. Further, evidence obtained through torture is not supposed to be used in a court of law (at least officially, and to date).

From my diary, Outsourcing Torture: Secret History (FBI v. CIA):

Serving U.S. intelligence officials had no idea why [Mamdouh] Habib, described by an Australian Embassy official "as a person of security interest" who had not violated any laws, was chosen for rendition.

"It makes no sense," said former chief of CIA Afghanistan operations Milt Bearden. "Any time you send a foreign national to a place where he knows he's going to have his fingernails ripped out, he'll sign any sort of confession, he'll make any sort of admission. You don't get intelligence worth squat as a result." ...

Richard Sale

What if we had -- instead of entombing this kid in a Saudi prison for interrogation and torture -- let highly experienced FBI interrogators have a go with him?

In his revealing analysis of rendition, UPI intelligence reporter Richard Sale points out:

"I think the greatest mistake of this administration has been that they have ignored the expertise of the FBI in these matters," said [former CIA and State Department official Larry Johnson]. "The FBI is enormously skilled in extracting information from people in a non-threatening way.

"Instead, this administration has given control to U.S. Special Forces and the U.S. military, who frankly don't have a clue. Look at Abu Ghraib. It's dispiriting."

Larry Johnson's opinion -- that the FBI's ability to succeed in getting information without torture is the only way to go -- is furthered in the exceptional New Yorker  essay on extraordinary rendition:

For ten years, [Dan Coleman, an ex-F.B.I. agent]  worked closely with the C.I.A. on counter-terrorism cases, including the Embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. His methodical style of detective work, in which interrogations were aimed at forging relationships with detainees, became unfashionable after September 11th, in part because the government was intent on extracting information as quickly as possible, in order to prevent future attacks.

Yet the more patient approach used by Coleman and other agents had yielded major successes. In the Embassy-bombings case, they helped convict four Al Qaeda operatives on three hundred and two criminal counts; all four men pleaded guilty to serious terrorism charges. The confessions the F.B.I. agents elicited, and the trial itself, which ended in May, 2001, created an invaluable public record about Al Qaeda, including details about its funding mechanisms, its internal structure, and its intention to obtain weapons of mass destruction. (The political leadership in Washington, unfortunately, did not pay sufficient attention.)

Abu Ali's U.S. attorney, Ashraf Nubani:

"He was tortured," Nubani told the court. "He has the evidence on his back. He was whipped. He was handcuffed for days at a time."

When Nubani offered to show the judge his back, O'Grady said that Abu Ali might be able to enter that as evidence on Thursday at a detention hearing.

"I can assure you you will not suffer any torture or humiliation while in the (U.S.) marshals' custody," O'Grady said.

Abu Ali is charged with six counts and would face a maximum of 80 years in prison if convicted. The charges include conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qaida, providing material support to al-Qaida, conspiracy to provide support to terrorists, providing material support to terrorists and contributing service to al-Qaida. MSNBC

Update [2005-2-22 16:11:3 by SusanHu]: [NOTE THE NAME-DROPPING] From the New York Times:

"It was defendant Abu Ali's intent to become a planner of terrorist operations like Mohamed Atta and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed." ...

Mr. Ali was arrested by Saudi authorities in Medina on June 9, 2003, on suspicion of being associated with bombings in Riyadh four weeks earlier that killed more than 30 people, including 9 Americans.

A week after his arrest ... a search of Mr. Ali's home in Falls Church turned up documents praising the Sept. 11 attacks, audio tapes in Arabic promoting the killing of Jews and a battle by Muslims against Christians and Jews. ...

The indictment says that Mr. Ali traveled between Virginia and Saudi Arabia between 2000 and 2002, and that from September 2002 on he received lodging from Al Qaeda members who taught him such skills as using hand grenades and forging documents.

... Mr. Ali tried to travel to Afghanistan through Iran to attack American soldiers ... but he could not get the necessary travel documents.

The accusation that Mr. Ali plotted to kill President Bush was included in a count charging him with conspiracy to provide material support and resources to foreign terrorists. ... Mr. Ali and another conspirator discussed two possibilities: that Mr. Ali would get close enough to the president "to shoot him on the street," or that he would detonate a car bomb to kill the president ... [and] discussed two possibilities: that Mr. Ali would get close enough to the president "to shoot him on the street," or that he would detonate a car bomb to kill the president.

Whatever becomes of this young man, remember -- REMEMBER -- that the U.S. got its information by turning Abu Ali [and surely his "co-conspirators"] over to torturers, and don't be afraid to question. He may be guilty as hell. But he deserves all the protections of the Constitution and our courts.
 

Update [2005-2-22 19:51:27 by SusanHu]:

USDC, D.C.

OMAR ABU ALI, et al., Petitioners, v. (JDB) JOHN ASHCROFT, et al., Respondents. Civil Action No. 04-1258

"The writ of habeas corpus commands general recognition as the essential remedy to safeguard a citizen against imprisonment by State or Nation in violation of his constitutional rights." United States v. Morgan, 346 U.S. 502, 506 n.3 (1954) (quotation omitted). This case requires the Court to give substance to those words. Petitioner Ahmed Abu Ali ("Abu Ali") is a citizen of the United States who, through his parents, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus against several officials of the United States ("respondents" or "United States") challenging his ongoing detention since June 2003 in a prison of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia allegedly at the behest and ongoing supervision of the United States.

Petitioners have provided evidence, of varying degrees of competence and persuasiveness, that: [READ THESE SECTIONS] (i) the United States initiated the arrest of Abu Ali in Saudi Arabia; (ii) the United States has interrogated Abu Ali in the Saudi prison; (iii) the United States is controlling his detention in Saudi Arabia; (iv) the United States is keeping Abu Ali in Saudi Arabia to avoid constitutional scrutiny by United States courts; (v) Saudi Arabia would immediately release Abu Ali to United States officials upon a request by the United States government; and (vi) Abu Ali has been subjected to torture while in the Saudi prison.

The United States does not offer any facts in rebuttal. Instead, it insists that a federal district court has no jurisdiction to consider the habeas petition of a United States citizen if he is in the hands of a foreign state, and it asks this Court to dismiss the petition forthwith. The position advanced by the United States is sweeping. The authority sought would permit the executive, at his discretion, to deliver a United States citizen to a foreign country to avoid constitutional scrutiny, or, as is alleged and to some degree substantiated here, work through the intermediary of a foreign country to detain a United States citizen abroad.

The Court concludes that a citizen cannot be so easily separated from his constitutional rights. ...

[I can't grab the link to the PDF file.. using a Mac and am unfamiliar with some commands. It's in the comments section, under the habeas comment.)

Originally posted to SusanHu on Tue Feb 22, 2005 at 10:44 AM PST.

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