A 24-year old Arab-American was convicted Tuesday of joining al-Qaeda and plotting
to assassinate President Bush. Houston native Ahmed Omar Abu Ali was tried after
spending nearly two years in a Saudi Arabian prison, where he says was tortured
into making a confession. Two doctors who examined him corroborated his claim.
Abu Ali moved to Saudi Arabia to study Islam in the year 2000. He was arrested
three years later while taking final exams at the Islamic University of Medina.
He’ll be sentenced on February 17, and faces life in prison.
• Ashraf Nubani, Attorney and Managing Partner of
The Nubani Law Firm. Lawyer for Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, the Virginia resident
convicted of terrorism charges last week. He joins Amy on the line from
[Posted By ShiftShapers]
By Amy Goodman and Juan Gonazales, Democracy Now!
Republished from Democracy
Now! Independent Unembedded Alternative Media Collaborative
American Citizen Jailed in Saudi Arabia for 20 Months Convicted in
U.S. Court of Joining al-Qaeda and Plotting to Assassinate Bush.
AMY GOODMAN: We are joined now on the line by Ahmed Omar
Abu Ali’s attorney, Ashraf Nubani. He is a Virginia-based attorney and
Managing Partner of the Nubani Law Firm. Welcome to Democracy Now!
ASHRAF NUBANI: Thank you. Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Your response
to the conviction of your client?
ASHRAF NUBANI: Well, obviously, the jury has spoken, but it’s
not over. We plan to appeal. The appeal will be done after the sentencing in
February. We believe that it’s unfortunate that the judicial system and
the justice system hasn’t worked when it comes to these types of cases,
but certainly in the case of Ahmed, who was tortured and held by a foreign country
and then rendered back to the United States, only to face these criminal charges.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the defense of your client,
and also your ultimate response to the conviction. The Washington Post today
has an editorial, “Belated Justice for a Terrorist”?
ASHRAF NUBANI: Actually, I didn’t see the – I
didn’t see that, but it’s just unfortunate that we have –
we have a situation again, as I said, that you have someone who was held in
solitary confinement for 20 months in Saudi Arabia. We were unable to bring
evidence of the Saudi system – the Saudi judicial system there and the
methods of interrogation, other than through a cross-examination of what’s
called the Saudi Mukhbarat – they’re the secret service in Saudi
Arabia – through depositions that were held there, and were under a protective
order for many months before the actual trial.
Belated justice in the sense that we haven’t – we didn’t
have the opportunity to show that he had been tortured beyond allowing Ahmed
to testify. There was no way to go to Saudi Arabia to uncover the methods of
abuse that is applied by the Saudi government in these tapes of cases on its
own citizens and citizens abroad, and to come back after two years and charge
someone with conspiracy, which even the indictment and the government agrees
that the conspiracy, for example, to assassinate the President, never went beyond
the talking stage. The person who Ahmed was alleged to have discussed the assassination
of the President has been dead for over a year, and therefore, it – actually
more than a year, but the person is no longer living, and therefore, it was
just unbearable to see 12 jurors sentence – or 12 jurors to decide that
someone is guilty of these crimes.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read you, Ashraf Nubani, from the
Washington Post piece that you haven’t gotten a chance to see yet. It
says that “Abu Ali’s family alleged on behalf of the U.S. government
he was held for the better part of two years without charge or access to counsel.
When his parents brought suit in this country, the government fought the lawsuit,
not only with secret evidence, but with a secret legal theory. It then brought
him home and charged him with plotting to kill President Bush and conduct major
terrorist operations. Mr. Abu Ali in turn claimed he had been tortured and had
confessed falsely under duress, an allegation that given Saudi Arabia’s
human rights record was plausible. Sorting out the question of his guilt and
the linked question of his treatment seemed a tall order indeed.
“Last week, a jury in federal court in Alexandria convicted Mr. Abu Ali
on all charges against him. The trial, which was conducted remarkably smoothly,
answered a lot of troubling questions the case posed. It now appears, for example,
Mr. Abu Ali was not arrested at the behest of American authorities, but on the
initiative of Saudi authorities investigating terrorism in their own country.
After a lengthy set of hearings on Abu Ali’s allegations of torture, the
U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee produced a detailed opinion rejecting them
and holding that Mr. Abu Ali’s incriminating statements about his plans
and activities were voluntary and therefore admissible as evidence against him.
The jury evidently agreed. The trial had certain peculiarities. Key witnesses
testified from Saudi Arabia by videoconference, but in the main, the result
is an outcome that has happened too infrequently in the war on terrorism: A
conviction in a major case following the regular rules.” Your response?
ASHRAF NUBANI: Well, I think that this is the tragedy of this
case. Certainly, there hasn’t been a case since September 11 that the
case – these terrorism cases have been – have turned out what they
were touted to be by the government or the administration, and Ahmed Abu Ali’s
case is no different. I think that there was a lot of failures in the justice
system and in this case. One is that the judge heard Ahmed testify. Everyone
in the courtroom and the public heard that testimony. There wasn’t an
issue about his credibility as to what happened. I believe that the judge did
not want to be in a position where he would let the, quote, unquote, “terrorist”
go by suppressing the evidence against him.
You have to understand that the evidence that was presented by the prosecution
was basically his statements, and the government’s position obviously
was that he wasn’t tortured, but the case shouldn’t have gone to
the jury in the first place. As far as – you know, as I said the jury
has spoken, but again, it’s impossible – almost impossible, and
there are flukes, but it’s almost impossible to receive a fair trial in
the United States after September 11, but certainly in the Eastern District
of Virginia, where the jury pool is devoid of minorities and people who share
a diverse background.
AMY GOODMAN: Will you be appealing on those grounds?
ASHRAF NUBANI: Well, the judge’s finding is a credibility
issue, which there is no appeal. He would have to have been wrong on the law.
The joint venture issue that was alluded to in the Post article is an issue
that we weren’t able to flush out. And the problem with that was that
the government had kept a lot of the material away from the defense team throughout
the trial. I had applied for a security clearance that was denied by the government,
and no specific reason was given. And it was too late for the rest of the team
to apply for their own security clearances, and we had to bring in counsel that
Paperwork or the documents that were turned over that were unclassified showed
that Ahmed was being held at some point at the behest of the United States.
In fact, it was the C.I.A. asked that he be held, and at one point, there was
a communication that stated that he shouldn’t – that he should no
longer be held at the behest of the United States. We don’t have the smoking
gun. We believe that if that existed, it was certainly destroyed and would not
be available to us, but it doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a joint
venture here. It’s just that the judge didn’t buy that argument,
and therefore we couldn’t go on that basis.
AMY GOODMAN: And by joint venture, you mean the U.S. and Saudi
Arabia cooperating in holding Ahmed Omar Abu Ali?
ASHRAF NUBANI: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us.
Ashraf Nubani, the lawyer for the Arab American student who was just convicted.
He will be sentenced in February.