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International Day in Support of Victims of Torture — Help Ahmed Abu Ali


Guest post by John Halliwell (slightly modified)

On the occasion of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (Friday, June 26), I wanted to ask my fellow Americans to simply sign and fax a letter (pasted at bottom of entry) to President Obama (202-456-2461) to help one of our fellow Americans who has been convicted on evidence produced under conditions of torture.

Ahmed Abu Ali was a young Arab-American studying abroad in Saudi Arabia in 2003 when he was abruptly arrested by Saudi security forces and held for twenty months, during which time he was interrogated – notably not only by the Saudis, but also FBI agents.

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In the past, I have written about the much more well-known case of Sami Al-Arian and the overzealous and overly right-wing prosecutor named Gordon Kromberg who is hounding him. When Abu Ali’s lawyer approached Kromberg in 2005 to ask for help to have his client extradited to the US (Kromberg is the Assistant US Attorney for Virginia, whence Ahmed hails), Kromberg infamously retorted, “He’s no good for us here, he has no fingernails left.”

In any case, Ahmed was in fact extradited, only to be indicted with a conspiracy to assassinate then-President Bush. The government just had one little problemo: the only “evidence” they could muster was Ahmed’s confession, which he gave while in Saudi custody, which he claims was a result of torture (oh yeah, he also wasn’t read his Miranda rights or given access to a lawyer). Lucky for the government, presiding Judge Gerald Lee didn’t think that this torture stuff and denial of basic civil rights was really relevant either, arguing that Ahmed was outside the US after all.

I know what you’re thinking: Saudi Arabia? Torture? Given how much of a beacon Saudi Arabia is in promoting human rights, I too was initially incredulous until I came across this statement:

The [Saudi] Government’s human rights record remained poor. Citizens have neither the right nor the legal means to change their government. Security forces continued to abuse detainees and prisoners, arbitrarily arrest and detain persons, and hold them in incommunicado detention. In addition there were allegations that security forces committed torture.

That’s when I began to think that Ahmed might be telling the truth. Nevertheless, given that this statement comes from some obscure, radical left-wing outfit called the US State Department [?], I was not overly surprised (although still disappointed) that the judge wouldn’t entertain the possibility that Ahmed was in any way “pushed” to “confess” by means…”less than voluntary”, having heard a convincing testimony from anonymous Saudi security officials who assured the court that Saudi Arabia never practices torture (by an unexpected coincidence, their anonymity prevented the defense from being able to attack their credibility…).

Unfortunately, on November 22, 2005, a Virginia federal jury pronounced Ahmed guilty, with the judge subsequently sentencing him to thirty years. To make matters worse, the goverment recently won an appeal to have Ahmed resentenced, possibly for life (the Judge will rule next month).

To this end, I wanted to ask everybody to sign the letter below and fax it to President Obama by this Friday, which is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture . It shouldn’t take you more than two minutes.

I personally know Ahmed’s family, and it’s hard to describe how devastating it is to have your son/brother taken away from you for the rest of your life. For God’s sake, 30 years for a crime you didn’t commit is horrendous enough, but to be behind bars until the end of your days – just the thought of it is almost too difficult to bear.

Below is the text of the letter, which you can send as is.

In solidarity,

[To join our Facebook group, click here.]

Text of letter:

(Your name)
(Your address)

June 26, 2009

President Barack H. Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington DC, 20500
Fax #: 202-456-2461

Dear President Obama,

My name is (first name)____ (last name)____ and I am writing to you from (city, state). In honor of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, I ask you to initiate an investigation of the case of Ahmed Abu-Ali, a fellow American who has been wrongly convicted and imprisoned on the basis of a confession video that he made under torture while in a Saudi prison.

Ahmed, a Muslim American Texan native, was arrested in the middle of an exam in June 2003 while he was studying in Saudi Arabia at the behest of the United States government. He was held in jail for 20 months without charges or access to an attorney and sent back to the United States, where he was tried and convicted of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism on the basis of a false confession that was elicited in a Saudi prison through torture.

The United States government ordered Saudi Arabia to arrest Ahmed Abu-Ali in an attempt to connect him to a Virginia group. Apparently when it failed to do so, it ordered Saudi Arabia to extract whatever it can from him. Saudi Arabia tortured Ahmed and extracted a false confession.  Meanwhile, the family reached out to the State Department, the Justice Department, the FBI, and even the White House, which sent them a letter of good wishes.  All of these efforts by the government were in evasion of the family’s inquiry into the fate of their son.  When the family finally sued in Washington, after losing hope in getting a straight answer from the government, Judge John Bates ordered the government to provide the court with everything related to its knowledge of or engagement in Ahmed’s arrest, detention, or treatment in Saudi Arabia. Instead of coming clean, the Justice Department fabricated an indictment, and in a two-month period from the judge’s order, it brought him from Saudi Arabia to be tried on nothing more than the primary evidence it had: the false confession video.

Mr. President, this is one of those cases where the government did not have to do rendition; their subject was already in a country notorious for torture and all what they had to do was request his detention. The Saudis had no interest in Ahmed’s detention; they were simply the agents of the United States.  During the trial, many serious errors were committed even by the admission of the appeals court, but they were conveniently labeled as “harmless errors.”  Ahmed Abu-Ali’s torturers testified via video conference without the threat of penalty for perjury, and they swore audaciously in the court that Saudi Arabia does not torture, while the judge refused the defense’s request to show the jury State Department reports proving that Saudi Arabia is notorious for torture!

Mr. President, we appreciate the fact that you spoke and acted forcefully against torture, and we appreciate your principled stance on this and many other issues.  While prohibiting future torture is a preventive remedy, it is no consolation to anyone in our prisons whose conviction was based on evidence obtained through torture.  We urge you to initiate a comprehensive review/investigation of all cases in which evidence was tainted by torture, starting with the case of Ahmed Abu-Ali. We strongly urge you on this important day to send a strong message that our nation is not only willing to correct its course into the future, but is also willing to right the wrongs that have been done based on torture.
Respectfully Yours,

(include signature here)
(Your name)

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  1. Talha

    June 26, 2009 at 3:05 AM

    May allah always be with the Mujahideen who suffer in his cause!

  2. MR

    June 26, 2009 at 10:54 AM

    What have the scholars in Saudi Arabia said about this?

  3. Amad

    June 26, 2009 at 11:47 AM

    MR, I doubt Saudi scholars are keeping up with this… enough issues in their own country…
    this is really an American Muslim issue now…

  4. Abu Bakr

    June 26, 2009 at 12:00 PM

    I’m afraid you shouldn’t hold your breath for any statement.

    May Allah hasten this brother’s release.

    • Hassan

      June 26, 2009 at 2:01 PM

      You have just played into his hands….

      • Abu Bakr

        June 26, 2009 at 3:38 PM

        Sorry? What do you mean?

  5. suhail

    June 26, 2009 at 12:28 PM

    May Allah hasten the release of our dear brother and help his family in this time of crises. Ameen.

  6. muslimah

    June 26, 2009 at 1:51 PM

    subhanAllah..this sucks..may Allah punish the tyrants and grant sabr to brother ahmed’s family. ameen, thumma ameen.

  7. Abu Sabaya

    July 27, 2009 at 10:13 PM

    He was re-sentenced to life today.

    During Bush’s term, he gets 30 years. During Obama’s term, they bump it up to life.

    Was this the ‘change’ you were all so excited about?

    • Amad

      July 28, 2009 at 2:20 AM

      And you really believe that Obama was personally responsible for this?

      The re sentencing occurred from a motion last year:

      Last year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ordered a new sentencing hearing, saying Lee’s original sentence was too lenient.

      • Abu Sabaya

        July 28, 2009 at 2:44 AM

        The motion (i.e. request) was filed last year. The decision to agree and increase the sentence was made yesterday.

        If he’s not responsible and has no control over this or that, then what was all the hype about?

        • Amad

          July 28, 2009 at 3:49 AM

          As you know well, there are 3 separate branches of the federal government, and Obama and the judge aren’t quite on the same one!

          On a related note, where is the blame and anger at the Saudi government who apparently instituted the torture? Is King Abdullah responsible too?

          Finally, I do believe that there is time to be brave and then there is the time to be wise. I am not sure if it was the right time to be making statements (the one about the divine tribunal) that the average American judge may find patronizing. If not for yourself, then you have to take the circumstances into account for the sake of your family. And lastly, I don’t see why he could not or would not renounce Al-Qaida (if the news story is accurate which is not a given since it seems to be written by a FOX writer), esp. since we all believe that he was not part of that clique (but was framed).

          • Abu Sabaya

            July 28, 2009 at 4:06 AM

            As you know well, there are 3 separate branches of the federal government, and Obama and the judge aren’t quite on the same one!

            I’m glad you’re admitting that it was all hype.

            On a related note, where is the blame and anger at the Saudi government who apparently instituted the torture?

            …at the behest of the FBI. His torturers are dogs, but every dog has an owner.

          • Ahmad's re-sentencing statement

            July 30, 2009 at 6:55 PM

            Ahmad said:

            Judge Lee, I remind you, you too will appear before the Divine tribunal – with me. On that day, there will be no lawyers, no sophistry … nothing will be hidden. He knows the whisperings in the chests. If you [Judge Lee] are comfortable with that, you can decree upon me whatever you will decree…

            Is there a problem with the above statement?

            Actually before deciding anything – Is it just to speak on an issue that one clearly doesn’t have much of understanding on? No, it’s not. So, we’ll have to know how this ‘Judge’ Lee treated Ahmad from the beginning to conclude as to why Ahmad would have said such.

            To proceed; Allaah says in al-Qur’an al-Karim:

            So be not weak and ask not for peace (from the enemies of Islam), while you are having the upper hand. Allah is with you, and will never decrease the reward of your good deeds. [Surat Muhammad – verse 35]

            Let’s briefly look at how Lee treated Ahmad from the beginning, i.e. when he sentenced him to 30 years:

            During the pre-trial hearings, Ahmad testified and told the court about his torture in the saudi prison and he also demonstrated the way he was tortured before he gave the [forced] confession.

            But what did Lee think? That Ahmad wasn’t trustworthy and thus he questioned his credibility without mentioning the reasons.

            To make it worse, he claimed that Ahmad was not tortured in Saudi and that his confession was not forced in any way – and again, Lee provided no basis or reasoning in how he reached such a conclusion.

            What else do we know about Lee?

            Although, Lee allowed doctors to examine Ahmad for torture, he introduced the report of the govt,’s expert witness on torture to the jury while barring Ahmad’s report on torture from an expert witness to the jury, during the trial.

            He also denined the defence motion for the testimony of key witnesses, who were involved in the case from the beginning – while granting the govt. motions for all of its witnesses.

            Just ONE more…

            In the closing statement, the prosecutors told the jury that if Ahmad was to be released he would ‘kill us” – pointing to the jury and himself.

            And this is a remark prohibited by any prosecutor to any group of jurors, under any circumstances. The legal consequence for such a thing is a mis-trial, no doubt. Instead, Mr. Lee allowed this to happen TWO more times before he threatened the prosecutor that he will declare a mis-trial.

            So, how do you think that Ahmad should respond to Lee, again? Ahmad (as a defendant) did not mistreat Lee or break any laws in the court in whatsoever – when Lee (as a judge) countlessly disregarded Ahmad’s rights and broke laws.

            Interestingly, Ahmad even thanked the court for being civil with him – even though he wasn’t given any justice:

            I’m not ungrateful to this court for the relative civility it has shown me…

            Moreover, Ahmad raised some important issues in his re-sentencing statement and not once did he appear weak or someone that is complaining. Everyone that has seen his letter has testified that they wouldn’t even think that he was in hardship because in the manner that he spoke.

            Lastly, I’m sure that if anyone dealt with the judge, they would not have reacted in a wise and calm manner like Ahmad – a mu’min and Allaah ta’aala says in Surat al-Mu’minoon:

            1. Successful indeed are the believers.
            2. Those who offer their Salat (prayers) with all solemnity and full submissiveness.
            3. And those who turn away from Al-Laghw (dirty, false, evil vain talk, falsehood, and all that Allah has forbidden).
            4. And those who pay the Zakat .
            5. And those who guard their chastity (i.e. private parts, from illegal sexual acts)
            6. Except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, for then, they are free from blame;
            7. But whoever seeks beyond that, then those are the transgressors;
            8. Those who are faithfully true to their Amanat (all the duties which Allah has ordained, honesty, moral responsibility and trusts etc.) and to their covenants;
            9. And those who strictly guard their (five compulsory congregational) Salawat (prayers) (at their fixed stated hours).
            10. These are indeed the inheritors.
            11. Who shall inherit the Firdaus (Paradise). They shall dwell therein forever.

            We ask Allaah ta’aala to grant Ahmad and his family Jannat al-firdaws and we ask Him, the Dominator and the best of judges to grant Ahmad his release and grant Judge Lee a sentence (in accordance with shari’ah) that he deserves.

            Fi amanillaah

  8. Abu Abdaen

    July 28, 2009 at 7:42 AM

    I’m sorry to say this Bro Amad, you’re always quick to jump to Obama’s defence. Why?

    • Amad

      July 28, 2009 at 9:20 AM

      As quick as those who would jump to lay blame. Obama deserves criticism in certain areas, but it’s just election sour grapes to pin this one on him. I think some people just need to move on. Really.

      • Believer

        July 28, 2009 at 8:05 PM

        Amad, I’m really interested to know whether you think Obama deserves any criticism for what happened to Ahmad yesterday?

        • Qas

          July 28, 2009 at 9:24 PM

          Obama deserves criticism for the Bangladesh monsoon as well. IT HAPPENED ON HIS WATCH SO IT’S HIS FAULT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        • Abu Sabaya

          July 28, 2009 at 10:57 PM

          It’s not Obama who should be criticized. He’s been consistent all along, if you think about it. He never once said that he would do anything about the arrests, prosecutions, spying, drone attacks, etc. that have shot up since he came into office.

          Rather, it is those who naively and sometimes fanatically convinced themselves (and tried to convince us) otherwise who need to wake up to reality.

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