Va. man languishes in Saudi prison

Family sues U.S. officials seeking return of student held more than a year

July 29, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

The family of a Northern Virginia man held for more than a year in a Saudi Arabian prison sued top U.S. officials yesterday, saying they unlawfully jailed Ahmed Abu Ali outside the reach of American courts and at risk of foreign torture or abuse.

Texas-born Abu Ali, 23, who holds dual U.S.-Jordanian citizenship, grew up in Falls Church, Va. He was arrested while studying at a Saudi university. American investigators ordered the arrest but have not said whether Abu Ali will face charges, according to the complaint filed by his parents.

Their lawsuit, brought in U.S. District Court in Washington, asked a judge to intervene and order Abu Ali returned to the United States. The complaint pointed to two Supreme Court rulings from last month, which held that U.S. citizens and foreign nationals imprisoned as suspected terrorists can challenge their detention in American courts.

Lawyers representing some of the roughly 600 men detained without charges or recourse for the past two years at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have asked the same court to grant their release.

Abu Ali's case has received far less attention than those of the detainees at Guantanamo or Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen and alleged terror planner who is held in a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C.

His lawyers argued that Abu Ali should have the same rights.

"Abu Ali in this case meets similar jurisdictional criteria and, especially as a U.S. citizen, should be afforded this fundamental right," lawyers with the Washington-based World Organization for Human Rights said in the lawsuit.

The complaint named as defendants Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller declined to comment yesterday, saying the government would respond to the allegations in court.

Not long after Abu Ali's arrest in June 2003, federal prosecutors in Virginia said in open court proceedings that Abu Ali had been in contact with a clandestine al-Qaida cell and was linked to other men later convicted of training for holy war against the United States by playing paintball games.

Prosecutors also said Abu Ali had the name of at least one of the defendants in his address book. He was not charged in that case.

In yesterday's complaint, Abu Ali's parents said he should face any possible criminal charges inside the United States and said their "efforts to resolve their son's status through diplomatic channels have proven unsuccessful for over a year."

The lawsuit said FBI agents have interviewed Abu Ali at least twice. It also contends that federal authorities held a grand jury hearing which did not result in any public charges against Abu Ali.

At the same time, his parents alleged that Abu Ali has been at risk of abuse or torture. The lawsuit said he has lost more than 30 pounds while detained in Saudi Arabia and has been subjected to "stress and duress" interrogation techniques, including sleep deprivation and solitary confinement.

The lawsuit also alleged that FBI agents warned Abu Ali that he could be designated as an enemy combatant and sent to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility or could be tried in Saudi Arabia without the right to an attorney.

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