IMAGE: Ahmed Omar Abu Ali
Anonymous  /  AP
Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, a former Virginia high school valedictorian, is shown in this undated family photo. A federal appeals court hears arguments Thursday in the case of Abu Ali, convicted of joining al-Qaida and plotting to assassinate President Bush.
updated 6/21/2007 2:37:45 PM ET 2007-06-21T18:37:45

The conviction of an American Muslim should be overturned because he had been tortured into confessing that he joined al-Qaida and plotted to assassinate President Bush, his attorney told a federal appeals court Thursday.

Ahmed Omar Abu Ali claims Saudi security officials tortured him into giving false confession. Prosecutors disagree, but the admissibility of the confession is a key issue before a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Prosecutors failed to produce evidence to support the confession, attorney Joshua Draytel said. He also claimed his client’s constitutional right to confront his accusers “took a ferocious beating” because the Saudis testified from Riyadh while Abu Ali was in a Virginia courtroom.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David H. Laufman countered that a defendant’s confrontation right is not absolute and that there was no question about the reliability of Abu Ali’s written and videotaped confessions.

“The sheer detail of these confessions is astonishing,” he said.

Confession was taped
Abu Ali, a U.S. citizen born to a Jordanian father and raised in Falls Church, Va., was convicted in November 2005 of conspiracy to assassinate the president, conspiracy to hijack aircraft and providing support to al-Qaida. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Prosecutors said Abu Ali traveled to Saudi Arabia and joined al-Qaida out of hatred for the United States. The Saudis arrested Abu Ali in June 2003 as he was taking final exams at the Islamic University of Medina.

Abu Ali gave the Saudis a statement in which he said that he joined al-Qaida and discussed with some senior members Bush’s assassination and other terror plots. The jury in Abu Ali’s trial saw his videotaped confession.

After a nearly two-hour open hearing, the federal appeals court went into closed session to hear additional arguments focusing on classified information.

The court usually issues its ruling several weeks after hearing oral arguments.

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