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Suit challenges Saudi detention of U.S. citizen

A 23-year-old American jailed in Saudi Arabia should have the same chance in U.S. courts to contest his imprisonment that the Supreme Court has given foreign-born terrorism suspects, his lawyers said Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An American jailed in Saudi Arabia for more than a year should have the same chance in U.S. courts to contest his imprisonment that the Supreme Court has given foreign-born terrorism suspects, his lawyers said Wednesday.

A lawsuit filed in federal court contends the United States ordered Ahmed Abu Ali’s arrest in Saudi Arabia in an attempt to keep him beyond the reach of U.S. courts and in the hands of jailers who could abuse or torture him for information.

The suit is the latest fallout from the Supreme Court’s ruling last month that foreign men arrested abroad and held at a Navy prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, can use American courts to contest their detention.

Abu Ali’s lawyers argued that the U.S. government controls his fate even though he is in Saudi custody.

In June, the Supreme Court rejected the government’s argument that U.S. courts are off-limits to the Guantanamo prisoners, because the prison is in Cuba. That same reasoning should apply to Abu Ali, his lawyers argued.

“Abu Ali in this case meets similar jurisdictional criteria, and, especially as a U.S. citizen, should be afforded this fundamental right,” lawyers from the World Organization for Human Rights USA wrote.

No charges, no lawyer
Abu Ali, who was born in Houston, was arrested in June 2003 as he took a university exam in Saudi Arabia, his parents alleged in the suit filed on his behalf. The FBI has questioned Abu Ali at least twice, but he has not been charged with any crime or allowed to see a lawyer, the suit said.

The Saudi government has no plan to charge him and would release him to U.S. custody if asked, the suit said.

Federal prosecutors in Virginia tried to link Abu Ali this year to other men who later were convicted of training for holy war against the United States by playing paintball games in the Virginia woods.

A federal prosecutor said one of the defendants had Abu Ali’s telephone number on a handwritten address list and that Abu Ali joined an al-Qaida cell in Saudi Arabia in 2001.

Six men pleaded guilty and three were convicted at trial in the paintball case. One received a life sentence. Abu Ali was not charged in the case.

‘We do not believe’
“From the very first day we do not believe the allegations,” Abu Ali’s sister, Tasneem Abu Ali, said Wednesday.

A grand jury heard evidence in her brother’s case but has not issued an indictment, she said.

“We felt like the U.S. government was avoiding the judicial process in the United States ... and the reason they were keeping him there is that they weren’t able to charge him” in U.S. courts, Tasneem Abu Ali said.

The suit asked a U.S. judge to order the 23-year-old returned to the United States, where he might face charges. It names Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell and others.

Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo refused comment Wednesday on the suit.

It is a case that probably would not have been filed before the Supreme Court rulings last month that outlined legal rights for citizens and noncitizens detained in the war on terrorism, lawyers said.

“The Supreme Court opened the door, and this kind of suit was expected,” said Michael Greenberger, who specializes in constitutional law and counterterrorism at the University of Maryland’s law school.

Ruling’s scope: 650 Guantanamo captives
The court’s ruling in the Guantanamo case appeared to be limited to the approximately 650 prisoners held at the Cuban base. Dissenters in that case and outside lawyers, however, said the ruling might be applied more broadly.

“It left some questions open, and this case raises some of those questions,” Greenberger.

Abu Ali’s lawyers claimed that his case is similar to others in which the United States has sent suspected terrorists to foreign countries that use harsher interrogation techniques than U.S. law allows.

The family’s suit calls Saudi Arabia “a country that the Department of State has cited on numerous occasions for its mistreatment and torture of prisoners, especially during interrogations.”

Abu Ali, who holds dual U.S.-Jordanian citizenship, was valedictorian of his high school class in Falls Church, Va., and was studying at a Saudi university when he was arrested, the suit said. His parents and siblings live in Falls Church, a suburb of Washington.