A Virginia man accused of plotting with al-Qaida to kill President Bush should be held indefinitely, federal prosecutors said Wednesday in court filings that also rejected his contention that he was tortured while held in Saudi Arabia.
At a court hearing a day earlier in Alexandria, Va., 23-year-old Ahmed Abu Ali offered to display scars on his back as proof that he was tortured by Saudi authorities. In their filing Wednesday, prosecutors said, “There is no credible evidence to support those claims.”
Abu Ali never complained about his treatment during several meetings with an American diplomat in Saudi Arabia, according to the filing. Moreover, an American doctor examined him Monday and found “no evidence of physical mistreatment on the defendant’s back or any other part of his body.”
Edward MacMahon, one of Abu Ali’s lawyers, said Wednesday he had not seen the government’s motion and declined to comment. But on Tuesday, both MacMahon and defense lawyer Ashraf Nubani had said they had seen the scars on his back. Nubani said they looked like whip marks.
Abu Ali would pose “an exceptionally grave danger to the community” if released before his trial, prosecutors said in Wednesday’s filing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. Abu Ali also would be unlikely to show up for his trial, they said.
Family sues for information
Until now, the government has said little about the Abu Ali’s arrest and detention in Saudi Arabia, where he was held for 20 months before being suddenly flown to America on Tuesday.
His lawyers and family allege the Saudis held him at the U.S. government’s request and tortured him with the knowledge of American officials. Prior to Abu Ali’s return, a lawsuit filed on his family’s behalf in U.S. District Court in Washington sought information about his capture and treatment.
The government sought to have the case dismissed, but U.S. District Judge John Bates has declined, saying the family has presented circumstantial evidence to support their claims of torture.
Abu Ali was born in Houston and moved to Falls Church, Va., a Washington suburb. He was valedictorian of the Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria, then went to Saudi Arabia to study. He was arrested there in June 2003 but never charged.
Bates has scheduled a hearing in the civil lawsuit on Thursday. A hearing on whether Abu Ali should remain in custody until his trial was pushed back to Tuesday, the Justice Department said.
The judge wrote in December that there was “at least some circumstantial evidence that Abu Ali has been tortured during interrogations with the knowledge of the United States.”
In addition, Bates wrote that Abu Ali’s family said a U.S. diplomat reported to them that Abu Ali said FBI agents who questioned him threatened to send him to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Call for civil case to be dismissed
He noted at the time that the government had not attempted to rebut the family’s claims. Since then, however, the Justice Department has filed a classified document seeking to justify its call for the civil case to be dismissed.
Morton Sklar, Abu Ali’s lawyer in the civil case, said his client’s return to the United States should not end the lawsuit. “Our main concern is that the United States government seems to have done a very effective job of diverting attention from its own responsibility for illegal conduct by focusing attention on the criminal charges,” Sklar said.
A Justice Department spokesman said he would have no comment before the hearing in the civil case.
To make its criminal case against Abu Ali, the government might have to disclose details about his detention that it has sought to keep secret.
Is evidence tainted?
The government could try to use classified evidence, limiting defense lawyers’ access to it, several civil rights and defense lawyers said. A similar issue has yet to be resolved in the case against Zacarias Moussaoui, the only U.S. defendant charged in an al-Qaida conspiracy that includes the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Confessions and other evidence that result from coercive questioning or outright torture probably would not be allowed at trial. “If the information comes from mistreatment in Saudi Arabia, it would raise questions about whether there’s enough evidence for the indictment to hold,” said Priti Patel, an expert on detentions of terrorism suspects for Human Rights First.
In the indictment, the government alleges Abu Ali discussed assassinating Bush, conducting a terrorist attack in the United States and establishing an al-Qaida cell here.
It is unclear how much the indictment relies on Abu Ali’s own words or those of several unidentified conspirators who the indictment says were known al-Qaida members.