Amnesty International - December 14, 2005
Ahmed Abu Ali trial flawed by exclusion
of Saudi torture evidence
Washington, DC, December 14, 2005: In a report released today, Amnesty International concluded that the trial of U.S. citizen Ahmed Abu Ali was flawed because it failed to consider evidence about torture in Saudi Arabia.
According to Amnesty International's trial observation and court documents, the jury was not allowed to hear supporting evidence by Abu Ali that his videotaped confession had been obtained following torture in Saudi Arabia. The prosecution relied almost exclusively on this confession. Abu Ali states that he was flogged and beaten by the Ministry of Interior's General Intelligence (al-Mabahith al-Amma) security service and forced to "confess" while held in prison in Saudi Arabia, with the apparent knowledge of U.S. officials.
"To have a fair and just trial, the same rules of the game must apply to everyone--not just the home team," said Amnesty International USA Executive Director Dr. William F. Schulz. "To fail to permit the introduction of evidence regarding Saudi Arabia's reputation for using torture--a reputation well-documented in our own State Department's human rights reports--casts serious doubts on the jury's ability to make an informed judgment.
"Moreover, Amnesty International is very concerned that this trial sets the devastating precedent in U.S. courts that statements obtained under torture are acceptable as evidence while a country's history of documented abuse is not allowed. How can that even conceivably be regarded as fair and just?" added Schulz.
During the trial, general statements from Saudi officials were used to undermine Abu Ali's allegations while his defense lawyers were not allowed to present any evidence regarding Saudi Arabia's human rights record on torture.
Judge Gerald Bruce Lee ruled that only evidence related directly to Abu Ali's interrogation would be admissible--denying the defense an opportunity to present relevant contextual evidence. Judge Lee had ruled during pre-trial proceedings that the U.S. government had shown by a "preponderance of evidence" that the statements made by Ahmed Abu Ali in Saudi Arabia were "voluntary" and that his incriminating statements were admissible at trial.
During the trial, the judge also refused to hear testimony from two British nationals who were held in al-Ha'ir prison at the same time as Abu Ali. Both men have said that they had been tortured into confessing to terrorist crimes.
In its entry on Saudi Arabia, the 2004 U.S. State Department country human rights report notes:
"Ministry of Interior officials were responsible for most incidents of abuse of prisoners, including beatings, whippings, and sleep deprivation. In addition, there were allegations of beatings with sticks and suspension from bars by handcuffs. There were allegations that these practices were used to force confessions from prisoners."
The decision to bar any evidence regarding torture in Saudi Arabia or from survivors of torture in Saudi Arabia, despite the U.S. State Department's own findings mirroring the specific allegations made by Ahmed Abu Ali, is certainly questionable. The jury was left to make judgments on the torture allegations without any recourse to expert contextual information.
While the defense was barred from producing general statements and evidence regarding patterns of torture in Saudi Arabia, general statements from Saudi Arabian officials were permitted. The jury heard, for instance, statements from Saudi officials, known only as the "General" and the "Captain" who asserted that the Mabahith al-Amma, in particular, and Saudi Arabia, in general, prohibit torture and do not practice it.
Ahmed Abu Ali was convicted on November 22 of nine counts of conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, including plotting with al-Qa'ida operatives to assassinate President Bush.
Abu Ali's trial was held in Northern Virginia from November 7 to 10, 2005.