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Disclaimer: The author of this site maintained the campaign weblog of John Kline's opponent in the 2006 election, which made Congressman Kline a bit testy.

As with all blogs, review the facts carefully and draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Terrorists In Saudi Arabia!!

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been analyzing John Kline's presentation on Terrorists In America!!, which he has posted to his congressional website for the purpose of recognizing the "heroic actions" of those who have achieved "victories on the home front in the War Against Terrorism." Most recently, I wrote Kline a letter about the case of the Hayat family, in which FBI agents in the case broke fundamental rules of interrogation and relied on the testimony of a highly-paid and unreliable witness. To his credit, Kline removed the reference to this case from his site shortly after the letter was written; I'm assuming he was persuaded by my presentation.

Today's case is more complex than the Hayat case, but of greater concern to those who care about constitutional protections for U.S. citizens. That is the case of Abu Ali, who was recently convicted of conspiring with al Qaeda to assassinate President Bush:

A federal jury in Alexandria convicted Abu Ali, a U.S. citizen, on all nine counts against him in November. They included conspiracy to assassinate the president, conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy, providing material support to al-Qaeda, plotting terrorist activities in the United States and conspiring to kidnap members of Congress.

. . .

Abu Ali, who was studying in Saudi Arabia at the time he joined an al-Qaeda cell, was held in that country for 20 months before U.S. authorities requested he be turned over to them. He was brought home in February 2005 and has been held in solitary confinement in the Alexandria detention center since then.

The trial was the first in an American criminal courtroom to rely so heavily on evidence gathered by a foreign intelligence service. Security officers from Saudi Arabia provided the bulk of the government's case, testifying via video from the kingdom.

Abu Ali's conviction was based primarily on his confession to Saudi authorities while in detention there. His defense attorney argued the confession was coerced and obtained only after he was tortured by Saudi officials and denied legal counsel.

Ali was arrested and detained by the Saudis, and convicted almost wholly on the testimony of Saudi intelligence officers. So there aren't a lot of American actions to recognize here. And the actions our government did take, far from being laudatory, are appalling. Attorney Elaine Cassel, who specializes in civil liberties issues and who has intimate knowledge of the Ali case, enumerates the problems, which are basically these:

  • Ali was originally arrested in Saudi Arabia for suspected involvement in a bombing which killed 23 people. He was eventually convicted in the U.S. on totally unrelated charges.
  • Despite pleas from Ali's parents, the U.S. government insisted it was impossible to extradite Ali to the U.S. This despite the fact that three men who were arrested at the same time as Ali were returned to the U.S. immediately, and that the U.S. succeeded in obtaining his extradition when it suited their interests.
  • Once returned to the U.S., the government used a recently-passed law of questionable constitutionality to deny him bail.
  • Despite the fact that Saudi Arabia has a notorious record of torture and a draconian legal system, the defense was not permitted to present such evidence during the trial.
  • The only U.S. evidence against Ali was obtained using constitutionally questionable provisions of the Patriot Act, and consisted of "radical Islamic writings" and a gun magazine.
  • Finally, Ali was ultimately convicted of a conspiracy to assassinate the President, even though his indictment alleged neither an agreement to carry out the assassination, nor an overt act in furtherance of that goal. According to Ms. Cassel, both of these elements must be present to prove a conspiracy.

When an American citizen is arrested in a foreign country such as Saudi Arabia, with such a notorious record of torture and abuse of prisoners, the U.S. government should make every effort to return that person to U.S. custody, regardless how serious the crime with which they are charged. In Ali's case, our government let him rot in a Saudi jail for 20 months. Ms. Cassel, writing before Ali's conviction, spells out explicitly what this case means for every American:

Such a result will mean that this nightmare is viewed as an entirely legal reality: The U.S. can work with a foreign government to arrest and imprison a U.S. citizen and torture him. It can allow the imprisonment to go on indefinitely; Abu Ali's took over twenty months.

Citizens of U.S. allies, too, should beware: Canadian citizen Maher Arar was kidnapped by CIA operatives from New York's Kennedy airport, and taken to Syria for "questioning." There he remained for a year, until Syria got annoyed with the United States and returned Arar to Canada.

Then, if the U.S. (or allied country) citizen confesses under torture - and virtually everyone does, even if the confession is a lie - the U.S. may try to use the confession against him in a U.S. court, as well in a foreign court.

Ali may very well be guilty on all charges brought against him, but that's hardly the point. The point is that this case tramples on everything which made our legal system the best in the world. There was no due process, no presumption of innocence, and quite likely a forced confession. The principles which our government allowed to be controverted in this case are the very principles which were put in place to insure that the law is only used to protect our citizens, not to oppress them.

But as of this writing, at least, this is a case John Kline holds up as worthy of recognition for the "heroic actions" of our government.

Update, 4/9/06: Edited first paragraph a bit to remove use of the insipid editorial "we" and to improve clarity (we hope).


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