The parents of an American jailed without charges in Saudi Arabia sued the United States yesterday in what lawyers say is the first lawsuit filed on behalf of a U.S. citizen detained in a third country at the U.S. government’s request.
The parents say his detention in Saudi Arabia is a deliberate attempt to keep him out of U.S. courts and in the hands of jailers who could abuse or torture him for information.
The family’s attorneys cite last month’s Supreme Court rulings that reputed enemy combatants held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, can take their claims to U.S. courts.
Ahmed Abu Ali was arrested 13 months ago in Saudi Arabia as part of an American counterterrorism investigation. The U.S. government ordered the arrest and has refused to say when or whether Abu Ali would be charged or released, the family said in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.
The family wants an American judge to order Abu Ali returned to the United States, where he might face charges as part of a terrorist training ring in Virginia. The lawsuit names Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and others and cites the Supreme Court rulings last month that outlined legal rights for citizens and noncitizens detained in the war on terrorism.
“Although petitioner Ahmed Abu Ali presently is physically confined in Saudi Arabia, [the U.S. government] directed and conspired with Saudi co-conspirators to carry out his arrest and indefinite detention in that country without due process protections and in violation of other statutory and constitutional standards,” attorneys for Abu Ali’s family wrote.
Human rights lawyers who drafted the lawsuit on behalf of Abu Ali’s family claimed that his case is similar to others in which the United States has sent terror suspects to foreign countries that use harsher interrogation techniques than U.S. law allows.
The Justice Department has refused to comment on Abu Ali’s case, and it is not clear how government attorneys will respond to the lawsuit. In previous cases challenging detention of terror suspects, the government has argued that American courts have no jurisdiction over foreigners held abroad, or over U.S. citizens held as enemy combatants in the United States.
The Supreme Court rejected much of that legal argument in two cases last month, and attorneys for foreign-born men held at Guantanamo Bay now are pressing for their release in the same court where Abu Ali’s case was filed.
The attorneys for Abu Ali’s family said he, like the Guantanamo detainees, has a legal right to challenge his treatment in U.S. courts.
“Abu Ali in this case meets similar jurisdictional criteria, and, especially as a U.S. citizen, should be afforded this fundamental right,” the lawsuit said.
Abu Ali was born in Texas and holds U.S. and Jordanian citizenship. He was valedictorian of his high school class in Falls Church and was studying at a Saudi university when he was arrested in June 2003, the lawsuit said. His parents and siblings live in Falls Church.
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 lawsuit said. The Saudi government has no plan to charge him and would release him to U.S. custody if asked, the lawsuit said.
The family’s lawsuit 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.”
“The [government] may have subjected and/or knowingly and intentionally subjected petitioner Ahmed Abu Ali to coercive interrogation, mistreatment and/or torture,” the lawsuit claimed.
Earlier this year, federal prosecutors in Virginia tried to link Abu Ali to other men eventually convicted of training for holy war against the United States by playing paintball games in the Virginia woods.