Monday, November 7, 2005

A Briton and a Canadian who say they were tortured into false confessions by Saudi authorities will not be allowed to testify at the trial of a Falls Church man accused of joining al Qaeda and plotting to assassinate President Bush, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

Attorneys for Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, who is on trial in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on numerous terrorism charges, had hoped the testimony of the two men would bolster their contention that Abu Ali also was tortured into a false confession.

Abu Ali, 24, confessed to the Saudis in July 2003 that he joined al Qaeda while enrolled at a Medina university.

He told the Saudis that he was motivated by his hatred of the United States for its support of Israel and that the leader of his al Qaeda cell asked him to establish a terror cell in the United States.

Abu Ali says he gave a false confession only after being whipped and beaten by the Saudi security force known as the Mubahith.

Defense attorney Khurrum Wahid said the testimony of the two men — Briton Ron Jones and Canadian William Sampson — was necessary to counter claims by Mubahith officials that they do not mistreat prisoners.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee agreed with prosecutors, who argued that the only relevant question is whether Abu Ali was tortured, not whether Mr. Jones and Mr. Sampson were tortured.

Mr. Jones and Mr. Sampson said they gave false confessions to involvement in a 2000 car bombing in Riyadh.

The Saudi government says the car bomb stemmed from a feud among Western bootleggers, but Mr. Jones and Mr. Sampson say the bombing was the work of anti-Western fundamentalists and that Saudi authorities were trying to cover up the extent of Islamic extremism on their soil.

The men have described being beaten on the soles of their feet and deprived of sleep while in Saudi custody. They were among seven foreigners granted amnesty and freed in 2003.

Also yesterday, jurors heard videotaped testimony from a Mubahith general who said Abu Ali confessed to his membership in al Qaeda almost immediately in his first interrogation.

The general, whose name was not released, said Abu Ali was one of the last members of the al Qaeda cell in Medina to be arrested, and his interrogators confronted him with evidence they had obtained from other cell members.

The general said Abu Ali cooperated after the interrogators assured him he would not be turned over to the United States for prosecution. The general said Abu Ali feared that the United States would “penalize him to the extreme.”

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