Disturbing on many fronts

The case of Ahmed Abu Ali is extremely disturbing…on many fronts. First, the charges against Mr. Abu Ali are very serious indeed (read the indictment here). To have an American citizen allegedly discuss assassinating his own President is not to be taken lightly, no matter what the alleged assassin’s faith is. Yet, the key word in that preceding sentence is this: allegedly. Ahmed Abu Ali, as clearly stated in the U.S. Constitution, has the right to due process and to answer the charges against him in a court of law. He was denied this due process for 20 months, and this is very disturbing.

According to friends and family, Abu Ali was arrested in June 2003 and held without charge for the past 20 months. His family alleges that the Saudis arrested him at the behest of the U.S. Government, and they sued to get him back to this country. They also allege he was tortured by the Saudis, something the Saudis deny. Yet, Federal Judge John D. Bates said, “there has been at least some circumstantial evidence that Abu Ali has been tortured during interrogations with the knowledge of the United States.” He also said that FBI agents “have despaired at his continued detention, and more than one United States official has stated that Abu Ali is no longer a threat to the United States and there is no active interrogation.” This is very disturbing.

Justice Department officials have declined to say why they brought charges against him now, especially since “more than one United States official” thinks Mr. Abu Ali is no longer a threat. One of his lawyers, Georgetown University law professor David Cole, thinks he knows why: “I suspect it’s no coincidence that this man sat in detention for 20 months until a federal judge in the United States was threatening to require the American government to disclose its arrangements with the Saudi government for holding him. The lawsuit gave the government a tremendous incentive to bring some charges.” This is also very disturbing.

Yet, there is something positive in this whole story: the government finally brought him home and charged him. If the government believes Mr. Abu Ali is a threat to the security of the United States, charge him and give him his day in court. I, like Faten Abu Ali, his mother, “believe in the U.S. justice system.” I, like Mrs. Abu Ali, also “believe this country is based on good morals.” Holding an American citizen indefinitely without charge is un-Constitutional. It violates the Writ of Habeas Corpus, which protects against illegal imprisonment. The U.S. Supreme Court has already said so, most recently in the case of Yaser Hamdi. In that decision, a majority of the justices wrote that “due process demands that a citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decisionmaker.”

Ahmed Abu Ali was not even held as an “enemy combatant,” so his detention should never have happened. He should not have been held in Saudi Arabia for 20 months; he should have been shipped here and charged right away. That’s the right way; that’s the just way; that’s the American way.

Speaking of “enemy combatants”…I frequently joke with my friends that, in this post-9/11 era, I have to be extra careful not to get a speeding ticket because “they’ll take me to Guantanamo Bay.” I always get a hearty laugh. Yet, the case of Mr. Abu Ali illustrates that my jokes may one day become a reality: according to the February 23 article in the New York Times written by Eric Lichtblau, the family sued to force Ahmed’s release from Saudi custody, “saying American officials threatened to declare him an enemy combatant and send him to a detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, if he did not cooperate.” (emphasis added)

That really disturbed me. Doesn’t’ that really disturb you?


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