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USA Ahmed Abu Ali trial flawed by torture evidence

USA: Ahmed Abu Ali trial flawed by exclusion of Saudi torture evidence

In a report published today, Amnesty International concluded that the trial of US Citizen Ahmed Abu Ali was flawed as 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 evidence supporting claims by Ahmed Abu Ali that his videotaped confession, on which the prosecution relied almost exclusively, had been obtained following torture in Saudi Arabia. Ahmed Abu Ali says 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 US officials.

"Its is seriously concerning that the trial of Ahmed Abu Ali may set a precedent in US courts of by which statements obtained by torture and ill-treatment are accepted as evidence," said Susan Lee, Amnesty International’s Americas Programme Director.

During the trial, general statements from Saudi Arabian officials were used to undermine Ahmed Abu Ali's allegations whilst his defence lawyers were not allowed to present any evidence pertaining to Saudi Arabia's human rights record on torture or on the record of the al-Mabahith al-'Amma.

"Equality of arms before the court is a fundamental principle of fair trial standards. The apparent absence of this fundamental right in Ahmed Abu Ali’s trial, especially where it considerably weakens a defendant’s ability to prove that his confession was obtained through torture, has cast a dark shadow over the fairness of the trial," said Ms. Lee,

Judge Gerald Bruce Lee ruled that only evidence that related directly to Ahmed Abu Ali's interrogation would be admissible, thus denying the defence the opportunity to present relevant contextual evidence. Judge Lee had ruled during pre-trial proceedings that the US 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 UK nationals who were held in al-Ha'ir prison at the same time as Ahmed Abu Ali and who have said that they had earlier been tortured into confessing to terrorist offences. One of these men , William Sampson described in detail to Amnesty International the use of torture and torture techniques, similar to those described by Ahmed Abu Ali, during his detention in Saudi Arabia.

In its entry on Saudi Arabia, the 2004 US 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 US State Department’s own findings tallying with the specific allegations made by Ahmed Abu Ali, is certainly questionable. The jury was left to make judgements on the torture allegations without any recourse to expert contextual information.

Whilst the defence 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.

Background Information Ahmed Abu Ali was convicted on 22 November of 9 counts of conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, including plotting with al-Qa’idaoperatives to assassinate President Bush.

Amnesty International observed the trial, that took place in the US state of Virginia, from 7 to 10 November.

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