Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Prosecution or Persecution?
American Accused in a Plot to Assassinate Bush
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
Published: February 23, 2005
WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 - An American student who was imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for the last 20 months was returned to the United States and accused by the Justice Department on Tuesday of plotting with members of Al Qaeda in 2003 to assassinate President Bush.
While American officials said they took the threat seriously, the indictment suggests that any plot to assassinate Mr. Bush did not move beyond the discussion stages among extremists in Saudi Arabia, and Mr. Abu Ali was not charged under the federal statute on assassinations.
Friends of Mr. Abu Ali and defense lawyers denied that he was part of any terrorist plot and accused the Justice Department of an overzealous prosecution. They said that Mr. Abu Ali, a valedictorian at an Islamic high school in suburban Washington, was the victim of torture at the hands of the Saudis after his arrest there in June 2003, an assertion that a federal judge in Washington appeared to validate in a recent ruling in a lawsuit brought by Mr. Abu Ali's family to force his release.
The family sued to force Mr. Abu Ali's release from Saudi custody, saying American officials threatened to declare him an enemy combatant and send him to a detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, if he did not cooperate. Judge John D. Bates has not issued a ruling on Mr. Abu Ali's detention, but he has expressed support for many of the family's central contentions and skepticism toward those of the government.
In an opinion in December, Judge Bates wrote, "There has been at least some circumstantial evidence that Abu Ali has been tortured during interrogations with the knowledge of the United States." He added that agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who were present for Saudi interrogations, "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."
"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," said David D. Cole, a Georgetown University law professor who is representing Mr. Abu Ali's family in the case. "The lawsuit gave the government a tremendous incentive to bring some charges."
(Source: New York Times)
So, when it looked as though the "Justice" Department was going to lose a lawsuit filed by the accused's family to force his release, prosecutors suddenly decide to make serious allegations against him. Given the Justice Department's past history, I expect this prosecution will be quietly dismissed after a few months.