Va. Terror Suspect Testifies To Torture

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 20, 2005

An American student charged with conspiring to kill President Bush testified yesterday that his Saudi captors chained him to the floor of an interrogation room, shackled his feet and whipped him so hard his back was bloody and throbbing with pain.

"They tore my shirt off, they tore it off my back, and I was being whipped on my bare back,'' Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, 24, said at a hearing to determine whether his confession to participating in an al Qaeda plot was elicited through torture. As the blows rained down on his back, Abu Ali testified, his jailers screamed, "Confess! Confess!"

The Falls Church man said he also was punched and kicked and had his hair and beard pulled soon after being arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2003. "I told them I would cooperate, and everything stopped, they stopped,'' he said, adding that his treatment improved before he was flown to Virginia to face terrorism charges in February.

His nearly three hours of testimony, before a packed courtroom in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, were the first public words from the defendant in one of the highest-profile terrorism cases of recent years. Abu Ali is charged with conspiring to kill Bush and other counts in connection with a terrorist plot to mount a Sept. 11-style attack inside the United States. The trial is set to begin Monday.

The case has raised novel legal questions about whether a complicated terrorism prosecution, in which the defendant claims he was tortured in a foreign country and most of the evidence was obtained in that country, can be brought in a U.S. courtroom. Prosecutors said Abu Ali confessed to the plot and planned to shoot Bush or blow him up with a car bomb. They deny that he was tortured.

Defense attorneys say Abu Ali's statements to the Saudis -- the crux of the government's case -- should be thrown out because they were obtained under duress. U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee has been weighing both sides during a hearing that started last week and is scheduled to end today.

The hearing has featured clashing opinions from experts on whether marks on Abu Ali's back probably were caused by whipping, and whether he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from the alleged abuse.

Abu Ali grew agitated at times during a series of heated exchanges with prosecutors and said he could not recall how many times he was struck or with what object. He acknowledged that he did not seek medical attention afterward or tell U.S. State Department officials of the abuse when they visited him.

"What kind of object were you whipped with?'' Assistant U.S. Attorney David Laufman asked.

"I don't know. I didn't see it,'' Abu Ali responded.

"You have no idea what you were hit with. Is that your testimony under oath?'' Laufman asked.

"I just don't know what it was,'' Abu Ali said.

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