Your editorial on the conviction of Virginia native and U.S. citizen Ahmed Omar Abu Ali for allegedly plotting to kill President Bush ["Belated Justice for a Terrorist," Nov. 28] lauds the result as "a conviction in a major case following the regular rules" with only "certain peculiarities."
While bringing terrorists to justice fairly within the criminal justice system is certainly a laudable goal, this is hardly the case to make that point. It involves an American citizen held without charges by Saudi Arabian authorities with U.S. complicity for more than a year and a half, reluctantly brought to this country only when a federal judge demanded that the government reveal the nature of its contacts with the Saudi authorities regarding his detention, and convicted almost entirely on the basis of a confession obtained while Abu Ali was in Saudi custody and tortured.
The only person with whom Abu Ali allegedly discussed the alleged plot to kill the president was himself subsequently killed by the Saudis. While the district court rejected Abu Ali's allegations of torture, despite their corroboration by two physicians who examined him, nothing about this case followed the regular rules. Had the court done so, the case would have been thrown out at the threshold.
-- David Cole
The writer, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, represented the Abu Ali family in challenging his detention in Saudi Arabia.
As a lawyer and writer who has followed and written about the prosecution of Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, I take strong exception to your editorial's conclusion that Abu Ali was tried by the "rules" and suffered no deprivation of his civil liberties at the hands of the U.S. government.
Judge Gerald Bruce Lee's opinion ruling the confessions of Abu Ali admissible, which the editorial cited, disclosed disturbing facts about the "cooperation" between Saudi Arabia and U.S. prosecutors and FBI agents that may have been undertaken for the very purpose of arguing successfully before Judge Lee that the Saudis were doing the "detaining" and the "interrogating," not U.S. law enforcement.
Abu Ali was denied access to an attorney and the right to a speedy trial. The United States contended that he was never a suspect, so he had no constitutional rights. He went from not being a suspect to being a defendant when it appeared that a D.C. federal judge was not going to buy the government's argument that Abu Ali was too dangerous to be returned to the United States.
Facing a possible adverse court decision, federal prosecutors did with Abu Ali what they did with Jose Padilla when a Supreme Court deadline was looming -- they produced him in court, indicted him on charges that have changed over time and then declared that they had generously ensured him his day in court. The only good thing to say about Abu Ali's trial is that it took place in public (most of it). But if the government had its way, Abu Ali would still be sitting in a Saudi jail or perhaps even removed to one of those clandestine CIA prisons described by The Post's Dana Priest.
-- Elaine Cassel