A federal prosecutor in Alexandria made a comment last year suggesting that a Falls Church man held in a Saudi Arabian prison had been tortured, according to a sworn affidavit from a defense lawyer that was recently filed in federal court in Washington.
The alleged remark by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon D. Kromberg occurred during a conversation with the lawyer, Salim Ali, in the federal courthouse in Alexandria, according to Ali's affidavit. The document was filed Oct. 12 in connection with a petition by the parents of the detained man, Ahmed Abu Ali, who are seeking his release from Saudi custody.
The lawyer stated in the affidavit that he asked Kromberg about bringing Abu Ali back to the United States to face charges so as "to avoid the torture that goes on in Saudi Arabia."
Kromberg "smirked and stated that 'He's no good for us here, he has no fingernails left,' " Salim Ali wrote in his affidavit, adding: "I did not know how to respond [to] the appalling statement he made, and we subsequently ceased our discussion about Ahmed Abu Ali."
Kromberg did not return a reporter's call seeking comment on the affidavit. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria said that Kromberg had forwarded the reporter's request to her and that "the office has no comment" on the affidavit's contents.
Abu Ali, a 23-year-old U.S. citizen who is not related to attorney Ali, has been held in Saudi Arabia since June 2003. No public charges have been filed against him, and U.S. and Saudi officials have declined to give an explanation for his detention.
In his affidavit, Salim Ali wrote that his conversation with Kromberg occurred "on or about the time of June 2003" as they were walking to the elevators after a hearing before U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris during which Ali's client, Ibrahim Ahmed al-Hamdi, entered a plea.
But according to court records, Hamdi entered his plea June 5. That was six days before Ahmed Abu Ali, then a student in Saudi Arabia, was arrested.
Salim Ali, who has since moved to Kuwait, where he works as a consultant to a law firm, declined to explain the discrepancy or to expand on the affidavit. In an e-mail to a reporter, he said only, "I stand completely by its content."
Salim Ali, 32, was born in Arlington, and he graduated from George Mason University and Rutgers University Law School. In 2001-2002, he clerked for a New Jersey Superior Court judge, Melvin L. Gelade, who said in an interview that Ali was "one of my best law clerks."
Salim Ali has not been an attorney for the family of the detained man, Abu Ali.
It is unclear why Abu Ali was arrested. Saudi officials initially suspected that he might be involved in terrorist activities, U.S. officials have said. The Saudi government has since indicated that it would consider handing him over to the United States if formally asked to do so by U.S. officials.
Soon after his arrest, the FBI became interested in Abu Ali because he knew some of the 11 men in the so-called Virginia jihad network case, who were charged, and later convicted, of conspiracy to wage armed combat against allies of the United States. Three of those defendants were arrested in Saudi Arabia about the same time as Abu Ali and extradited to the United States. Kromberg was one of the prosecutors in that case.
Abu Ali's parents argue in their court petition that their son's detention is an example of "extraordinary rendition," a practice in which U.S. authorities transfer individuals suspected of terrorist connections to foreign intelligence services that use coercive interrogation techniques illegal in this country.
The Justice Department is seeking to have the family's petition dismissed. It has argued in court papers that under U.S. Supreme Court rulings, U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over a U.S. citizen's detention by foreign powers.
Morton Sklar, executive director of the World Organization for Human Rights USA, a group assisting Abu Ali's family with its petition, said court decisions have held that a U.S. judge does have jurisdiction in such a case if presented with evidence that "shocks the conscience of the court." Allegations about torture of a U.S. citizen would be an example of such evidence, he said.
Sklar has argued in court papers that Salim Ali's affidavit "demonstrates exactly the type of circumstance that 'shocks the conscience of the court,' and indicates a 'joint venture' between the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United States with respect to [Abu Ali's] arrest, detention and interrogation."
Sklar also has argued that the U.S. government has "not even taken the minimal step of requesting . . . Abu Ali's return to the U.S. in response to indications from Saudi officials that they would be responsive to such a request."
The matter is pending before U.S. District Judge John D. Bates.