Ahmed Omar Abu-Ali, Jose “Abdullah” Padilla and the SHAME of the U.S. Government

SHAME! SHAME! SHAME! These words are sufficient as a description of U.S. Government actions in the case of Ahmed Omar Abu-Ali and [the newly minted criminal defendant] known as Jose Padilla. Both American-born Muslims!

The trial of Abu-Ali establishes a new precedent of sorts, as it is reportedly the first case in an American criminal courtroom, “to rely so heavily on evidence gathered by a foreign intelligence service.” Abu-Ali was imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for almost two years without charge. It was the torture induced confession at the hands of Saudi security officers that provided the bulk of “evidence” against the defendant; this along with an assurance from Saudi officials (speaking in Arabic by video from the “kingdom”) that the prisoner was well treated.

Abu Ali’s name had been linked by U.S. authorities to the so-called “Virginia Jihad” (or “Paintball”) case; but he was never formally charged. He was initially arrested in June 2003 – while taking final exams in a Saudi university – for a suspected connection to the May 12, 2003, bombing of three residential compounds in Riyadh.

After being held without charge – with the United States and Saudi Governments passing the buck on whose responsibility his detention was (and both governments claiming that they had nothing against him) – his family sued the United Sates in U.S. District Court (Washington, DC), contending that it had condoned their son’s torture, and demanding that he be returned post haste to his country of birth. It was under these circumstances that formal terrorism charges were leveled against him, just before his rendition from Saudi Arabia to America.

On day three of deliberations, jurors convicted 24 year old Abu-Ali on all nine counts – which included conspiracy to assassinate President Bush, conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy, and [the perennial favorite] providing material support to al Qaeda. He faces 20 years to LIFE when he is sentenced February 17, 2006.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee had the power to slow down, if not abort, this miscarriage of justice. He could have thrown out the indictment, based upon all known factors surrounding this case, before it ever went to trial. However, like his fellow jurist in the same federal courthouse, Judge Leonie Brinkema, he failed miserably in the struggle between expediency and conscience!

That said, given the weight that the jury reportedly attributed to the 13 minute videotaped confession (made in Saudi Arabia), it didn’t help matters that Ahmed Abu-Ali did not testify at his trial.

The Indictment of Jose Padilla

The federal indictment against Padilla is perhaps more conspicuous for what he wasn’t charged with. He was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in May 2002, after the government alleged that he was plotting a radiological dirty bomb attack in the United States. There was also an allegation of his being part of a conspiracy to blow up apartment buildings in America (using natural gas).

The 31 page indictment includes NEITHER of these charges! Instead, the heart of the indictment alleges that Jose Padilla is part of a violent terrorism conspiracy rooted in North America.

According to the government Jose Padilla attended the al Qaeda-affiliate al-Farouq training camp in Afghanistan in 2000, under the name Abdullah al-Espani; and in 2002 approached al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan with an offer to commit terrorist acts in the United States. On May 8th he reportedly arrived in Chicago with over $10,000 in cash and the names of “al Qaeda operatives.” On June 9th he is listed as an enemy combatant and placed in the custody of the Defense Department.

On December 4, 2002, U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey ruled that a federal court has authority to decide whether Padilla was properly detained as an enemy combatant. On December 18, 2003, the U.S. Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit) ordered Padilla’s release from military custody within 30 days; and further stated that he could be tried, if the government chose to do so, in a civilian court. On January 27, 2004, the appeals court agreed to suspend its ruling after the Bush administration appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On September 9, 2005, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Padilla could be held indefinitely; and on October 25th of this year, attorneys for Padilla asked the Supreme Court to limit the government’s power to hold him (and other terrorism suspects) indefinitely and without charges. (The Bush Administration’s deadline for filing arguments was less than a week from now – Nov 28th.)

Yesterday an indictment by a federal grand jury in Miami was unsealed, charging Padilla (and four alleged accomplices) with a conspiracy to “murder, kidnap and maim” people overseas. (No mention of a “dirty bomb” or “natural gas” attacks in the U.S.)

As a consequence of being held for three years without formal charge as an “enemy combatant,” American-born Padilla has been at the center of a fierce legal and political battle for much of this time. His lawyers – who he met for the first time on March 3, 2004 – have argued his military confinement was unconstitutional under a 2004 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in which the court found that another U.S born citizen held as an enemy combatant, Yaser Hamdi, had a right to contest his incarceration.

The government was under pressure to either “charge him, or release him” – and thus, yesterday’s indictment appears to some as nothing more than a thinly veiled strategy of the Bush administration to avoid another adverse Supreme Court ruling. Indeed, Attorney General Gonzales is reported as saying, “Since he has now been charged in a grand jury in Florida, we believe that the petition is moot and that the petition should not be granted.”

Again, it is significant to note that Ahmed Abu-Ali wasn’t charged with a crime until pressure was successfully brought to bear to return him to the United States. And like Abu-Ali, Jose “Abdullah” Padilla also faces the possibility of LIFE in prison, if convicted by “a jury of his peers.”

We should also state for the record that the mere fact that the first Hispanic Attorney General of the United States, Alberto R. Gonzales, was the one to formally announce this politically driven indictment (against a fellow Latino), in no way legitimizes these charges, in our humble view. It merely affirms how Gonzalez (like other minority “firsts”) accords high value to the corrupting requisites of political expediency.

On a concluding note, a representative of one of the U.S. based human rights organizations (Human Rights Watch), according to today’s Washington Post (11/23/05), offered “guarded praise,” about the indictment. “It’s a welcome development, albeit three years too late,” the activist reportedly said. “Anybody captured outside the battlefield should be charged or released.”

Well, Jose “Abdullah” Padilla has now been charged … some kind of “welcome development” it is.

A closing thought:

We have received inquiries on our opinion regarding the Abu-Ali case. What you just read constitutes our position statement on both. You have our permission to publish either part (as is), or to quote therefrom.