WASHINGTON – The parents of an American jailed without charges in Saudi Arabia (search) sued the United States on Wednesday in what lawyers say is the first lawsuit filed on behalf of a U.S. citizen detained in a third country at the U.S. government's request.
The parents claim his being held in Saudi Arabia is a deliberate attempt to keep him out of U.S. courts and in the hands of jailers who could abuse or torture him for information.
Ahmed Abu Ali (search) was arrested 13 months ago in Saudi Arabia as part of an American anti-terrorism investigation. The U.S. government ordered the arrest and has refused to say when or if Abu Ali would be charged or released, the family alleged in a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.
The family wants an American judge to order Abu Ali returned to the United States, where he might face charges as part of an alleged terrorism training ring in Virginia. The suit names Attorney General John Ashcroft (search), Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) and others and cites the Supreme Court rulings last month that outlined legal rights for citizens and non-citizens detained in the war on terrorism.
"Although petitioner Ahmed Abu Ali presently is physically confined in Saudi Arabia, (the U.S. government) directed and conspired with Saudi co-conspirators to carry out his arrest and indefinite detention in that country without due process protections and in violation of other statutory and constitutional standards," lawyers for Abu Ali's family wrote.
Human rights lawyers who drafted the suit on behalf of Abu Ali's family claimed that his case is similar to others in which the United States has sent suspected terrorists to foreign countries that use harsher interrogation techniques than U.S. law allows.
Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo declined comment on the lawsuit Wednesday. In previous cases challenging detention of potential terror suspects, the government has argued that American courts have no jurisdiction over foreigners held abroad, or over U.S. citizens held as enemy combatants in the United States.
The Supreme Court rejected much of that legal argument in two cases last month, and lawyers for foreign-born men held at Guantanamo are now pressing for their release in the same court where Abu Ali's case was filed.
The lawyers for Abu Ali's family said he, like the Guantanamo detainees, has a legal right to challenge his treatment in U.S. courts.
"Abu Ali in this case meets similar jurisdictional criteria, and, especially as a U.S. citizen, should be afforded this fundamental right," the suit said.
Abu Ali was born in Texas and holds dual U.S.-Jordanian citizenship. He was valedictorian of his high school class in Falls Church, Va., and was studying at a Saudi university when he was arrested in June 2003, the lawsuit said. His parents and siblings live in Falls Church, a suburb of Washington.
The FBI has questioned Abu Ali at least twice, but he has not been charged with any crime or allowed to see a lawyer, the suit said. The Saudi government has no plan to charge him and would release him to U.S. custody if asked, the suit said.
The family's lawsuit calls Saudi Arabia "a country that the Department of State has cited on numerous occasions for its mistreatment and torture of prisoners, especially during interrogations."
"The (government) may have subjected and/or knowingly and intentionally subjected petitioner Ahmed Abu Ali to coercive interrogation, mistreatment and/or torture," the suit claimed.
Earlier this year, federal prosecutors in Virginia tried to link Abu Ali to other men eventually convicted of training for holy war against the United States by playing paintball games in the Virginia woods. A federal prosecutor said one of the defendants had Abu Ali's telephone number on a handwritten address list and that Abu Ali joined an Al Qaeda cell in Saudi Arabia in 2001.
Six men pleaded guilty and three were convicted at trial in the paintball case. One received a life sentence. Abu Ali was not charged in the case.