ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – A U.S. citizen of Lebanese origin denied terrorism-related charges against him in the United Arab Emirates supreme court on Sunday and said he confessed under pressure because he wanted the "beatings to stop."
Naji Hamdan, a 43-year-old American of Lebanese origin, was charged with supporting terrorism, participating in the work of terrorist organizations, and being a member of a terrorist group. He denied all three charges during his first court appearance Sunday, 10 months after he was detained by UAE state security forces.
U.S. civil rights organizations allege that Hamdan has been interrogated, detained and tried in the UAE at the request of the U.S. government.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit last year, suggesting that the U.S. ordered Hamdan's arrest, detention and prosecution because there isn't evidence to convict him under U.S. laws. They asked a federal judge to order the United States to rescind its request that the UAE pursue the case.
The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi declined to comment on Hamdan's case.
On Sunday, Hamdan was brought into the Abu Dhabi court in a dark blue prison suit, shackled and chained to four other prisoners. The chains were removed before he walked in front of the four-judge panel. He told the presiding judge Khalifa al-Muhairi that he was not a terrorist and said he made a confession because he was being tortured.
"I had to sign it because I wanted the beatings to stop," Hamdan replied.
Hamdan moved to the United States as a college student and became a citizen. He ran a successful auto parts business in the Los Angeles area, where he was active in the Islamic community.
"My brother is a religious person, but that does not make him a terrorist," said Hamdan's 38-year-old brother, Hossam, who flew from the U.S. on Saturday to attend the hearing.
The FBI began questioning Naji Hamdan about whether he had terrorist ties in 1999. He decided to move his family back to the Middle East in 2006 after 20 years in the United States.
He was kept under constant surveillance by the U.S. government, with the FBI detaining him at the airport on a return visit to the U.S. and flying agents to Abu Dhabi last summer to question him at the U.S. Embassy in the UAE capital.
On August 27, 2008, three weeks after the embassy meeting, Hamdan was arrested at his home in the emirate of Ajman. He was kept in solitary confinement for three months, according a handwritten note from Hamdan obtained by The Associated Press.
He said he was repeatedly questioned, with daily beatings, whipping of his feet, kicks to his abdomen, threats to his family and verbal abuse. He wrote in the note an American was present for at least some of the questioning. He advised him to do what he was told to avoid further pain.
"We believe the UAE is acting on behest of the U.S. government," said Ahilan Arulanantham, an attorney with the ACLU, representing Hamdan in his proceedings in the U.S. Arulanantham said the only evidence against Hamdan consists of "his confession, obtained when he was tortured in the UAE."
Judge al-Muhairi scheduled the next hearing in the case for July 20. Hamdan's lawyer will present his defense and a verdict is expected soon after. Supreme court's rulings on state security crimes, such as terrorism, fraud and forgery, cannot be appealed.