ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A man accused of joining Al Qaeda angrily testified Wednesday that he was whipped and tortured by Saudi interrogators who he said refused his requests to contact the U.S. Embassy.
Ahmed Omar Abu Ali testified at a pretrial hearing in federal court to determine whether the confession he gave to the Saudis in June 2003 was coerced through torture.
"I have never felt any pain like it in my life," Abu Ali said. "It was the first time I felt extreme pain — they were telling me to confess."
Abu Ali, 24, of Falls Church, Va., was born in Houston and was the 1999 valedictorian of an Islamic high school in Virginia. He is charged with joining Al Qaeda (search) while attending college in Saudi Arabia and planning several terrorist plots, including assassinating President Bush. His trial is scheduled for later this month.
If U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee finds that Abu Ali was tortured, he could dismiss the government's entire case. Otherwise, the trial was scheduled to begin next Monday.
Prosecutors deny the torture allegations and say Abu Ali confessed willingly after he was confronted with evidence obtained from another Al Qaeda member.
In a videotaped confession Abu Ali gave to the Saudis, he said he joined Al Qaeda because he hated the U.S. for its support of Israel. He said in the videotape that he and other Al Qaeda members discussed numerous potential terror plots, including a plan for him to assassinate Bush, a plan to establish an Al Qaeda cell in the U.S. and plans to assassinate U.S. senators.
Abu Ali said that "many of the things were false" in his confession but he did not elaborate after the judge ruled that questions about the confession's veracity were out of bounds and that the focus should remain on whether the confession was voluntary.
Abu Ali said he was tortured the day after he was arrested in Medina, Saudi Arabia, where he was attending college. When he was first taken into custody, he said, he told the Saudis he wanted to speak to the U.S. Embassy (search).
"I wasn't really cooperative at first. I said I would like to call the U.S. Embassy. I was denied that," Abu Ali testified, angrily smacking his hand on the podium.
He said that the Saudis told him, "The embassy is not going to help you; you have to help yourself."
He said he refused to cooperate during four or five initial interview sessions, but relented after the whipping, in which he said he was struck an unknown number of times by an object he could not see because he was blindfolded and handcuffed to the floor.
"I told them that I would cooperate and everything stopped," Abu Ali said. "I felt defeated, humiliated."
The interrogators testified earlier during depositions in Saudi Arabia (search) that they did not mistreat Abu Ali and that he confessed almost immediately.
Abu Ali's lawyers have cited a series of small scars or marks on his back as evidence of a flogging. Defense and prosecution experts have differed during the hearing about whether such marks would be caused by whipping.
Prosecutor David Laufman asked Abu Ali why he didn't tell American consular officers who visited him in jail about his alleged mistreatment. Abu Ali said he did not believe the consular officers would be able to help him and that the torture had essentially stopped by the time he received consular visits.
Abu Ali was returned to the United States in February to face charges.