Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Gulag Americana


The November 22 Washington Post reported an alarming story about a Virginia resident and American citizen, 22 year-old Ahmed Abu Ali. In June, as he was preparing to return home to Falls Church from Saudi Arabia where he is a student. He was detained by Saudi Arabian authorities, at the request of the U.S., supposedly for the purposes of “interrogation” about his involvement in a plot, along with other Northern Virginia residents, to provide aid to rebels in Kashmir, who are fighting the Indian takeover of that region. Ali disputes his involvement in the activities of some of his acquaintances who have pled to vague charges of training to fight against a friend of the U.S. (India) in a prosecution in Alexandria, Virginia federal court.

We have no way of knowing what, if anything, Ali did that might be illegal under our broad and far-reaching anti-terrorist laws. That is beside the point at this time. What is the point, however, is that an American citizen can’t come home, and the U.S. government is working with a foreign country to keep him locked up without a charge, without an attorney, without a trial, and with no hope of returning home. Because the U.S. set up his “detention,” he has none of the protections normally afforded to a U.S. citizen who may be imprisoned in a foreign country, such as access to help from the State Department and consular personnel.

Ali’s case brings to mind that of Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen whom the U.S. conspired to ship to Syria for interrogation, with the help of the Canadian government. Arar was returning to Canada through New York with federal agents captured him and put him on a plane to Syria. He was imprisoned in Syria for several months, where he says he was tortured. Neither the U.S. or Canada cared about returning him home-Syria let him go because, according to the Syrian ambassador to the U.S., it could find no cause t hold him.

Maybe I have been naive, but I had no idea that our government could do what was done to Ali, an American citizen. Or that it would do what it to do with a citizen of another country–literally put a hood over his head and take him out of the country.

In a communication with his family, said that he was being threatened with being declared an enemy combatant and shipped to Guantanamo Bay. If this were the case, it would be yet another outrageous act by President Bush, to imprison an American citizen and deny him access to U.S. courts. Attorney Ashraf Nubani, who has been on the front line of dozens of cases against alleged “terrorists,” has tried in vain to find legal help for Ali in Saudi Arabia. He says no attorney there will touch the case. Not that he would gain access to Ali, anyway. No doubt the Saudis would be as unlikely to give him access to counsel as the U.S. would. As I write that sentence, I am stunned by the fact that this is no longer a surprise to me, an attorney of 24 years, who never thought she would be routinely writing about Americans who are captured and imprisoned by their government without being charged with any crime.

It has been a bad week for Americans caught up in the “war” on terror. Attorney Lynne Stewart was reindicted on new terrorist charges, after the judge threw out earlier charges. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals seemed ready to cede power to the president to keep Jose Padilla in prison forever, without charge, trial, or attorney, because he has been designated an “enemy combatant.” And now, an American abroad is imprisoned in Saudi Arabia.

There is no safe harbor for anyone whom the government wants to do in. Where is our Alexander Solzenitsyn, whom you may recall penned a classic of dissidence literature, The Gulag Archipelego. Where is our collective outrage?

ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, teachers law and psychology, and follows the Bush regime’s dismantling of the Constitution at Civil Liberties Watch. She can be reached at:


More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future