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: ecassel1@cox.net


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