Rights Attorneys Ask Court to Vacate 2005 Conviction and LWOP Sentence After Khashoggi Revelations

Same Saudi Agency Involved in Cover-Up Denied Torture of Ahmed Abu Ali 

October 3, 2019, Alexandria, VA – Last night, the Center for Constitutional Rights asked a federal court to vacate the conviction and life-without-parole sentence of Ahmed Abu Ali in light of new evidence stemming from the Saudi government’s cover-up of the torture and murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In 2003, when he was a 22-year-old university student, Mr. Abu Ali was detained by officers of the “Mabahith,” a secret domestic police agency in Saudi Arabia—the same agency involved in the murder and cover-up of Khashoggi. During interrogations by the agency, Abu Ali “confessed” under torture to involvement in a Saudi Al Qaeda cell, which later served as the basis for his U.S. prosecution. At Abu Ali’s trial, the government’s chief witnesses attesting to the voluntariness of his statements were his Mabahith jailors and interrogators, who denied that he was tortured. 

The motion filed last night argues that evidence of the agency’s role in destroying evidence and obstructing international investigations after Khashoggi’s murder, and the demonstrated willingness of the authorities to deny facts even in the face of the most intense outside scrutiny, bears crucially on the credibility of the agency officials who testified at Abu Ali’s trial. The motion alleges fraud on the court by the Saudi government, and argues that the U.S. government knew or should have known that it was relying on fraudulent testimony in violation of Mr. Abu Ali’s due process rights. 

The Center for Constitutional Rights said of the filing, 

Mr. Abu Ali’s life without parole sentence is a travesty of justice. But for a tortured confession in Saudi custody, there would have been no conviction. The court should reexamine this case in light of what has by now been made plain – the Saudi government, and particularly the agency involved in Mr. Abu Ali’s torture, has no credibility in denying its crimes. 

Those investigating Saudi crimes should look closer to home. 

Mr. Abu Ali’s parents said, 

We hope that this motion will bring attention to the magnitude of injustice our son Ahmed and our family has faced. Ahmed is serving a life sentence based on a coerced confession obtained through torture in Saudi prison as well as the testimony of the Mabahith, whom we know lack credibility. We hope that the court and the American public will see with clarity Ahmed’s innocence and demand his immediate release. 

After his arrest, Saudi Mabahith officers subjected Abu Ali to beating, whipping, and threats of amputation and beheading, and interrogated him for over 40 straight nights. At the end of this period, Abu Ali was forced to copy and sign a pre-written confession, which was the centerpiece of the government’s case against him. At his trial, prosecutors presented testimony from Mabahith officials denying that any prisoner had ever been mistreated by them. “[N]ot once” had an officer or guard used physical force against a prisoner, an official insisted. 

According to the motion filed yesterday, revelations that Mabahith officials were deeply involved in the cover-up of the Khashoggi murder have undercut the credibility of that testimony and give rise to a claim that Saudi authorities were engaged in deliberate deception. Based on the findings of international investigations, the filing alleges that Mabahith officials were part of the team that carried out the murder, and in the aftermath destroyed evidence, obstructed investigations, and helped mislead the international community about the truth of what happened. 

Abu Ali was held in Saudi Arabia without access to counsel for close to two years without charge – by the Saudis or the U.S. In 2004, his parents filed a habeas corpus petition in federal court on his behalf, alleging that he was being held in Saudi Arabia at the behest of the U.S. and that he was being tortured. Two months after the judge ordered discovery in the case, Abu Ali was indicted and extradited to the U.S. to face charges. A U.S. official told the press at the time that the government wanted to make the civil case “go away” so that it could avoid having to disclose embarrassing and sensitive information. 

Mr. Abu Ali was initially sentenced to a 30-year sentence. The sentencing judge emphasized the minimal nature of Abu Ali’s alleged role in the conspiracy for which he was convicted, writing, 

Mr. Abu Ali never planted any bombs, shot any weapons, or injured any people, and there is no evidence that he took any steps in the United States with others to further the conspiracy; no witness testified that they personally saw or conspired with Mr. Abu Ali to commit any acts of violence and there is no evidence that there were other co-conspirators in the United States; no weapons were ever found in Mr. Abu Ali’s possession; and no victim was injured in the United States by Mr. Abu Ali’s actions. 

However, the government appealed his sentence as unreasonable, resulting in the life without parole sentence he is now serving. 

For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.


Last modified 

October 3, 2019