At a Glance
In October 2019, Ahmed Abu Ali filed a post-conviction habeas motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 in the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to vacate his sentence based on new facts that came to light in the wake of the killing and cover-up by Saudi Arabia of the Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi. The district court denied the motion in March 2020. Abu Ali remains imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole.
Ahmed Abu Ali
Ahmed Abu Ali is a 40-year-old American citizen of Jordanian origin currently serving a sentence of life without parole in federal prison following a 2005 conviction for material support and related terrorism charges. Central to Abu Ali’s trial and conviction was a "confession" after repeated interrogations under torture during his detention by the secret Saudi police agency, the Mabahith.
In 2003, when he was 22 years old, Ahmed was arrested by Mabahith officers in Medina, Saudi Arabia, where he was a student at the University of Medina. The Mabahith subjected him to beatings, whippings, and threats of amputation, then interrogated him for over 40 consecutive nights. At the end of this period, they forced him to copy and sign a pre-written statement confessing to involvement in an Al Qaeda cell in Saudi Arabia. He continued to be held in a Saudi prison for close to two years without charge.
In 2005, after his parents filed a habeas petition on his behalf as next friends, alleging that the Saudis had arrested, detained, and tortured him for intelligence purposes at the behest of the United States, Abu Ali was extradited to the Eastern District of Virginia to face charges. The charges depended almost entirely on Abu Ali's forced statements in Saudi detention. At trial, the government's chief witnesses in proving the voluntariness of the statements were Abu Ali's jailors and interrogators in Saudi Arabia, who testified that Abu Ali had been treated humanely — that, indeed, force is never used against prisoners.
The jury convicted Abu Ali after a three-week trial. The district judge initially sentenced Abu Ali to 30 years, reasoning that “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.”
Abu Ali appealed his conviction and the government cross-appealed his sentence as unreasonable. The district court ultimately re-sentenced Abu Ali to life imprisonment with no opportunity for parole.
In light of the Saudi government’s cover-up of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi's killing, which centrally involved officials of the Mabahith — the same agency that covered up and denied torturing Abu Ali — Abu Ali filed a motion to vacate his sentence in October 2019, arguing that the new evidence shows the agency witnesses presented false testimony at his trial, committing fraud on the court and violating his due process rights. The motion was denied the following year. Abu Ali remains impriaoned in a Communications Management Unit in Terre Haute, IN, serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
2013 report by the UN Special Rapportuer on Torture expressing concern over Abu Ali's allegations of torture in Saudi Arabia
Report by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School discussing Abu Ali's conditions of confinement in the U.S. under solitary confinement and Special Administrative Measures (SAMs)