UAE closes terror trial of US citizen


Judge Shahab Al-Hamadi gave no reason for closing the hearing after the first court session in June was open to observers and family members of Naji Hamdan; a US diplomatic official was allowed to attend yesterday’s proceedings.

Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union, which accuses the US of pushing Hamdan’s case through the Emirati courts for lack of evidence to convict him at home, said a closed-door hearing was a "travesty of justice." Representatives from the group traveled to Abu Dhabi intending to observe the hearing in which the defense presented its side of the case.

Hamdan, a 43-year-old American citizen of Lebanese origin, is charged in the UAE with supporting terrorism, participating in the work of terrorist organizations, and being a member of a terrorist group. Hamdan denied the charges against him during his first court appearance on June 14 and told the judge he had signed a confession because he was tortured. UAE officials have never commented on the allegations.

Last year the ACLU filed a lawsuit suggesting that the US ordered Hamdan’s arrest, detention and prosecution in the UAE and asking a judge to push for his release. Justice Department lawyers argued the judge doesn’t have authority to involve himself in a case prosecuted by a sovereign foreign government under its own laws. The US Embassy in the UAE has declined to comment on the case except to say that Hamdan has been given consular support.

Jennie Pasquarella, an attorney with the ACLU said the decision to close yesterday’s proceedings at the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi does not meet international standards of judicial transparency and fairness. "What we saw today was not fairness at all," Pasquarella said. "It looks like a political show." A US Embassy representative, who attended the hearing, refused to comment. Hamdan’s Emirates-based lawyer declined to share with reporters what he told the judge in defense of his client.

Hamdan’s family did not comment on the restrictions but said Hamdan was pleased with his defense and that they hoped he would be freed soon. "I think he is innocent," said Hamdan’s 17-year-old son Khaled, who came from Beirut to attend the hearing. "I don’t really know why they accused him of this. Hopefully everything will be fine." Hamdan moved to the US as a college student, became a citizen and ran a successful auto parts business in the Los Angeles area. He was active in the Islamic community. He said
the FBI began questioning him about whether he had terrorist ties in 1999. He decided to move his family back to the Middle East in 2006 after living in the US for 20 years.

Although it is not clear what Hamdan had been suspected of doing, he said he was kept under constant surveillance by the US government. He claims the FBI once detained him at the airport on a return visit to the US and flew agents to Abu Dhabi last summer to question him at the US Embassy in the UAE capital.

On August 26, 2008, three weeks after the embassy meeting, Hamdan was arrested at his home in the emirate of Ajman by UAE state security agents. He was kept in solitary confinement for three months, according to a note from Hamdan. He said he was repeatedly questioned, with daily beatings, whipping of his feet, kicks to his abdomen, threats to his family and verbal abuse. He wrote in the note that an American was present for at least some of the questioning and advised him to do what he was told to avoid
further pain.

ACLU attorney Ahilan Arulanantham argued in the lawsuit that Hamdan didn’t know who the person was, but the person spoke in perfect American English and was dressed differently from his captors. Justice Department lawyers in the ACLU lawsuit argued that could be any one, and they submitted a declaration from the FBI that its agents were not involved in his capture and did not share their opinions about the case with the United Arab Emirates. But the ACLU’s attorney argued that doesn’t rule out involvement from other US agencies. No date has been set for the court verdict. –


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