In a sweeping decision yesterday, the District Court for the District of Columbia held, in our case Abu Ali v. Ashcroft, that U.S. federal courts have jurisdiction to inquire into the level of involvement that the U.S. government had in the arrest, detention, and interrogation of a U.S. citizen currently being detained in a Saudi prison.
The U.S. government had tried to argue to the court that federal courts lack jurisdiction to compel the government to reveal information about the detention of an individual being held by a foreign government, "even where the United States allegedly has been involved in the prisoner's incarceration in the first place."
The court squarely rejected this argument, stating that ''[t]he full contours of this position would permit the United States, at its discretion and without judicial review, to arrest a citizen of the United States and transfer her to the custody of allies overseas in order to avoid constitutional scrutiny." If the court were to accept that position, that would allow the government ''to deliver American citizens to foreign governments to obtain information through the use of torture," a practice which has been gaining increasing attention as details about the government's "extraordinary rendition" program come to light.
Relying in part on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Rasul v. Bush, in which that Court held that the government could not indefinitely detain "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay without affording them the right to challenge their detentions before a neutral tribunal, the D.C. District Court said that the U.S. government is obliged to respond to our specific allegations of complicity in arranging Abu Ali's detention and mistreatment, giving Ali the opportunity to challenge his detention.
The significance of the court's ruling is that courts have now been held to be able to decide whether the detention of U.S. citizens by foreign countries are justified, so long as there is some evidence that the U.S. government was involved in the detention of U.S. citizens. The decision, furthermore, presents a very strong rebuke of the U.S. government's attempts to prevent courts from reviewing its actions in the war on terror, something it has been trying to do from the beginning.For additional news on our Abu Ali case, please see the following news sources:
- Associated Press, Saudi Detainee’s Family Urges U.S. Action, December 17, 2004
- Washington Post,
Judge To Review U.S. Role In Saudi Jailing of Va. Man, December 17, 2004
- New York Times, U.S. Court Asserts Authority Over American in Saudi Jail , December 17, 2004
- Washington Post,
Saudi Subcontractors, December 20, 2004