A U.S. consular officer in Saudi Arabia who made jail visits to a man accused of plotting to assassinate President George W. Bush testified that he saw no evidence the inmate had been tortured, but he said he was denied access to him for nearly a month.
The testimony came Wednesday during a pretrial hearing to determine the validity of a confession given to Saudi authorities by Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, a 24-year-old U.S. citizen.
In the videotaped confession, Abu Ali says he "was interested in jihad" because of "my hatred of the United States for support of Israel against the Palestinian people." He said he discussed possible terrorist acts with two al-Qaida leaders, who encouraged him to return to America and establish an al-Qaida cell.
Abu Ali claims that the Saudis tortured him into a false confession and that U.S. authorities were complicit in that torture so the confession should be thrown out.
He was arrested while attending college in Saudi Arabia in June 2003 and jailed for 20 months before being turned over to U.S. authorities to face charges. U.S. officials deny he was mistreated.
Charles Glatz, a State Department consular officer in Riyadh, was the first American to speak with Abu Ali after his arrest. Glatz said he looked healthy at their first meeting, July 8, 2003. They met five more times and Abu Ali never raised issues of torture or mistreatment, he said. Glatz said he asked Abu Ali if he had been mistreated, and Abu Ali said no.
Usually consular officers try to visit Americans imprisoned on foreign soil within two or three days of their arrest, Glatz said. But the Saudi security force, the Mubahith, did not allow him access for a month, which Glatz said was common when the Mubahith was involved.
Defense lawyers say Abu Ali was whipped and tortured during the three days after his arrest so any evidence might not have been obvious a month later. Khurrum Wahid, one of Abu Ali's lawyers, also argued in court Thursday that Abu Ali was in no position to report torture because the Mubahith monitored all his consular visits and he would have placed himself in danger by making such claims.
Abu Ali is charged with conspiracy to assassinate the president, conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy and contributing services to al-Qaida, and could face life in prison if convicted. Defense lawyers are seeking to have the case dismissed. If U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee allows the case to proceed to trial, it is scheduled to begin Oct. 24. Jury selection began Wednesday, AP reports.