Amnesty International has voiced repeated concerns over the years about the detention and treatment of Ali Al-Marri, a U.S. resident from Qatar. After pleading guilty in April, in a U.S. civilian court, Mr. Al-Marri has been sentenced to eight and a half years for "Conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organisation (al-Qaeda)"1.

Background

Mr Al-Marri studied computer science in Illinois in the 1980’s, and after a decision to pursue post-graduate studies, he brought his wife and five children to the US. Three months after his arrival, in December of 2001, he was arrested in his home by the F.B.I. He was held in the Metropolitan Correctional Centre in New York as a “material witness” to the September 11th Terrorist Attacks. However, in 2003, Mr Al-Marri was then charged with credit card fraud, making false statements to the FBI and making false statements on a bank application; nothing terrorism related. In a cruel twist of fate, a month before his scheduled trial, the charges against him were dropped and he was labelled by the Bush administration as an “enemy combatant”. The Bush administration also alleged that he engaged in conduct that “constituted hostile and war-like acts, including conduct in preparation for acts of international terrorism.”2 In addition, they alleged that he was closely associated with al-Qaeda and that intelligence was in his possession that would “aid US efforts to prevent attacks by al-Qaeda.”3

According to Andy Worthington, the primary evidence against Mr al-Marri was obtained through the interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The treatment Mr Mohammed has endured has seriously breached international law obligations concerning the humane treatment of all persons in custody. Any evidence obtained through torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment should not have been used as evidence against Mr al-Marri.

Conditions of Confinement and Treatment

What we do know, is that Mr al-Marri has been subject to much the same conditions and treatment as the so-called high value detainees that Mr Mohammed was a part of. In a 2008 petition to a US District Court, Mr. al-Marri’s legal team allege that a host of abuses were perpetrated against him, including exposure to ‘extremely cold temperatures, stress positions, extreme sensory deprivation and threats of violence and death. An example was given of interrogators telling Mr al-Marri that they would “send him to Egypt or Saudi Arabia to be tortured and sodomized and forced to watch as his wife was raped in front of him.”4 They also spoke of the several occasions when Mr al-Marri’s mouth was stuffed with a cloth and covered with duct tape leaving him to choke. The Government has admitted to destroying an unspecified number of recorded interrogations.5

Other abuses outlined include;

  • Being told that he would disappear and never be seen again

  • Religious observance being restricted or degraded eg. denied water for washing prior to prayer.

  • Being denied basic necessities such as water (once for 20 days), food, clothing, and recreation. Denied essential hygiene items such as toilet paper, soap and toothpaste.

  • Being held incommunicado (denied access to anything in the outside world including family, lawyers and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

  • Denied access to legal counsel.

The impact of the prolonged solitary confinement and torture and/or ill-treatment of Mr al-Marri is ongoing and irreparable according to Dr Stuart Grassian who examined him last year6. Dr Grassin notes that Mr al-Marri was displaying psychiatric symptoms commonly encountered in those “who has been incarcerated brutally in some third world countries.”7.

The Obama Administration

On his second day in office, President Obama issued a memorandum ordering the investigation of the legal basis for Mr al-Marri’s detention. So, after several long years, and a push from the Obama administration, Mr al-Marri finally had his day in court. It must be said however, that the Obama administration has adopted the Bush administration's opinion that Mr al-Marri can be held indefinitely as an enemy combatant. Time will tell whether Mr al-Marri will be freed after he has served his sentence.

Whether or not justice has been served considering the way statements were obtained, and the conditions under which he has been held for over five and a half years, is another story. But for now, Mr al-Marri has been given some hope for the future and the end of his ordeal is in sight.

Upon sentencing, Mr. al-Marri made a public statement you can read the full text here.

References

  1. USA V Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri Judgement (pdf 6 pages)

  2. Andy Worthington “The Last US Enemy Combatant: The Shocking Story of Ali al-Marri.”

  3. ibid.

  4. See Ali Saleh Kahlah Almarri V Robert Gates p.6.

  5. Ali Saleh Kahlah Almarri V Robert Gates p.6.

  6. ibid. p.8.

  7. Ali Saleh Kahlah Almarri V Robert Gates p.8.