A federal judge in Washington, D.C. today dismissed a petition by the American Civil Liberties Union to force the U.S. government to reveal whether American officials were involved in the detention and alleged torture of an American citizen by officials in the United Arab Emirates now accused of being a terrorist.
In his ruling from the bench, U.S. District Judge James Robertson left the door open for the ACLU to bring new a new legal argument in the case, but said that the ACLU had not demonstrated he had sufficient legal authority to involve himself in the case of 42-year-old Naji Hamdan. Hamdan was detained for months by UAE officials before the government there charged him with three terror-related crimes.
Robertson also said that the evidence the ACLU cited to argue that U.S. government officials may have been involved in Hamdan's detention was based largely on "hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay," and on Hamdan's own allegations, which he called "self-serving."
Hamdan's UAE trial is slated to begin Sunday, June 14. ACLU lawyers said in court today they believed he could face the death penalty if he is convicted.
Hamdan was born in Lebanon but lived with his family in Southern California for more than 20 years before moving to the UAE, where he was detained by security forces in August 2008. Three months after he was taken, the ACLU filed its suit in the United States seeking information on possible U.S. government involvement in the matter. One week later, the UAE government charged Hamdan with participating in the work of a terror organization, assisting the work of a terror organization, and promoting terror.
In a handwritten note Hamdan gave the U.S. consular officials in UAE, he described being tortured until he lost consciousness. "I am not a terrorist, I never was, I am a regular American Muslim who's looking to raise his kids and live a comfortable life with his family," he wrote in the statement.
Judge Robertson said that since Hamdan is now facing criminal charges in the UAE, he cannot intervene.
After the hearing, ACLU lawyers said that while they were not surprised at the ruling given the lack of precedence for a case like Hamdan's, they were very unhappy that the judge ruled so promptly.
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Hamdan's lawyers say that given the intense surveillance of Hamdan, originally from Lebanon, over the past several years by the FBI, intense questioning at airports every time he or his relatives fly, and the visit by FBI agents just weeks before his detention, they believe the US government is behind his capture and interrogation.
The FBI denied requesting the UAE to detain Hamdan or interrogate him while he has been in UAE custody.
"We do not ask other countries to detain US citizens on our behalf in order to circumvent their rights," FBI spokesman Richard Kolko told ABC News.
Judge Robertson said he ruled quickly to allow Hamdan's lawyers to appeal his decision. He also gave the ACLU lawyers ten days to bring an alternative case before him to press for Hamdan's release.
The ACLU has written to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking for her support, but so far they say she has not responded.
Steven Pike, U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Officer in Abu Dhabi, said the Embassy is in contact with Hamdan, and is "carrying out normal consular responsibilities."
Pike said he cannot comment further on his case because the state department does not have a Privacy Act Waiver that authorizes him to speak to the media.
The UAE Embassy in Washington declined to comment, citing that this is a "police/security" matter.