ABC News Exclusive: Torture Tape Implicates UAE Royal Sheikh

Police in Uniform Join In as Victim Is Whipped, Beaten, Electrocuted, Run Over by SUV


April 22, 2009—

A video tape smuggled out of the United Arab Emirates shows a member of the country's royal family mercilessly torturing a man with whips, electric cattle prods and wooden planks with protruding nails.

A man in a UAE police uniform is seen on the tape tying the victim's arms and legs, and later holding him down as the Sheikh pours salt on the man's wounds and then drives over him with his Mercedes SUV.

In a statement to ABC News, the UAE Ministry of the Interior said it had reviewed the tape and acknowledged the involvement of Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, brother of the country's crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed.

"The incidents depicted in the video tapes were not part of a pattern of behavior," the Interior Ministry's statement declared.

The Minister of the Interior is also one of Sheikh Issa's brother.

The government statement said its review found "all rules, policies and procedures were followed correctly by the Police Department."

"If this is their complete reply, then sadly it's a scam and it's a sham," said Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch.

"It is the state that is torturing them," she said, "if the government does not investigate and prosecute these officers, and those commanding those officers."

The 45-minute long tape was smuggled out of the country by Bassam Nabulsi, of Houston, Texas, a former business associate of Sheikh Issa.

Nabulsi is now suing the Sheikh in federal court in Houston, alleging he also was tortured by UAE police when he refused to turn over the videos to the Sheikh following their falling out.

"They were my security, really, to make my case that this man is capable of doing what I say he can do," said Nabulsi in an interview to be broadcast Wednesday on the ABC News program Nightline.

Nabulsi says the video tapes were recorded by his brother, on orders from the Sheikh who liked to watch the torture sessions later in his royal palace.

The Sheikh begins by stuffing sand down the man's mouth, as the police officers restrains the victim.

Then he fires bullets from an automatic rifle around him as the man howls incomprehensibly.

Sadistic Torture by Sheikh

At another point on the tape, the Sheikh can be seen telling the cameraman to come closer.

"Get closer. Get closer. Get closer. Let his suffering show," the Sheikh says.

Over the course of the tape, Sheikh Issa acts in an increasingly sadistic manner.

He uses an electric cattle prod against the man's testicles and inserts it in his anus.

At another point, as the man wails in pain, the Sheikh pours lighter fluid on the man's testicles and sets them aflame.

Then the tape shows the Sheikh sorting through some wooden planks. "I remember there was one that had a nail in it," he says on the tape.

The Sheikh then pulls down the pants of the victim and repeatedly strikes him with board and its protruding nail. At one point, he puts the nail next to the man's buttocks and bangs it through the flesh.

"Where's the salt," asks the Sheikh as he pours a large container of salt on to the man's bleeding wounds.

The victim pleads for mercy, to no avail.

The final scene on the tape shows the Sheikh positioning his victim on the desert sand and then driving over him repeatedly. A sound of breaking bones can be heard on the tape.

Sheikh Issa's lawyer, Daryl Bristow of Baker Botts in Houston, told ABC News "the tape is the tape."

The torture victim was identified by Nabulsi as an Afghan grain dealer, Mohammed Shah Poor, who the Sheikh accused of short changing on a grain delivery to his royal ranch on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.

The UAE government, in its statement, says the matter was settled privately between the Sheikh and the grain dealer, "by agreeing not to bring formal charges against each other, i.e., theft on the one hand and assault on the other hand."

Nabulsi says Sheikh Issa became increasing violent and sadistic following the 2004 death of his father, the UAE's first and only president until that time, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

"It's like you flipped a switch and the man took a wrong turn in his life and started getting violent," said Nabulsi.

Sheikh Issa is one of the country's 22 royal sheikhs but does not hold an official position in the UAE government.

Man Says U.S. Embassy Officials in Abu Dhabi Knew of Torture Tape

Nabulsi first met Sheikh Issa when he traveled to Houston for medical reasons. Nabulsi provided hotel and limousine services and their relationship grew into a business partnership, he says.

Nabulsi, in his lawsuit, says he was falsely arrested on narcotics trafficking charges by Abu Dhabi police when he refused to turn over the tapes and mistreated in prison, where he was held for three months.

"They would stick a finger up his anus and say, 'this is from Sheik Issa, are you going to give us the tapes,'" said Nabulsi's Houston lawyer, Tony Buzbee.

"They would keep him from sleeping, deny him his medications, tell him they were going to rape his wife, kill his child. They made him pose naked while they took pictures," the lawyer alleges.

The UAE government said its review "also confirmed that Mr. Nabulsi was in no way mistreated during his incarceration for drug possession."

After a short trial, Nabulsi was convicted of having prescription medicine without a prescription from a local doctor. Evidence at the trail showed his doctor in Houston had prescribed the medicine.

Nabulsi was expelled from the country and his passport is stamped with the notation "Not Allowed to Return to the UAE."

Nabulsi says officials at the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi were aware of the torture tapes but took no action to protest the Sheikh's action.

The UAE is considered a stalwart U.S. ally in the region, with close cooperation in working against al Qaeda. The U.S. Navy has an important base outside Dubai.

Nabulsi says he even showed portions of the tape to a Department of Homeland Security official stationed in Abu Dhabi to train UAE police, Bill Wallrap.

Nabulsi says after the U.S. official watched the tapes, he advised Nabulsi to "gather your family and get out of the country as soon as possible for your own safety."

A spokesman for DHS said neither Wallrap nor the DHS would have any comment on the torture tapes.

In its 2008 Human Rights report, the U.S. State Department referred to "reports that a royal family member tortured a foreign national who had allegedly overcharged him in a grain deal." The State Department made no reference to the video tapes played for the U.S. official.

Rep. McGovern Weighs In

Other U.S. embassy employees did help, says Nabulsi, who credits them with keeping him alive by their visits to the prison.

Asked why neither he nor his brother didn't report the torture he saw on the tape to authorities in the UAE, Nabulsi said, "I mean the whole government is all brothers. I mean the president is al Nahyan, the crown prince is al Nahyan, the foreign minister is al Nahyan, the foreign minister is al Nahyan. What can you do?"

The co-chairman of the House Human Rights Commission, Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), said the existence of the tape requires the U.S. to take action.

"Granted that they're strategically located in a key part of the world, but it's hard to imagine that we're going to keep going on as if it' business as usual when this kind of stuff happens," said McGovern. "My guess is that this is just the tip of the iceberg."

Sheikh Issa's lawyer, Bristow, has moved to have the case, which also involves allegations surrounding their business dealings, transferred to courts in the UAE.

Wherever it is heard, said Bristow, "You may be assured that in due course the one-sided "story" being told to ABC by the Nabulsi's and their lawyers will be completely addressed and the Nabulsi's will be discredited," he said in a letter to ABC News.

The "'story that we think ABC is being told is grossly misleading; it is in large measure demonstrably untrue; and it is defamatory to Sheikh Issa." Bristow represented George W. Bush in the Florida recount case in 2000. Among the firm's partners is former Secretary of State James Baker.

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