ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – The United Arab Emirates’ highest court convicted an American citizen Monday on terrorism-related charges amid claims that torture was used to extract a confession.
The court sentenced Naji Hamdan to 18 months in prison, but he should be freed soon because the sentence counts time served and he was detained last year. There are no appeals to verdicts by the UAE’s Federal Supreme Court.
Hamdan, an American of Lebanese origin, faced three terrorism-related charges, including having ties with an Al Qaeda group in Iraq. The court’s chief justice, Khalifa al-Muhairi, gave no details on his decision such as whether the 43-year-old Hamdan was convicted of all three charges. Hamdan had denied the accusations. “I’m disappointed because I was not acquitted,” Hamdan told The Associated Press as he was led away by security forces after the verdict.
Hamdan’s lawyer, Abdul Khader al-Haithami, claims his client suffered torture and threats in detention and was forced to sign a confession “to whatever they wanted to hear.”
Rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, also have accused U.S. authorities of pushing the case in the Emirates because they lacked enough evidence for American courts. The ACLU asked a U.S. court to press for a halt to the case, but a U.S. judge ruled in August that there was no authority to interfere in a foreign criminal prosecution.
Hamdan was arrested in the UAE in August 2008 and charged in June 2009 with supporting terrorism, working with terrorist organizations and being a member of a terrorist group. The state prosecutor claimed Hamdan had ties with a group backed by Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Emirates security and judicial officials have given no other specific details about the allegations, other than noting the charges were related to Hamdan’s activities outside the UAE.
Hamdan moved to the U.S. as a college student. He later became a citizen and ran a successful auto parts business in the Los Angeles area and was active in the Islamic community. He said the FBI began questioning him about whether he had terrorist ties in 1999, and he eventually decided to move his family back to the Middle East in 2006. He is expected to be deported by UAE authorities after he is released from prison.
Hamdan was never charged with any crime in the United States. After his detention in the UAE, he wrote a note to a U.S. diplomat, which was later obtained by the AP, saying he was subjected to beatings, threats to his family and verbal abuse.
The U.S. Embassy in the UAE had previously declined to comment on the case except to say that Hamdan has been given consular support. U.S. officials in the UAE could not be immediately reached for comment following the verdict.