Ahmed Abu Ali was born in Houston, Texas in 1981 and grew up in Falls Church, Virginia. After graduating as valedictorian of his high school class, Abu Ali went on to study first at the University of Maryland and then at the University of Medina in Saudi Arabia. In June 2003, while taking exams at the university, he was arrested by Saudi authorities and held for almost two years without being charged and without access to an attorney.

Having been assured that the United States had no role in the Saudi interrogation and no interest in Abu Ali, the family filed a habeas petition to have him returned to the United States. However, the court never ruled on the case as Abu Ali was transferred into US custody in February 2005 on an indictment charging him with nine terrorism counts including material support for terrorism because of purchases of a laptop computer and cell phone he had made in Saudi Arabia allegedly for use by Al Qaeda and for allegedly planning to assassinate George W. Bush.

The government’s principal evidence against Abu Ali came from a detailed taped confession he made in Saudi Arabia. Abu Ali maintained that he was tortured during his 20 months in Saudi prisons, and his defense asked for the confession to be ruled inadmissible. Having been assured by Saudi Arabia that no torture had occurred, the US government’s medical expert never examined Abu Ali. Defense expert Dr. Allen Keller, Director of the Program for Survivors of Torture at of the Bellevue/NYU Hospital, who did examine him, testified to the evidence of torture. But the judge allowed the confession to be introduced and no contextual evidence of torture to be provided to the jury. This drew the criticism of Amnesty International for the “precedent in US courts of according unqualified support to the declarations of a foreign government regarding its human rights record as a means of rendering evidence admissible, including statements obtained by torture and ill-treatment.”

Abu Ali was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to 30 years in jail. The appellate court felt his sentence was too lenient—and he was re-sentenced to life. Abu Ali is held at ADX in Florence, Colorado in solitary confinement under Special Administrative Measures that severely heighten his level of isolation.