Fourth Circuit Affirms Refusal to Vacate Sentence in United States v. Abu Ali

By Jane Chong
Tuesday, October 7, 2014, 4:04 PM

In an unpublished per curiam opinion, Chief Judge Traxler and Judges Wilkinson and Motz of the Fourth Circuit today dismissed Ahmed Omar Abu Ali's bid to overturn the district court's 2012 order denying relief on his 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion to vacate his sentence.

Some background: Abu Ali---a U.S. citizen born in Texas and raised in Virginia---was arrested by the Saudi Ministry of the Interior in 2003 based on his alleged affiliation with the al Qaeda cell al-Faq'asi, responsible for the May 12, 2003 suicide attacks on foreign housing compounds in Riyadh that killed about three dozen people, including nine Americans. Abu Ali alleged he was tortured while in Saudi custody for two years, with FBI participation; in 2005, he was indicted by a federal grand jury in Virginia and flown to the United States.

The district court issued a 113-page opinion rejecting Abu Ali's bid for suppression of his statements while in detention and dismissing his account of his alleged torture. On November 22, 2005, a jury convicted Abu Ali on all nine offenses charged, including plotting to kill President George W. Bush, and Judge Gerald Lee sentenced him to 30  years behind bars, to be followed by 30 years of supervised release. Abu Ali lost his appeal, but the government prevailed on its cross-appeal of his sentence---the district court imposed a life sentence on remand, which the Fourth Circuit affirmed in a 2011 unpublished opinion.

For a thorough discussion of the early procedural history and some of the novel issues the case raised, see Stephen Vladeck's excellent 2010 ACS issue brief.