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Judge weighs use of classified information

Family of man held in Saudi Arabia suing U.S. Justice Department

From Kevin Bohn

Justice Department lawyers huddle during a break in the hearing.
• U.S. District Court: December rulingexternal link
Saudi Arabia
Justice Department
United States

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorneys for the family of an American citizen detained in Saudi Arabia for the past 20 months argued Friday that it would be unfair to dismiss their lawsuit against the U.S. government because of classified information and undisclosed reasoning.

Government lawyers and the federal judge hearing the case agreed it would be highly unusual, if not unprecedented, to hide both the secret evidence and the lawyers' reasoning from the plaintiff's attorneys, thereby preventing them from challenging it.

Earlier this week, U.S. attorneys filed the classified information in a legal brief that requested that the lawsuit be dismissed.

The family of Ahmed Abu Ali, 23, has sued the U.S. government, arguing that American authorities played a role in his arrest in June 2003. The family said the United States asked Saudi Arabia to detain Abu Ali, a student at the Islamic University of Medina -- a charge U.S. officials have denied.

Abu Ali's arrest followed the May 2003 bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in which 23 people, including nine Americans, were killed.

U.S. District Judge John Bates ruled in December there was evidence to support the family's allegation, allowing the case to move forward and the family's attorneys to request evidence from the government.

The Justice Department has repeatedly tried to get the lawsuit dismissed, arguing the case is outside the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.

Bates has yet to rule on jurisdiction, pending the outcome of the evidence from both sides.

Bates said Friday he is "very concerned" about making sure the information provided by the government is protected but "equally concerned" with protecting Abu Ali's rights.

Justice Department lawyer Ori Lev said there have been other cases where classified information has been used, but he could not offer a precedent in which all of the evidence and legal reasoning had been kept from the opposing attorneys.

"This case is different than any other case," argued Lev. "There is little to gain" from giving the classified information to the family's attorneys.

David Cole, an attorney for the family, said there had been no cases dealing with a person's liberty decided in this manner.

Terming the matter an "entirely one-sided proceeding," Cole said Justice Department attorneys "say they can litigate based on evidence that has not been challenged."

The State Department has asked Saudi Arabia to either charge Abu Ali, who grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, or hand him over to the United States, American officials have told CNN.

Sources familiar with the case have said Abu Ali is suspected of having connections to individuals involved in the 2003 bombings.

Sources also have told CNN a grand jury in the United States is hearing evidence and an indictment against Abu Ali is possible.

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