A short film about my friend Ahmed, who was wrongfully imprisoned at 22, tortured, then sentenced to life in solitary confinement.
We set the Kickstarter aim to $5,000 though we actually need at least $10,000 to produce the film. Kickstarter is an all or nothing system, and we didn't want to discount a single dollar. Please keep on pledging and spreading, to help make a short film to tell the world about my friend Ahmed Abu-Ali: Yearning to Breathe Free.
About My Friend
Ahmed is an American victim of the War on Terror. He once had a regular life as a youth group leader at my interfaith group, teacher at the weekend school, and American Red Cross Blood Donor. Now he is in Solitary Confinement at ADX Supermax prison. He has been wrongfully incarcerated since he was 22; now he is 31 years old.
Why his case matters
His case set many disturbing precedents:
- It is OK to arrest an American citizen based on secret evidence alone
- It is OK to use a video recorded in a foreign country as the sole piece of evidence in a U.S. courtroom
- It is OK to admit evidence obtained by torture in a US courtroom
- It is OK for witnesses to testify anonymously
Ahmed's case made it OK to deny an American of his basic rights as an American citizen—the right for a Miranda statement, the right to an attorney, the right to a speedy trial, the right to know your accuser, the right to know the evidence against you, and the protection from cruel and unusual punishments. In our U.S. courts, under the banner of liberty and justice for all, Ahmed has been stripped of his 4th, 5th and 6th amendment rights. Yearning to Breathe Free will tell his story with the hope of reversing these precedents for Ahmed, and all Americans now and in the future.
Ahmed was sentenced to life in solitary confinement even though his so called “conspiracies” in the words of judge Gerald Bruce Lee “did not result in a single actual victim.”
In less than 10 minutes, the film will take you on Ahmed's journey. Everyday, Ahmed still resides in a place only a few feet wider than a grave, and many times deeper: A grave is 6 feet deep 8 feet long and 3 feet wide. Ahmed's cell is 20 meters under ground, 8 feet long, and 12 feet wide.
The film will bring Ahmed to life. It will illustrate the effects of Ahmed's incarceration on his family, friends, and community; and our cherished American values that we take for granted.
Support Yearning to Breathe Free and together we can make our pledge of allegiance something that we can all wholeheartedly believe in. Let’s bring to life liberty and justice for all. Please pledge today!********************************************************************************
DETAILS ABOUT THE CASE
Please visit http://writ.news.findlaw.com/cassel/20051107.html
And check out these emails from the FBI:
Thank you for your pledges and support!
Ahmed is one of the many Americans who were randomly arrested as a part of the War on Terror, in accordance with the post 9/11 Bush Doctrine and associated legislation, such as the USA PATRIOT Act. In June 2003, several young men from Ahmed's northern Virginia Muslim community were arrested for playing paintball together on Saturdays. Ultimately, 11 of these boys were convicted of training for jihad. Ahmed never played paintball with the boys in Virginia, but because he had attended the same mosque as they did, and he was currently living in Medina (a city in Saudi Arabia), U.S. & Saudi authorities arrested him as a suspect. However, during the first two years of his detention, FBI authorities stated publicly that they had no interest in Ahmed; in emails to family friends, the FBI stated, "We cannot provide information supporting his continued detention" and "no pending legal process exists regarding ABU ALI." The FBI even said that Ahmed "must not be detained on behalf of the United States Government." Copies of these emails are available here.
Ahmed was a college student studying Islamic Literature at the University of Medina. In May 1999, shortly after graduating as valedictorian from his high school in suburban northern Virginia, he was awarded a full scholarship to attend U of M and pursue this dream of studying Islamic Literature at one of the most globally well-respected institutions on this subject. He had begun pursuing this goal long before 9/11, and by June 2003, he was nearing the end of his program and ready to complete his degree.
No, Ahmed is an innocent American college student who got swept up in police investigations, and immediately locked up in Al Hai’r prison, which is known to systematically torture. The evidence for his trial comes from the confession tape, which was forced and elicited by torture. Everything stated in the confession video is contrary to the experiences of his friends, family, neighbors, teachers, and anyone who came in contact with Ahmed.
Everyone who knew him attests to Ahmed’s innocence. His friend since childhood says “he was an example of what a good person could and should be. He was always kind, always smiling, always giving, always fair, always honest, always helpful.” Ahmed’s math teacher of many years recalls, “As the best student I have ever taught, Ahmed was a very peaceful, loving, bright, and caring man. Anyone who interacted with him would conclude the same.” Ahmed’s neighbor from Barcroft Hills tells about how Ahmed helped the entire community during an ice storm that left everyone without power, assisting residents “up and down stairs in our 10 floor building… Ahmed’s place is at home with his family.” Another neighbor shares, “We always talked about his studies and his religion and he truly believes in PEACE BE UNTO OTHERS as his religion teaches. To believe that this young man is a threat to this country is ludicrous.”
Ahmed dreamed of becoming a teacher. He went to U of Mas a young 18 year old valedictorian to pursue this dream. At U of M, he would have the unique opportunity to study Islamic Literature in the original Arabic language right at the birthplace of Islam. Immersing himself in literary studies in Medina and walking along the same paths as the messengers of faith, Ahmed constantly remembered Prophet Muhammad’s teachings, "O People! Spread peace, feed the hungry, maintain good relations, and pray while others are asleep, and you shall abode forever peacefully." Ahmed dreamed, and still dreams of coming home one day to serve as a teacher, a dove of peace.
After two years of being held in Saudi Arabia with no charges against him, Ahmed’s family together with the World Organization for Human Rights won a case to bring Ahmed home. However, Ahmed never came home: on February 21, 2005, he was transferred to the custody of the United States and charged with nine counts of conspiracy and other terrorism-related charges, all based on the confession video.
In the spring of 2005, expert torture physicians examined Ahmed and found conclusive evidence that he had been tortured. Dr. Lynne Gaby reported that Ahmed was suffering severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder “caused by the inhumane treatment he endured during his interrogations, beating and prolong periods of being forced to stay in a painful position.” Dr. Allen Keller also reaches the same conclusion from “physical findings, including scars on his back from whipping, as well as psychological findings including significant symptoms of depression and PTSD.”
However, the judge at his trial refused to allow the evidence that Ahmed had been tortured to be presented in court. Instead, the judge allowed the government to present the testimony of the Saudi guards, who had tortured Ahmed. The guards testified that they never tortured Ahmed and that Saudi Arabia does not use torture, despite its record to the contrary, as summarized Saudi Arabia’s background on human rights, written by our very own U.S State Department.
The jury returned a guilty verdict on all counts after deliberating for only two days. The district judge sentenced Ahmed to 30 years in prison, and Ahmed was transferred to the Colorado Supermax prison, where he is currently held in solitary confinement. He is under lockdown for 23 hours a day and is not allowed any contact with the outside world except for limited correspondence with his family and attorney.
Ahmed appealed his case to the Fourth Circuit, but his conviction was upheld. The government cross-appealed to increase the sentence. Ahmed then filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court, which was denied. On July 27, 2009, the District Court in Alexandria, VA resentenced Ahmed to life in solitary confinement. Ahmed Abu-Ali is now filing a writ of habeas corpus, which is the last chance for release from unlawful detention.
The evidence for the nine counts of conspiracy related charges all come from the confession video, recorded in Saudi Arabia after Ahmed spent days being deprived of sleep, being shackled in uncomfortable positions for hours at a time, and long sessions of whipping. The details of this confession video obtained under duress, and two torture expert reports are available here: http://freeahmed.com/ahmeds-testimony-regarding-his-torture/. Research shows that coerced confessions are counterproductive and that under torture, one will say anything to end the torture (Human Rights First, 2008).
Other evidence is classified as “secret” and was not shared with Ahmed, his lawyers, or the public due to “national security concerns.” Even the co-conspirators and witnesses in this case are unnamed, and did not testify in person at court. Rather these agents, the Saudi Intelligence testified via teleconference with their images concealed, and their names anonymous, again in the name of national security.
Since he was first arrested, even before his trial, Ahmed has been held under Special Administrative Measures (SAM), which prohibits him from communicating with anyone outside of sparse and monitored conversations with his immediate family and attorney. Furthermore, under SAM, it is illegal for his family to share anything that he has said or written with anyone. Nevertheless, I can share with you some things that were made public in court documents.
Of his torture, he says “it was the first time I felt extreme pain.” On the confession, he told his lawyer that at the time, he was in so much pain that he just repeated what his interrogators wanted to hear because he believed that as soon as he got to the U.S., they would quickly clear up this case of a mistaken identity, and certainly dismiss the false confession.
When you incarcerate one person, you are also incarcerating everyone who loves him. Thus, this plight has imprisoned the whole family, and put their lives on a devastating and debilitating hold. Since June 2003, no one in his family has been able to give Ahmed a hug or talk to him live, except behind glass. They get one (now two) unscheduled 15-minute phone call with him a month. Letters take months to reach him and vice versa.
While their lives are on hold, members of Ahmed's family must try to carry on, at least to pay the bills. However, since Ahmed's conviction, most of his parents and siblings lost their jobs, and continue to search for work. After spending all their life earnings on lawyer fees, they are struggling to make ends meet, thousands of dollars in debt.
The grief of Ahmed's wrongful incarceration has manifested itself somatically for each of Ahmed's family members, resulting in a host of physical and mental disorders. It continues to impact every aspect of their lives from getting a job, to getting married.
An unprecedented case, United States v. Abu-Ali presents serious constitutional issues and affects the rights of Americans everywhere. Proxy detention, whereby tyrannical regimes like Saudi Arabia’s government, hold American citizens at the behest of the FBI/CIAwithout suspicion, let alone evidence, are a serious threat to your rights and liberties. The United States Constitution is threatened every day that an illegal confession is used as evidence; everyday that an innocent person is arrested without probable cause; everyday that we allow the government to shred the Constitution. We believe that the Constitution should be upheld, and that innocent people should not be convicted. If you share our beliefs, please pledge today to bring this film to life!
pledged of $5,000 goal
seconds to go
Apr 23, 2012 - Jun 8, 2012 (46 days)
Pledge $1 or more
Outreach Partner: Tell the world about Ahmed. If you share our Kickstarter link to a mailing list, Facebook group, or Twitter following of more than 500 people, we'll list you as an "Outreach Partner" in the film credits and on our website.Estimated delivery: Jun 2012
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Thank You! You would make the face of the U.S. 5 dollar bill proud: "Let us then turn this government back into the channel in which the framers of the Constitution originally placed it." -Abraham LincolnEstimated delivery: Jun 2012
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We'll send you a link to the film before it goes public, and a customized electronic thank you card.Estimated delivery: Jun 2012
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A handwritten postcard featuring a scene from the film and a DVD of the film, signed by Ahmed's sister (since Ahmed's locked up and can't sign it himself).Estimated delivery: Jul 2012
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A special invitation to our film screening reception in Washington D.C. plus an autographed DVD of the film. [travel and lodging excluded]Estimated delivery: Jul 2012
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You will receive a limited edition poster of the film signed by the cast and crew! Plus everything from the $60 bracket.Estimated delivery: Aug 2012
Pledge $250 or more
0 backers Limited (30 of 30 left)
A handmade silk-screened Yearning to Breathe Free shirt, personally designed by Sarah and friends from Bryn Mawr just for you! Plus everything from the $100 award bracket.Estimated delivery: Jul 2012
Pledge $500 or more
0 backers Limited (5 of 5 left)
A unique Yearning to Breathe Free card made by Sarah, a special Quran recording from the last time Ahmed was free, and everything from the $250 award bracket. [Note to international backers: while shipping costs vary, we ask that, regardless of where you are located, you add the flat rate of $5 to your pledges to account for extra shipping costs in all brackets. Thank You!]Estimated delivery: Jul 2012
Pledge $850 or more
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Customized fondant Yearning to Breathe Free Cake--your choice of chocolate or vanilla! Made by Sarah using halal and kosher ingredients. Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free is also available upon request. *available within a 10-mile radius of Washington D.C. or Baltimore*Estimated delivery: Aug 2012
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0 backers Limited (5 of 5 left)
Live in our near our nation's Capitol? Lunch with Sarah to discuss the film, Ahmed, human rights, solitary confinement, liberty and justice for all, and a better tomorrow. Plus a signed DVD of the film and handmade thank you card.Estimated delivery: Jun 2012
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1 backer Limited (4 of 5 left)
Live in Baltimore or close by? Dinner with Sarah plus a signed DVD of the film and handmade thank you card.Estimated delivery: Aug 2012
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0 backers Limited (5 of 5 left)
Come to Washington D.C. and tour our nation's Capitol with Sarah, a former tour-guide. Plus lunch, a signed DVD of the film, and a handmade thank you card. [travel and lodging excluded].Estimated delivery: Jun 2012
Pledge $5,000 or more
Thank You--You are making this dream come true! One thousand times that of Abraham Lincoln, too. You are making Yearning To Breathe Free a reality. You will become an Associate Producer of the film, and are a champion. Material gifts include the limited edition poster, set of DVDs, and a handmade card. Non-material gifts include uncountable thanks.Estimated delivery: Aug 2012