American Held in UAE: "Proxy Detention"?

Naji Hamdan
Naji Hamdan is seen in an undated photo provided by friends. Hamdan, a 43-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen, is set to go on trial in the United Arab Emirates July 20, 2009 on terrorism-related charges. His attorneys say he is being tried there on behalf of the U.S., which did not have enough evidence to convict him here, and that he was tortured and forced to confess.
CBS

In an unusual case shrouded in mystery, an American citizen has been imprisoned for 11 months in the United Arab Emirates and is scheduled to go on trial tomorrow on terrorism-related charges.

But his attorneys say Naji Hamdan is a victim of "proxy detention" - that he has been detained, interrogated, and mistreated in the UAE at the behest of the United States, and both the U.S and the UAE governments are saying very little about the case, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller.

Hamdan is a father of three who obtained American citizenship after graduating from college and starting a successful auto parts business in California. Now, he awaits trial in the United Arab Emirates as an alleged terrorist - based on a "confession," he says, he made only after weeks of torture.

The 43-year-old Lebanese-born, Muslim-American says he was blindfolded when he signed the statement his captors had written for him. He was beaten with boots, shoved on the floor and made to eat dirt says attorney Reem Salahi of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"He had no idea really what he was confessing to," Salahi said. "What he did know was he wanted the torture to end."

Adding to the mystery is the fact that the UAE's charges against Hamdan are vague. He's accused of supporting terrorism and participating in a terrorist group, but the UAE hasn't said which group or what he allegedly did to help.

The UAE embassy in Washington told CBS News "it would not be appropriate" to comment on the case.

Hamdan's attorneys from the ACLU claim the U.S. was behind his arrest - calling it "proxy detention." After a foiled plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport in 1999 and then 9/11, Hamdan was questioned by FBI counterterrorism agents, but never arrested. He moved his family to the UAE three years ago.

"The real danger here is that because there isn't any evidence to charge him in U.S. court, someone decided just to have the UAE do it for us," said Ahilan Arulanantham, another Hamdan attorney from the ACLU.

The FBI says that "at no time did it request the UAE detain or arrest Hamdan." The CIA declined to comment.

But in Hamdan's former hometown of Hawthorne, Calif., his friends are speaking out.

"Naji never, ever - and I personally swear that - he never, ever been involved in any activity or there's any sign that he's related to any terrorist activity," said Ahmed Azam, a friend of Hamdan for more than 20 years.

Azam, once president of their local mosque, says: Hamdan was "very religious" but not radical - and is appealing to the U.S. government to intervene.

State Department envoys have visited Hamdan in prison, but won't reveal if they're trying to help him or if they think he's guilty.

Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley said the U.S. is "aware of" the case and "watching carefully."

"If you leave America's shores and you go abroad, our government may go get you there, and neither the courts nor anyone else will stand in to protect you," Arulanantham said.

Hamdan's trial in the UAE is before a judge and may last only one day. If convicted, his attorneys say, he faces life in prison or even the death penalty.