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Punishment, Saudi Style

Actress Kirsten Dunst arrives for the New York premiere of "Spider-Man 3" on April 30 2007. Dunst plays Mary Jane, the true love of Peter Parker/Spider-Man.
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Human rights activists fear the men accused in the Khobar Towers attack could be subjected to torture or execution before the United States can put them on trial, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart.

The Justice Department Thursday announced a federal grand jury's indictments in the 1996 attack, which killed 19 American airmen at their housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

As many as six of the 14 men indicted by the United States are believed to be held in Saudi prisons, and activists say most were tortured into confessing months ago.

The Saudis have always gone their own way on judicial matters, which, in severe cases usually means severe punishment.

Based on inmate accounts of how it's done, Ali Al-Ahmed of the Saudi Institute says, "One famous torture method in Saudi Arabia is commonly referred to in Saudi Arabia as the 'Farouji' style, which is rotisserie chicken style."

"You'll be handcuffed, shackled and a bar would be inserted between your knees," he said. "You'll then be subject to beatings, kicks, electric shocks."

Al-Ahmed, whose group is based in McLean, Va., said "This indictment is tainted with blood, murder and torture. It's worth nothing."

Al-Ahmed said two Saudis, who were arrested shortly after the bombing and came from the same town as many of the defendants, died under Saudi torture.

According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia executed more than 100 people last year, for crimes including murder, rape, armed robbery, drug smuggling, sorcery and sodomy.

Executions in Saudi Arabia are public and swift. Usually the condemned are drugged into compliance, shackled, handcuffed, blindfolded and tranquilized.

Saudi Arabia also cuts the hands and feet off robbers and flogs people for crimes like drunkenness. Last year one court sentenced five transvestites to six years in jail and 2,600 lashes, reportedly to be administered in sessions of 52 lashes each separated by 15-day breaks between sessions. Defendants in Saudi courts have no right to counsel or to examine witnesses.

It was tactics like that that led to widespread mistrust at first between FBI and Saudi investigators following the Khobar attack. Middle East experts say it was to be expected.

"The Saudi police have entirely different techniques than the U.S. police, and the Saudis think that their techniques work pretty well," said Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"Now we think that rounding up all the usual suspects and torturing them and threatening their families is not the way we'd like to go. But it sometimes produces results pretty quickly." Clawson said.

The problem is that U.S. prosecutors are absolutely hog-tied without Saudi cooperation; no help from Riyadh and they have no witnesses, little physical evidence, and, most importantly, no defendants.

And Saudi Arabia is sensitive to criticism about it rights record. At the United Ntions Millenium summit in New York last fall, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz said, "It is absurd to impose on an individual or a society rights that are alien to its beliefs or principles."

Amnesty International reports the government took several steps last year to improve its rights record, including new rules for the legal profession and criminal justice procedures.

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