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Jordan’s King Abdullah II owes Biden an explanation for imprisoned U.S. citizen

by  | July 14, 2021 06:12 PM 3-4 minutes


President Joe Biden should use his July 19 meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II to demand answers and true due process for an American citizen just given a 15-year prison sentence by a special military court.

The Jordanian-born, U.S.-raised and nationalized Bassem Awadallah once had held high Cabinet posts under King Abdullah, but he was arrested April 3 and charged with sedition in a murkily convoluted case involving a supposed rift between King Abdullah and his half-brother, Prince Hamzah. Hamzah himself was not charged, and 16 of the 18 alleged conspirators were released, but Awadallah was kept in custody and subjected to an unusually fast, non-public trial in which he was not allowed to call witnesses. The court convicted him and sentenced him on July 12.

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His family, which has retained legal services from former U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms chief Mike Sullivan and former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, says that Awadallah was brutally tortured and forced to sign a “confession” statement on blank pieces of paper. The confession itself hardly seemed to involve anything Americans would consider seditious. It said Awadallah had “sought to re-establish his residency in Jerusalem in order to conduct real estate transactions in the city.”

The Arab Weekly, a relatively moderate Middle Eastern publication, reported July 13 that the case has “received a lot of public attention in Jordan” and that “the outcome left observers wondering how it was possible to reach a verdict so quickly while leaving unanswered most of the questions on the minds of Jordanians.”

It is not the business of the United States to be the arbiters of Jordanian law, except insofar as Jordan abides by the due-process rules of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and by Jordan’s commitments pursuant to the Convention against Torture. It is, however, absolutely a U.S. interest and obligation to make sure that U.S. citizens receive all protections under those international agreements.

When the torture allegations were first made public and it became clear Awadallah was being subjected to an unusually speedy trial, without witnesses and without full private access to attorneys or to U.S. diplomatic personnel, the Biden administration should have felt duty-bound to object and to try to delay the proceedings. The administration failed to act.

Jordan is a valuable ally and a comparatively moderate Arab kingdom. It makes sense to tread somewhat carefully, especially in public. Still, the administration’s first responsibility is to its citizens.

Attorney Sullivan says Awadallah will appeal to a higher Jordanian court, which is (apparently) his right under Jordanian law. President Biden should tell King Abdullah that U.S. aid to Jordan, which is considerable, is at risk unless the allegations of torture are investigated and other international due-process rights restored. King Abdullah’s state visit provides the perfect opportunity for Biden to intervene on behalf of a U.S. citizen in dire straits.

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