Emirates sheik seeks drug defense in torture trial

AP News
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Posted: Dec 21, 2009 12:14 PM

A drug expert testified Monday that a combination of drugs used by a member of the Emirates' ruling family could have triggered aggressive behavior that led him to torture an Afghan man five years ago.

Sheik Issa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a half brother of the Emirati president, is on trial on torture charges in a case that has become a public disgrace without precedent for a member of this Gulf country's ruling elite.

The torture was videotaped and the tape surfaced last year in a U.S. lawsuit by Issa's former business associate, Texas businessman Bassam Nabulsi. He is suing Issa for millions of dollars he claimed he was owed for various business deals.

The tape shows a suspect, identified as Issa, viciously beating a man said to be the Afghan worker in an empty stretch of the desert. The defense alleges Nabulsi had the torture filmed in order to blackmail Issa. The victim, identified as Afghani grain dealer Mohammed Shapoor, survived the beatings.

Issa pleaded not guilty to all charges at the start of the trial in October.

The defense contends the 40-year-old Issa was left disoriented and impaired by a combination of dozens of drugs, including medicine for heart and back conditions. The list of drugs was submitted to the court, but not made public.

On Monday, the three-judge panel heard the defense's final move: a testimony of forensics expert Ibrahim Abdul Rahman Wasfi, who told the court the mix could cause "anger, suicidal tendencies, depression, aggression and loss of memory."

Issa faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison if found guilty on all three charges relating to the alleged torture. A verdict is expected Jan. 10.

Issa has been in custody for eight months. He attended Monday's hearing, dressed in a traditional white robe and headscarf. He was not handcuffed or restrained and he did not speak in court.

Reporters were allowed at Monday's hearing but cameras were not permitted. The hearing was closed to the public for security reasons.

The trial is a rare public spectacle in the Emirates, where transgressions of the ruling elite were typically dealt with behind closed doors and according to tribal customs.

The defense has not denied the man in the tape is Issa but has questioned the validity of the footage as evidence. In the video, Issa is also seen firing an automatic weapon into the sand around him.

"The tape should not be admitted as evidence because the video was taken to blackmail Sheik Issa, who was not in control of his actions," defense lawyer Habib al-Mulla told The Associated Press after Monday's hearing in Al Ain.

Al Ain, in the eastern part of the Abu Dhabi emirate, is where the alleged torture took place in 2004. Al-Mulla said Issa has seen the tape and that "he could not believe this could happen."

The tape caused international outrage when it was broadcast by a U.S. television station. Since then, it has also appeared on the Internet. Emirates authorities have confirmed the man shown beating another man on the tape is Issa.

"He does not remember what happened that night," al-Mulla said of his client, adding that Monday's forensic testimony collaborates the defense argument of a temporary loss of control and memory.

Although members of the ruling Al Nahyan family hold the presidency and key government positions, Issa has never held an official position.

The victim, Shapoor, attended Monday's hearing with his lawyer but did not speak in court and declined to talk to reporters. In an earlier hearing, Shapoor told the judge he had dropped all claims against Issa since the two settled the matter out of court.

Details of that settlement have not been made public.

Shapoor has filed a lawsuit against Nabulsi and his brother, accusing them of filming him without his permission and seeking damages. That case is underway in the same Al Ain court.