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Hearing for former L.A.-area resident detained in Gulf nation closed to public

July 21, 2009 |  4:15 pm

A U.S. citizen who has been detained in the United Arab Emirates for almost a year on terrorism charges had a brief hearing Monday that was closed to the public.

In federal supreme court, Naji Hamdan's attorney gave his defense, and now the former Hawthorne resident is awaiting word on whether the prosecution with be given n opportunity for rebuttal or whether he will be sentenced, said Jennie Pasquarella, an ACLU attorney who flew to the Gulf country expecting to attend the proceeding.

But the judge moved the proceeding into his chambers, citing a broken air conditioner in the courtroom, and did not allow Hamdan's brother and son, who had flown in from Lebanon, to attend, Pasquarella said.

"It was a bit surprising, considering there were international observers there," she said.

A U.S. Embassy Consul, R. Sean Cooper, also attended the hearing, she said. A State Department spokeswoman refused to comment on the case, saying only that consular officers have met regularly with Hamdan since October.

Pasquarella said the terrorism charges are vague and that confessions obtained through torture and chat transcripts from a website Hamdan denies ever visiting are the only evidence against him.

The father of three lived in the Hawthorne area for two decades before he moved with his wife and children to the Emirates in 2006 to expand his auto-related business. He maintains an auto business in Los Angeles.

The ACLU and Hamdan's family say Hamdan has been under FBI surveillance for years and allege that the United States is behind his current detainment and the charges against him. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government last fall and is awaiting a decision.

Pasquarella spoke with Hamdan today at the jail.

"He seemed a little resigned, to be honest," she said. "His spirits were good, but I think he realized that it's hard to be hopeful in a system where,... it doesn't appear to be an equal balancing of prosecution and defense and you can't adequately defend yourself."

-- Raja Abdulrahim