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TERRY MORAN (ABC NEWS)

Last April a "Nightline" investigation sparked outrage here and abroad. It focused on a chilling torture video and a member of an Arab royal family. Now the story is back and the anger reignited. Our Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross who broke this story is here tonight. Brian?

BRIAN ROSS (ABC NEWS)
Terry, the verdict was denounced today by a senior US State Department official as not credible. And human rights groups called it a cover-up by the UAE royal family to protect its own, apparently oblivious to what others might say.

BRIAN ROSS (ABC NEWS)
The videotape's first broadcast by ABC News "Nightline" appeared to be clear evidence of the brutal treatment handed out by a member of the royal family against a grain dealer he thought has cheated him. Sheikh Issa, the brother of the country's crown prince, was seen directing a camera man as he administered his victim's punishment with the help of a man in uniform. Come closer. Come closer the sheikh instructed during the torture session. After sand is forced into the victim's mouth...

BRIAN ROSS (ABC NEWS)
After the cattle prod is used on the man there is this gruesome scene involving a board with a protruding nail. There was worse that could not be broadcast on the tape. Made at the sheikh's ranch and then smuggled out of the country by his former business partner, Bassam Nabulsi of Houston.

BASSAM NABULSI
My hopes were that they found him guilty in what he did and he gets his deserved punishment.

BRIAN ROSS (ABC NEWS)
The tape led to worldwide condemnation. And in a first involving the royal family, prosecutors in the United Arab Emirates actually filed criminal charges against the sheikh. But he was found not guilty over the weekend after his lawyer argued the sheikh had been drugged and set up by his former partner to commit the violent acts on tape.

HABIB AL MULLAM (ATTORNEY FOR SHEIKH ISSA)
My client was a victim of a conspiracy of a couple of people who drugged him, who gave him certain medication who prepared this whole scene in order to tape it and in order to use it for blackmailing him.

BRIAN ROSS (ABC NEWS)
Sheikh's lawyers say his royal client was the true victim, not the man he beat and tortured.

HABIB AL MULLAM (ATTORNEY FOR SHEIKH ISSA)
And the fact that a being member of the royal family had to go through this judicial process in an unprecedented case in the whole region is really - was really a nightmare for him.

BRIAN ROSS (ABC NEWS)
Now the nightmare belongs to the sheikh's former partner, Bassam Nabulsi, an American citizen who made the tape public in the first place. Nabulsi was not at the trial but the court in Abu Dabi found him and his brother guilty of setting up the royal sheikh and sentenced both men to five years in prison.

BASSAM NABULSI
It's unbelievable. I mean they stoop so low and they are trying so hard to clean up his dirty image but that's not going to help.

BRIAN ROSS (ABC NEWS)
Nabulsi's lawyer Tony Buzbee called the outcome a joke but no real surprise.

TONY BUZBEE (ATTORNEY FOR NABULSI)
If anybody that sees that tape, no one would ever believe, no matter what kind of drugs this man was taking that someone could do that, what he did, without being an animal and that's what he is, an animal.

BRIAN ROSS (ABC NEWS)
The tape had been seen by human rights groups as the first solid evidence of long standing allegations that the royal family in the Emirates abused its foreign workers. And while three of the sheikh's employees are servants who helped him with the torture, were convicted and sent to prison, the man with the power was set free.

SARAH LEAH WHITSON (HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH)
It's really hard for people to stomach that the primary perpetrator and director of the torture that we saw in the video is found not guilty but everyone else involved is found guilty. And also, this is a much bigger problem than one particular sheikh. This is a problem of impunity for those affiliated and associated with the royal family and impunity for torture and abuse at the hands of people who appear to be police officers. There needs to be a full and public accounting. There need to be reforms at the highest levels and the UAE doesn't seem to be ready to be doing this.

BRIAN ROSS (ABC NEWS)
After we first broadcast that torture tape last year, some in Congress tried to hold up US approval for the UAE nuclear plans. The arrest of the sheikh was enough to satisfy Congress and the nuclear deal was approve. Now the UAE has its deal and the royal brother is free to go back to running his ranch. Terry.

TERRY MORAN (ABC NEWS)
A joke of a verdict in that case and a discouraging update to a disturbing report. Thanks to Brian Ross.

 

Brian Ross
ABC News Nightline
January 11, 2010