Issa is a prominent real estate developer in the UAE, being associated most recently with the Al Hekma Tower (or "Wisdom Tower") planned in memory of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the late President of the UAE with an image of him which will crown the top of the building.
In April 2009 a video tape of torture smuggled out of the United Arab Emirates showed Issa mercilessly torturing a man with whips, electric cattle prods, wooden planks with protruding nails and running him over repeatedly with an SUV. The same person may have been allegedly sodomised, but the Emirati court found him not guilty of any crime and instead condemned and sentenced two brothers for using the video as blackmail. The court was accused, by respected international human rights observers, to have not delivered justice. In addition to this, Issa was alleged to have illtreated several other men, mostly foreign nationals, and to have ordered himself to film his tortures to the victims to sadistically enjoy watching them later.
Sheikh Issa is the son of Zayed bin Sultan. His mother is Sheikha Amna bint Salah Al Badi. He has one full-brother, late Sheikh Nasser. The present UAE ruler, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, are the half brothers of Sheikh Issa.
Issa is the subject of an assault, libel, and slander lawsuit brought on by businessman Bassam Nabulsi of Houston, Texas, a former long-term adviser to the Al Nahyan family, filed on 16 August 2006 in District Court for the Southern District of Texas Houston Division for Assault, Libel, and Slander.
Nabulsi said that he safeguarded the Issa's most important documents, including financial records, investment documents and videotapes, which showed Issa torturing a man with a cattle prod and a spiked plank. Nabulsi, who had "smuggled" the tape out of the UAE, was also suing Issa, saying he was tortured by UAE police, after he refused to hand over videos to Issa after a disagreement. Nabulsi also said his brother recorded the tapes as demanded by Issa, who, Nabulsi says, liked to watch them later. The lawsuit was dismissed on 12 June 2009 by district judge Sim Lake for "lack of personal jurisdiction and proper service of process."
In April 2009, an abridged version of the tape was posted by ABC News. In the video, taken at some time in 2005, shows Issa beating another man, an Afghan grain merchant called Mohammed Shah Poor, with a wooden plank with protruding nails, firing an automatic weapon into the sand around him and forcing a cattle prod into his anus before turning it on. Prior to the abuse, the video allegedly shows a man in Abu Dhabi police uniform (but without his equipment belt) tying the victim's arms and legs; at a later point, Issa urges the cameraman to move in closer with the words, "Get closer. Get closer. Get closer. Let his suffering show." The victim also appeared to have been run over by a Mercedes SUV, have lighter fluid poured on his genitals and set alight, and had salt poured on his wounds. In the end of the video, two other police officers can be seen posing alongside a fully marked ministry departmental vehicle. It is not known if the vehicle registration on the departmental vehicle and the SUV were ever cross checked to authenticate the involvement of the Sheikh and the government.
Lawyers stated the abuse began because Issa felt he had been overcharged in a grain deal. "Ultimately this video, or certainly large portions of it, will be played in court," said Anthony G. Buzbee, who represents Nabulsi in his lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed pursuant to the Torture Victims Protection Act, also lists Sheikhs Nasser bin Zayed Al Nahyan (since deceased), and Saif, as well as the Royal Family of bin Zayed Nahyan Partnership as defendants.
In a statement to ABC News, the UAE Ministry of the Interior said, it had reviewed the tape and acknowledged the involvement of Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, brother of the country's crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed; the Minister of the Interior is also a sibling of Issa. The Ministry said, "The incidents depicted in the video tapes were not part of a pattern of behavior," the Interior Ministry's statement declared. The government statement said its review found "all rules, policies and procedures were followed correctly by the Police Department."
Responding to the government statement, Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch stated "If this is their complete reply, then sadly it's a scam and it's a sham. [...] It is the state that is torturing them, if the government does not investigate and prosecute these officers, and those commanding those officers." In response to the video's emergence, US congressman Jim McGovern called for a freeze on government aid to the UAE, and requested that Issa be refused US visas; in a letter to the secretary of state of the United States, Hillary Clinton, he said: "I cannot describe the horror and revulsion I felt when witnessing what is on this video ... I could not watch it without constantly flinching." Nabulsi has also alleged that he brought the existence of the torture tape, along with the involvement and collusion of UAE police, to the attention of a US official assigned to train UAE police, with little effect. McGovern has also called for an investigation into these allegations, in order to discover when US officials knew about the tape, if they took any action and, in the event that they didn't, why not. "It shocks the conscience," he said.
The controversy over the torture tape has delayed recertification of a US–UAE nuclear power cooperation agreement.
Abu Dhabi reported on 29 April 2009 it would probe these allegations. Without acknowledging Issa by name, the statement said "the events depicted on the video appear to represent a violation of human rights".
The incident occurred in 2004, and it is evident that the man in uniform (seen in the video) is a private guard or policeman, who seemed to be of Arabic origin and who assisted Issa during the entire ordeal.
It appeared the initial tape could be the beginning of the problem and it was reported on Sunday 3 May that the lawyer for Nabulsi, Issa's former partner, claimed to have "more than two hours of video footage showing Issa's involvement in the torture of more than 25 people." According to the newspaper, police are believed to be seen participating in the attacks and some of the victims are thought to be Sudanese immigrants.
On 14 December 2009 Issa appeared in court and declared he was innocent. The trial ended on 10 January 2010, when Issa was cleared of the torture and rape of Mohammed Shah Poor. Though according to his lawyer, the court accepted that Issa had been a victim of a conspiracy, the judge in fact did not give a reason, as to why Issa was exonerated of responsibility for the abuse. The brothers Ghassan and Bassam Nabulsi were both sentenced in absentia to five years for "drugging, recording and publishing a video and blackmail".
Nabulsi, speaking from Texas, told the Observer of his shock. "I am feeling nauseous. It is really sarcastic. These people, the more they lie, the bigger the hole they are digging for themselves" and called the verdict an insult to justice.
Human Rights Watch, an international rights watchdog group, criticised the United Arab Emirate's trial and called on the government to establish an independent body to investigate allegations of abuse by security personnel and other persons of authority.
The US state department has expressed concern over the verdict and said all members of Emirati society "must stand equal before the law" and called for a careful review of the decision to ensure that the demands of justice are fully met in this case. The U.S.–UAE 123 Agreement for Peaceful Civilian Nuclear Energy Cooperation entered into force on 17 December 2009.