http://www.freesamialarian.com/Washington, DC -
February 20, 2010 marks the seventh anniversary of the arrest of
Professor Sami Al-Arian by U.S. authorities. On that day, in 2003,
former Attorney General John Ashcroft declared in a nationally
televised news conference, carried on all major media outlets, that Dr.
Al-Arian was one of the most dangerous people in the world.
Based on these assertions, Dr. Al-Arian was held in solitary confinement
for 43 straight months during and after his trial, despite the fact that he
had never waived his right to a speedy trial. Amnesty International
No Guilty Verdicts
In December 2005, a Florida jury acquitted Dr. Al-Arian on eight counts,
and deadlocked 10-2 in favor of acquittal on the remaining nine counts,
leading Time magazine to declare the case "one of
the Justice Department's most embarrassing legal setbacks since 9/11."
Indeed, much of the government's evidence presented to the jury during
the six-month trial were speeches Dr. Al-Arian delivered, lectures he
presented, articles he wrote, magazines he edited, books he owned,
conferences he convened, rallies he attended, interviews he gave, news
he heard, and websites he never even accessed.
In fact, several websites, presented to the jury as evidence, were created
by anonymous individuals, after his arrest, while he was awaiting trial
in solitary confinement in a federal prison. It was therefore no
surprise that, with almost 100 counts between all defendants, the jury
did not return a single guilty verdict on any count. Two other
defendants were totally acquitted on all counts.
A Plea Deal to End Persecution
In April 2006, in an effort to spare his
family another long, financially draining, and excruciating trial, Dr. Al-Arian pleaded guilty to
violating a 1995 presidential executive order, by providing immigration
services in the 1990s to persons associated with the PIJ, a Palestinian
organization listed on the U.S. terrorist list. In return, he agreed to
immediate deportation from the U.S. despite more than three decades
residing in the country.
The details of the plea deal illustrated the true nature of the political
persecution of this case. The services admitted in the plea deal were:
1) hiring a lawyer for his brother-in-law during his immigration battle
in the late 1990s; 2) sponsoring a Palestinian historian in 1994 to
conduct research in the U.S.; and 3) withholding information from a
U.S. journalist during a 1995 interview. There was no evidence or
admission in the plea deal that showed any illegal financial
transactions or material support. Although Dr. Al-Arian
was promised a prompt release in exchange for his plea, the U.S.
government later admitted that, at the time the plea deal was signed in
2006, federal prosecutors were secretly preparing to call Dr. Al-Arian
before a grand jury in Virginia, in a sign of their complete disregard
for the overarching purpose of the plea agreement, which was to end any
and all business between Dr. Al-Arian and the U.S. government.
In what many observers believed was an attempt to seek retribution for the
colossal defeat of the government's case in Florida, Dr. Al-Arian was
called to testify before a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia
three times between the fall of 2006 and the spring of 2008. The call
to the grand jury was a classic prosecutorial trap in which agreeing to
testify would result in a charge of perjury, while a refusal to testify
would result in a charge of contempt of court. When Dr. Al-Arian
refused to testify, invoking his right under the plea deal, he was held
for over a year on civil contempt charges. In June 2008, he was charged
with criminal contempt.
After five and a half years in prison, most of which was served under
deplorable conditions in solitary confinement, and during which Dr.
Al-Arian underwent three hunger-strikes that lasted several months
requiring hospitalization, Dr. Al-Arian was released in September 2008
under house arrest, where he has spent the last 18 months awaiting
trial. During this period, the government made several
admissions regarding the plea deal: namely, they
affirmed its essence of non-cooperation, but still
argued that it should not be taken into account.
However, the judge in the case questioned the
government's assertions, stating that "the integrity
of the department of Justice," was at stake.
A motion to dismiss the case based on the violation
of the 2006 plea agreement has been pending
since April 2009.
The Persecution of Dr. Al-Arian on Film
In 2007, Norwegian filmmakers released a documentary film entitled
USA vs. Al-Arian. The award-winning film chronicles the story of
Dr. Al-Arian and his family during and after his Florida trial, illustrating
the political nature of his prosecution and the state of the U.S. justice
system under the Patriot Act. Since 2003, Dr. Al-Arian's case has attracted
the interest of major civil liberties and human rights organizations in
the U.S. and around the world.
Peter Erlinder, a law professor, and former president of the National
Lawyers Guild, said: "The prosecution of Dr. Al-Arian was a blatant
attempt to silence political speech and dissent in the aftermath of
the 9/11 tragedy. The nature of the political persecution of this case
has been demonstrated throughout all its aspects, not only during the
trial and the never-ending right-wing media onslaught, but also after the stunning
defeat of the government in 2005, and its ill-advised abuse of the grand jury system thereafter."
Striving for Justice
In August 2008, the late Howard Zinn
declared: "I thought that [Dr. Al-Arian's case] was an outrageous
violation of human rights, both from a constitutional point of view and
as a simple test of justice."
Moreover, Dr. Mel Underbakke of Friends of Human Rights,
who has traveled the country screening the documentary and educating
the public about the dangers of the Patriot Act, said: "The unjust
persecution of Dr. Al-Arian should concern all Americans. History has
taught us that when the rights of the minority are violated by the
government for political purposes, then the rights of all Americans
would be eroded. That's why thousands of civil libertarians and human
rights activists in the U.S. and around the world, have been mortified
by the injustice suffered by Dr. Al-Arian and his family and have
rallied in their defense."
asked about how her father was doing during his house arrest, Laila
Al-Arian, a journalist, said: "Our family is very grateful to have been
with him since his release. He's been a guiding influence in our lives.
He is also most appreciative of the tremendous support he's been
receiving nationwide and around the world."
A Voice for Freedom and Dialogue
Dr. Al-Arian reiterated his strong belief in the importance of dialogue and education in the only public speech he has given since his release on home confinement, delivered last summer through Skype to the Global Forum on Freedom of Expression
in Norway. He said: "Despite my imprisonment and experience, my faith
in dialogue and commitment to freedom of expression, will never waver.
It's been my life long passion. This experience taught us that when the
American people are educated and empowered with truth, they respond
positively and display a sense of fairness. I
firmly believe that through education and civil engagement people
change. Little by little they will understand the plight of the
Palestinians and the importance of defending civil liberties and human
rights. Increasingly, people realize that no democracy can survive at
the altar of sacrificing free speech or dissent."
He continued: " Our charge today is to pledge to defend the rights of our
most vulnerable members of our world community: the tens of thousands
of prisoners of conscience around the world, those who are under
occupation or under siege, the millions terrorized by dictators and war
lords, the poor and the sick, the uneducated and the exploited, the
children, the abused women, and the elderly. Each one of these classes
of people needs a voice and an advocate. They need to gain their
freedom to realize a life of dignity and peace. So whether we recognize
it or not, we are at the forefront of this struggle for their freedom.
Let your collective conscience speak on their behalf."
He then concluded: "One cannot achieve peace without realizing justice,
realize justice without seeking out the truth, seek out the truth
without practicing freedom. So living and thinking free is the root of
achieving peace in our world."