Free Sami Al-Arian
The question of justice for Dr. Sami Al-Arian came before the NCC Governing Board in February 2005, as a part of the Interfaith Relations Commission's Report. The Governing Board received the report and the recommendations publicize the matter through Faithful America.org and to encourage prayer, such that Muslims and Christians know that Christians are supporting them.
The following is quote from the press statement issued following that meeting:
The Interfaith Relations Commission, in meetings last weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla., with representatives of a Florida social advocacy organization, HOPE (Hillsboro Organization for Peace and Equality) and the Tampa chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), heard about the case of Dr. Sami Al-Arian.
Emphatically noting that it is not taking any stand on Dr. Al-Arian’s guilt or innocence but rather on his right to due process and humane treatment, the Council resolved to make known the plight of the former professor at Florida State University, arrested in February 2003.
CAIR “shared with us statistics and concerns about civil rights in the Muslim community since the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act,” the Commission reported. “The Muslim community came to us as an authoritative Christian body and said, ‘We are hurting over this. Please stand up and be counted,’” said Betty Gamble, a member of the NCC Interfaith Relations Commission.
Asserted Mia Adjali, United Methodist Church, “We are using this person as an example of so many others. Whatever this man may have done or not, the issue is the inhumane treatment that’s befallen Muslim people, Arab people, anyone who looks like an Arab.”
Subsequently, Dr. Al-Arian was acquitted the most serious charges that were brought against him by the government.
Here's what The Nation's Alexander Cockburn writes about that.
In December 2005, despite Moody's diligence, the jury acquitted al-Arian of the most serious charges. On those remaining, the usual prosecutorial flailings under conspiracy statutes, jurors voted 10 to 2 for acquittal. Two co-defendants were acquitted completely. It was a terrible humiliation for the Justice Department, which had flung an estimated $50 million into the trial.
A jury split 10-2 in a defendant's favor doesn't augur well for conviction in a retrial. Indeed in the spring of 2006 the government declined to retry a wealthy Tampa businessman (the founder of Hooters) on tax evasion charges because the jury was hung 6 to 6, and therefore the proportion was too high to realistically expect a conviction during a retrial.
But the feds insisted they wanted to put al-Arian through the wringer again and -- prudently, given Moody's prejudice-al-Arian's lawyers urged him to make a plea and put an end to his ordeal and end the suffering of his family.
The terms of the plea agreement were in line with Al-Arian's long-standing contention, despite the government's accusations, that he never contributed to the violent actions of any organization. The government settled for a watered-down version of a single count of providing services to people associated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The Statement of Facts in the agreement included only these innocuous activities:
(1) hiring an attorney for his brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, during his deportation hearings in the late 1990s;
(2) filling out immigration forms for a resident Palestinian scholar from Britain; and
(3) not disclosing details of associations to a local reporter. (I remain completely baffled as to why it should be a crime to withhold information from a newspaper reporter.)
Cockburn continues to describe the current situation
On May 1, 2006, al-Arian came before Judge Moody for sentencing. Watching the proceedings Sugg, as he reported on the CounterPunch website, noted a smug air among the prosecutors. He also noted that Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez had arrived in the Tampa area five days earlier. Under the plea, al-Arian's sentence amounted to little more than time served, followed by his departure from the United States. But Judge Moody sentenced al-Arian to the maximum, using inflamed language about al-Arian having blood on his hands, a charge one juror said the jury emphatically rejected.
Now al-Arian faced eleven months more in prison, with release and deportation scheduled for April 2007. But the feds' appetite was far from slaked. In October, Gordon Kromberg, an assistant federal prosecutor in Virginia notorious as an Islamophobe, called al-Arian to testify before a grand jury investigating an Islamic think tank. The subpoena was a outright violation of al-Arian's April plea agreement and his attorneys filed a motion to quash it. The motion included affidavits by attorneys who participated in the negotiations attesting to the fact that "the overarching purpose of the parties' plea agreement was to conclude, once and for all, all business between the government and Dr. al-Arian." The defense lawyers insisted that al-Arian would never have entered a plea that left him vulnerable to government fishing expeditions.
Al-Arian's lawyers feared that their client was being set up for a perjury trap. Up in Virginia, Kromberg ranted to al-Arian's attorney about "the Islamization of America," while down in Tampa, Judge Moody ruled that federal marshals could drag al-Arian to Virginia to testify. On November 16, al-Arian was brought before the grand jury and placed in civil contempt for refusing to testify.
One month after al-Arian was placed in civil contempt, the grand jury term expired, so Kromberg promptly impaneled a new one. Al-Arian was again subpoenaed and again expressed his ethical stance against testifying. This judge also held him in contempt, which could prolong his imprisonment by up to 18 months.
Al-Arian, who is diabetic, then went on a hunger strike. February 26 marked the sixth week of his water-only hunger strike, in which he has lost 40 pounds and has grown considerably weaker. On the 23rd day of his hunger strike, Al-Arian collapsed and hit his head; he has since been moved to a federal prison medical facility in Butner, North Carolina.
This week Faithful America.org will send out an action alert seeking letters, emails, phone calls to seek justice for Dr. Al-Arian. I urge you to join in that action.
Click here to learn more about Dr. Al-Arian's situation
Click here to read Alexander Cockburn's article