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Feds pull out all stops in Al-Arian case

By Nicole Colson | April 11, 2003 | Page 2

THE FEDS want to lock up Sami Al-Arian--and throw away the key. Al-Arian was arrested in February--along with Sameeh Hammoudeh, Hatim Fariz and Ghassan Ballut--and charged with conspiracy and racketeering for supposedly giving "material aid" to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an organization that the State Department has classified as a terrorist group.

In late March, the four men appeared before a federal magistrate in Florida to request bail--and federal prosecutors pulled out all the stops to convince the judge to keep the men behind bars indefinitely.

Witness after witness at the hearing described how Al-Arian and the others are respected community leaders. "Frankly, I cannot recall… having four defendants before me that have such distinguished civic track records," said U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo.

Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Justice Department are likely to try to manufacture a case in order to railroad the men--no matter how far-fetched.

Al-Arian is on a hunger strike and is noticeably thin. Still, prison officials seem determined to treat the men as harshly as possible. According to the Tampa Bay Observer, Al-Arian's wife, Nahla, has stated in an affidavit that her husband is allowed only one 15-minute telephone call a month, isn't allowed to call his attorney and is allowed to change his underwear only once a week and his prison jumpsuit every two weeks.

Prison officials deny the allegations, but as Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, put it to one reporter, the case represents "the disgusting raw exercise of power by John Ashcroft. "How are we any safer restricting the number of times during the week he can change his underpants? It's insane."

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