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Prison officials threaten to force-feed witch-hunt victim
Sami Al-Arian's hunger strike

By Nicole Colson | March 23, 2007 | Page 2

PRISON OFFICIALS are threatening to begin force-feeding Dr. Sami Al-Arian, who was approaching the 60th day of a hunger strike as Socialist Worker went to press.

Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor, has refused food since January 22 in protest of his prolonged detention and inhumane prison conditions. He has spent the last four years behind bars on allegations that he aided terrorism--and remains in prison despite a Florida jury last year acquitting him or deadlocking on every charge the government brought against him.

With prosecutors threatening to retry him, Al-Arian agreed to plead guilty to a single count of providing material support for the nonviolent activities of a Palestinian charity. Instead of the small additional sentence and voluntary deportation he was supposed to receive, in January, nearly a year after his acquittal, a judge found him guilty of contempt charges--and extended his sentence for a second time for refusing to testify in another case, even though his plea agreement specifically released him from this.

If Al-Arian continues to refuse to testify, federal prosecutors could ask to prolong his imprisonment yet again.

Additionally, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg has revealed the depth of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racism at the heart of the government's witch-hunt of Al-Arian, at one point responding to a request to delay Al-Arian's transfer to a Virginia prison until after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan by saying, "If they can kill each other during Ramadan, they can appear before the grand jury--all they can't do is eat before sunset.

What you can do

Write to the Honorable Judge Gerald Lee, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, 401 Courthouse Square, Alexandria, VA 22314--and request that Dr. Al-Arian be released from detention and allowed to leave the country with his family.

For more information on the case and what you can do to help, visit the Free Sami Al-Arian Web site.

 

While in prison, Al-Arian says he has been subjected to a 23-hour-a-day lockdown; unsanitary conditions, including rats in his cell; and racist abuse from guards. Amnesty International recently wrote to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to protest the conditions he has been made to endure.

As Al-Arian explained in a February interview from prison with Democracy Now! his hunger strike was prompted by the belief "that freedom and human dignity are more precious than life itself. In essence, I'm taking a principled stand, that I'm willing to endure whatever it takes to win my freedom."

Now, with Al-Arian having lost more than 50 pounds and his health deteriorating, prison officials at the Federal Medical Facility in Butner, N.C., have told him that they will begin force-feeding if his condition worsens, according to Al-Arian's attorney, Peter Erlinder.

"It's an invasive procedure, and there's some danger of injury," Erlinder recently told the Myrtle Beach News. "We're hopeful that that there can be resolution before that."

"Gonzales could end this all with a stroke of a pen," Erlinder added, urging that the attorney general use his authority to release Al-Arian early and allow him to leave the country with his family.

Meanwhile, Al-Arian's family fears he could suffer permanent damage to his health. They say prison officials are doing little to help him medically, even though he is diabetic. "He stopped taking, of course, his diabetes medicine a long time ago, because he doesn't eat," his wife, Nahla Al-Arian, recently told Democracy Now! "But last time when they checked his blood sugar, it was 62, and that's, I think, very low.

"They haven't started force-feeding him. They put him in a 24-hour lockdown in a small room, and there is a camera in the room. And it's like they treat him as a lab animal or something. Why are they watching him? That's it. They are not doing anything else besides that."

Calling the treatment of her husband "sadistic," Nahla Al-Arian added that "there are courageous judges, and hopefully they will rule in our favor...The government doesn't care. The government is sending to Iraq so many soldiers, and they don't care about their safety. How about the safety of my husband and his health? You know, this is a government that does not have any ethics, any compassion--nothing."

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