Al-Arian begins a new hunger strike

By Nicole Colson

POLITICAL PRISONER Sami Al-Arian is putting his life on the line once again in a protest against the renewal of the government witch-hunt against him.

As Socialist Worker went to press, Al-Arian entered the second week of a hunger strike over the government's attempt to force him to testify in another federal "terrorism" trial--in violation of a 2006 plea agreement that was supposed to end with his voluntary deportation.

"It is now likely that when Dr. Al-Arian again refuses to testify because of the 'no-cooperation' agreement, he will be charged with obstruction of justice and could receive several additional years in prison," the National Lawyers Guild said in a statement. "If he testifies, he faces a 'perjury' trap based on...past practice with other acquitted Palestinian defendants."

Refusing both food and water, Al-Arian had already lost at least 18 pounds, according to reports, and had been moved to the medical unit at the Virginia's Northern Neck Regional Jail. His daughter Laila, who visited him recently, described his condition to the St. Petersburg Times as "dehydrated, weak and disoriented.''

Al-Arian is the former University of South Florida professor who was accused by the Bush administration of materially aiding terrorists by raising money for a Muslim school and a Palestinian charity.

What you can do

For more information on the case and what you can do to help, visit the Free Sami Al-Arian Web site. To contribute to Dr. Al-Arian's legal defense, send checks to: National Liberty Fund, P.O. Box 1211, 24525 E. Welches Road, Welches, OR 97067

Messages of protest can be sent to: Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20530-0001. Send faxes to 202-307-6777, and e-mail [email protected].

Two years after his arrest, after the government spent more than $50 million to prosecute him, a Florida jury acquitted Al-Arian of eight charges, including the most serious, and deadlocked on nine others, with 10 of 12 jurors reportedly favoring acquittal on all counts.

Prosecutors, however, refused to release Al-Arian. Kept from his wife and children and faced with a lengthy retrial, Al-Arian agreed in 2006 to plead guilty to a single count of the least serious charge against him in exchange for what was supposed to be a small additional sentence and voluntary deportation.

Not only did federal Judge James Moody ignore prosecutors' recommendations and sentence Al-Arian to the maximum possible (making his initial release date April 13, 2007), but Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg then had Al-Arian transferred to Virginia to force him to testify as a material witness in an investigation into a Muslim charity there.

Court transcripts from the original case show that Al-Arian's lawyers made his refusal to testify in any further cases a condition of his plea. The agreement was apparently not put in writing, however, and the courts have since declared it non-binding.

With his refusal to testify, Al-Arian was found guilty of civil contempt, adding an additional 18 months onto his sentence. In protest of the contempt charge, as well as brutal prison conditions and racist treatment from guards, Al-Arian began a hunger strike last year. During 60 days without food, Al-Arian lost more than 50 pounds, only calling off the strike at the urging of his family.

"Dr. Al-Arian was held for a year on civil contempt for refusing to cooperate in a grand jury investigation," said Al-Arian's lead attorney Jonathan Turley. "Under federal rules, the government isn't allowed to use civil contempt confinement against a witness who clearly will not cooperate.

"Yet despite his repeated refusals and an international campaign supporting his defiance of the Justice Department, prosecutors insisted that Dr. Al-Arian would break under pressure as a way to keep him confined."

Al-Arian was due to be released in early April of this year, but Kromberg issued a third grand jury subpoena, leading to this latest hunger strike.

"When the system is manipulated by the powerful and tolerates abuses against the minorities or the weak members of society, the government not only loses its moral authority and betrays future generations, but will also be condemned by history," Al-Arian said in a statement released through his family.

As Laila Al-Arian said, "My dad told us he has reached his limit. When he was acquitted over two years ago, we thought his nightmare was over, but it never ends."