Still no justice for Al-Arian

March 4, 2013

February 20 marked a grave anniversary: Ten years before, Sami Al-Arian was arrested by the government on trumped-up charges of providing "material support to terrorists." His legal nightmare has continued ever since.

Arrested in 2003, Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor, went on trial in late 2005 on charges that he used an Islamic think tank and Muslim school and charity to raise funds to finance "terrorism." In 2006, after a six-month trial, a Florida jury refused to find Al-Arian guilty of any of the 17 counts he was charged with. The jury acquitted him of eight charges, including the most serious, and deadlocked on nine others.

With prosecutors threatening a lengthy retrial on the deadlocked counts, Al-Arian--who had already spent years in prison away from his wife and children--agreed to plead guilty to a single count of the least serious charge against him. In exchange, he was supposed to spend a short additional sentence in prison, to be followed by voluntary deportation.

Instead, against even government prosecutors' recommendations, Judge James Moody sentenced Al-Arian to the maximum allowable sentence. Then, while he was still incarcerated, and despite the fact that it violated his plea agreement, Al-Arian was transferred to Virginia to force him to testify as a material witness in an investigation into another Muslim charity. For Al-Arian, it was a no-win situation. Refusing to testify brought both civil and criminal contempt charges, but had he given in, it is likely that the government would have found a pretext to charge him with "perjury."

In 2008, after months of refusing to testify, Al-Arian was finally ordered released on house arrest into his family's custody while awaiting trial. Since then, there has been no ruling in the case--leaving Al-Arian in a kind of legal limbo. Here, we reprint a statement, released the day of the 10th anniversary, from the Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace, a defense campaign first formed after Al-Arian's arrest in 2003.

ON THIS day 10 years ago, Dr. Sami Al-Arian was snatched from his family and community by the U.S. authorities in a pre-dawn raid that the professor described in a poem. Thus, today marks the beginning of a second decade of the incessant persecution of a voice of conscience for freedom in Palestine, and equal justice for all in America. This injustice against Dr. Al-Arian and his family has lasted now more than the entire tragic Iraqi war, launched one month after the arrest of Dr. Al-Arian.

Throughout his ordeal, Dr. Al-Arian spent over five-and-a-half years in prison (three-and-a-half years in solitary confinement), and an additional four-and-a-half years under house arrest.

Despite a trial, an acquittal and a subsequent plea agreement, the government continues to pursue Dr. Al-Arian in an effort to punish him and once again jail him, due to his political and religious beliefs in a country that prides itself on the Bill of Rights that purportedly guarantees freedom of beliefs, opinions and associations.

Sami Al-Arian continues to languish in prison after more than five years
Dr. Sami Al-Arian

Tragically, many American Muslim families have suffered since the dreadful events of September 11, 2001, in the name of the so-called "war on terror." It has claimed many innocent casualties, as the government pursued many individuals such as Dr. Al-Arian based on their thoughts, opinions, beliefs and associations. In many cases the government targeted individuals by manufacturing charges against them as the government authorities planned, financed and executed the fake crimes.

Whether it was thought crimes like Dr. Al-Arian's manufactured charges, or entrapment, the government employed a tactic called "pre-emptive persecutions," in which the government reversed the system of justice: First, select the targets, then match them with a crime to secure convictions. Although this tactic failed with Dr. Al-Arian, far too many individuals and families have fallen victims to this blatantly unjust practice that makes mockery out of the Constitution.

Today, Americans of good conscience must show concern by questioning these underhanded tactics used by the government. They must reject the practice of targeting individuals like Dr. Al-Arian as well as many other hundreds, because of their religious or political beliefs.

On this day all Americans must renew their utmost commitment to the constitutional promise of the Bill of Rights and its protections of due process, equal rights, civil liberties and political freedoms. Our pledge of "liberty and justice for all" is not a cliché but the principle under which our country was founded, and our system of justice has endured.

We must live up to it for the sake of the future of our Republic.

First published at

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