Friday, May 16, 2008

Free Professor Sami Al-Arian

Bush Administration: We're Working on the Legalities

by John Halliwell

Mon May 12, 2008 at 07:30:44 AM PDT

While the Bush Administration has, from time to time, done things which are – ahem – ethically questionable, it has usually made at least a half-hearted attempt to cover them with a veneer of legality.

Occasionally, however, it will throw aside any such pretensions. Take Sami Al-Arian, a man who should never have been imprisoned in the first place, who has spent the last five years in jail under conditions decried by Amnesty International as "gratuitously punitive," whose prison term ended on April 11th, and who is nevertheless still being held behind bars.

On what basis can he still be held in jail? Well...the government hasn't quite sorted that one out yet. I called the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) the other day (since April 11th, Dr. Al-Arian has been under their jurisdiction), and asked them what the deal was. "We have some procedures to take care of which might take up to 90 days." (Mind you, the ICE has known since December that Dr. Al-Arian was scheduled to be deported in April) Right...because it takes 90 days in addition to five full months of preparation to unlock a man's cell, get him on a plane, and wave goodbye. In all fairness to the ICE, though, they are probably preparing a surprise going-away party and need that extensive period to find a date that suits all of Dr. Al-Arian's closest friends – you know, John Ashcroft, Paul I. Perez, and – last, but not least! – the Presidente himself. (if you don't believe me, check this out)

So at this very moment, Dr. Al-Arian is sitting in jail without a prison term, without a charge, without any serious attempt at any sort of legal justification. Just sitting there - no particular reason.

If you fear that the Bush Administration is trying to undermine the rule of law, fear not! It is working hard to come up with a new charge that will provide legal cover for Dr. Al-Arian's continued incarceration: last month, a federal judge in Virginia summoned Dr. Al-Arian to testify before a third grand jury; Dr. Al-Arian refused to testify, and can accordingly be charged with criminal contempt, a charge which carries a minimum sentence of five years.

Never mind that Dr. Al-Arian's plea agreement with the government from 2006 clearly exempts him from having to testify; never mind that the government attorney who sought his testimony essentially put a neon sign above the court room that read "Perjury trap"; never mind that this same attorney revels not only in his hatred of Muslims but also in his alleged right to use legal loopholes to punish people he dislikes but can't find guilty in a court of law. NEVER MIND. What's important is that, in a few days or less, the government will have the legality it needs to lengthen Dr. Al-Arian's sentence for at least five more years, possibly a decade, possibly longer. (I discussed these irrelevant trivialities in a previous post)

OK, granted that Dr. Al-Arian never supported terrorism, that he never broke any laws, that he never should have been in jail in the first place, or that he is being punished solely for exercising his First Amendment rights. What's important is that the Bush administration will soon have this covered by a legality so that us law-abiding citizens can sleep soundly at night knowing that we don't have to worry about the rule of law being threatened in any way.

Sleep tight!


The Case of Dr. Sami Al-Arian: A Timeline

February 20, 2003: After nearly eight years of government harassment due to his activities on behalf of Palestine and his political activism and leading stance on civil rights in America, Dr. Sami Al-Arian is arrested by federal authorities on spurious charges of supporting terrorism. Three others are also arrested and detained at a local jail. To protest his political incarceration, Dr. Al-Arian embarks on a hunger strike.

February 27, 2003: Only one week after Dr. Al-Arian is charged, the President of the University of South Florida, with pressure from the Board of Trustees, fires Dr. Al-Arian from his position as an award-winning tenured professor, after over a year of trying to do so, in the aftermath of the post-9/11 hysteria surrounding his constitutionally protected activities.

March 20, 2003: The bail hearing for Dr. Al-Arian and his co-defendants lasts four days and features over thirty-five witnesses in defense of their character, with the prosecution providing no witnesses and no evidence, and failing to show that any of the men are flight risks or threats to national security. Weeks later, Magistrate Mark Pizzo denies bail to Dr. Al-Arian and Sameeh Hammoudeh. Hatim Fariz and Ghassan Ballut, two American citizens, are granted bail.

March 27, 2003: The men are moved from the local jail in Tampa, Florida to a maximum-security federal penitentiary in Coleman, Florida, 75 miles away. There they are placed in solitary confinement and denied basic privileges, given limited visitations and access to attorneys and subjected to strip searches and the harshest conditions of confinement. Dr. Al-Arian and Mr. Hammoudeh are the only pre-trial detainees in a facility full of hardcore criminals.

April 8, 2003: Unable to raise enough funds for private attorneys, Dr. Al-Arian is appointed attorneys by Magistrate Thomas McCoun. In the months ahead, little progress is made under their services.

April 10, 2003: Dr. Al-Arian and Mr. Hammoudeh are denied bail, while Hatim Fariz and Ghassan Ballut are released from Coleman federal penitentiary. Also, a new civil rights organization, the National Liberty Fund (NLF) announces it will be taking on the case of Dr. Sami Al-Arian and organizes a number of events across the country in the following months.

June 5, 2003: Judge Moody announces the trial date to be no sooner than January 2005, nearly two years following the arrest.

June 15, 2003: In its annual meeting, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) condemns the University of South Florida, stating that it violated the rights of Dr. Al-Arian to due process and academic freedom.

June 18, 2003: Upon making a phone call to his home and then to his son who was studying abroad, Dr. Al-Arian is punished for violating the Coleman penitentiary's ban on three-way calling. He is given a six-month ban on all phone calls.

July 17, 2003: Respected human rights organization Amnesty International writes a letter to the Federal Bureau of Prisons condemning the conditions under which Dr. Al-Arian is kept, including the 23-hour lockdown, strip searches, use of chains and shackles, severely limited recreation, lack of access to any religious service and denial of a watch or clock in a windowless cell where the artificial light is never turned off.

July 25, 2003: Dr. Al-Arian is allowed to fire his court-appointed attorneys following months of little progress in his case or improvements in the conditions of confinement. He chooses to act as his own attorney. In preparation for his self-representation, he ends his hunger strike after 140 days and losing 45 pounds.

September 12, 2003: Following a frustrating few months of little development for Dr. Al-Arian's case or improvement in his confinement, Judge Moody rules that the 21,000 hours of taped conversations classified by the government must be released to defense attorneys, but they are barred from releasing them to the public or discussing them with anyone other than their clients. The process of providing these tapes to the defense is slow and tedious.

October 29, 2003: After three months of representing himself, Dr. Al-Arian hires respected Washington DC attorney William B. Moffitt and the experienced local lawyer Linda Moreno to represent him.

December 9, 2003: A Chicago Tribune article reveals that key evidence in the case was destroyed by federal authorities. The search warrants and other related materials from the early searches of Dr. Al-Arian's home and office were mistakenly shredded by court officials.

January 20-22, 2004: Sameeh Hammoudeh is denied his request for bail. A judge also orders the government to release more of its evidence. The government narrows its use of wiretapped conversation from the 21,000 hours to 200 hours of relevant material. Defense attorneys argue for motions to dismiss the indictment on grounds that it criminalizes free speech and First Amendment protected activities.

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