[News] Sami Al- Arian's reflection on past three years as a Political Prisoner

Anti-Imperialist News News at freedomarchives.org
Fri Feb 24 14:23:02 EST 2006




To write to Dr. Sami Al-Arian:
Dr. Sami Al-Arian (#05007418)
Orient Road Jail
1201 Orient Road
Tampa, FL. 33619


The Oracle


Thursday, February 23, 2006
[]

http://www.usforacle.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2006/02/20/43f9b8cbba683?in_archive=1
News

Al-Arian reflects on past three years
In only his second interview since being arrested 
exactly three years ago on terrorism-related 
charges, former USF professor Sami Al-Arian 
discusses his trial, the conditions of his 
incarceration and the suffering his family has endured.

by Ryan Blackburn
February 20, 2006

“I woke up and said to myself, ‘They’re here,’” 
Nahla Al-Arian said. She and her husband, still 
asleep in bed, frantically tried to dress 
themselves as the officers shouted for them to 
open the door. After numerous threats to break it 
down, Nahla opened the door. Several FBI officers 
rushed in, some brandishing their weapons. “The 
first thing I saw was a gun in my face,” Nahla 
said. Moments later, former USF computer 
engineering professor Sami Al-Arian was forced up 
against a wall and taken into custody.

That was three years ago today when FBI agents 
hauled her husband off to a federal prison in 
Coleman. Hours later, former Attorney General 
John Ashcroft said Al-Arian had been actively 
funding terrorist attacks in Israel as the head 
of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. USF 
administrators alleged he used his academic 
position to support terrorism and fired Al-Arian six days later.

When his case went to trial in June 2005, U.S. 
attorneys used  thousands of taped phone 
conversations, electronic documents and dozens of 
witnesses to convince the jury of his involvement with the PIJ.
In the end, he was found not guilty on eight of 
17 charges, including conspiracy to maim and 
murder people abroad and providing material 
support to a terrorist organization. He was 
acquitted on all other charges, with 10 of 12 
jurors acquitting him on all charges.

Al-Arian remains in jail pending the government’s 
decision to retry him on the remaining counts. 
Conspiracy to commit racketeering and conspiracy 
to provide material support to a terrorist 
organization are among the remaining charges.

Judge James Moody has scheduled the retrial for 
April. As a prisoner at Orient Road Jail, 
Al-Arian is limited to three 20-minute phone 
conversations per day. Al-Arian agreed to an 
exclusive phone interview with the Oracle on 
Thursday. It is the second phone interview to be 
conducted with the media since his incarceration. 
What follows is a transcript of one 20-minute 
conversation split between Sami Al-Arian, his 
wife and the Oracle News Editor Ryan Blackburn. 
Al-Arian was not provided with the questions ahead of time.

Ryan Blackburn: How are you feeling?
Sami Al-Arian: I’m all right, I guess. I’m very 
disappointed that we have to go through this 
again, but other than that I’m all right.

R.B.: What do you think should have happened after the acquittal in December?
S.A.: If the government were true to the system — 
let me give you a simple example: Right before 
the verdict on my part, there was a federal trial 
with a guy. I forgot his name; he was the owner 
of the Hooters the restaurant chain, and he was 
accused and charged with tax evasion — I think 
$11 billion dollars or something to that effect. 
His case ended with a mistrial, 6-6, and the 
government said if we couldn’t convince more than 
six people, we’re not going to retry this, that’s the end of it.

Then on my part, I got a 10-2 acquittal — not 
6-6, 10-2 — and still they don’t want to drop it. 
They still want to spend the taxpayers’ money and 
continue this persecution without any regard to 
what the jurors said and observed and commented. 
I’m disappointed in that, had I not been a 
Palestinian and a Muslim and an Arab, things 
would have been extremely different. People would 
have understood that the government cannot win 
this case and they would just drop it, but this 
government will not do that. Because, I think, of 
the reason to (inaudible) and also because I 
believe the media pressure that has been going 
on, which is unrelenting unfortunately from the mainstream.

R.B.: What’s been the worst part of all this?
S.A.: The worst part is feeling that your family 
is suffering. That’s been the most torturous 
part. You know you’re innocent, you know that you 
haven’t done anything that deserved all this, and 
this has been a political case from day one, and 
knowing that not only you had to suffer — which, 
sometimes if you have to take it, you take it. 
But why should your family be suffering? Your 
children are growing up without you, they are 
deprived of your love and your kindness and your 
guidance and your advice, and your wife is 
suffering on a daily basis; that’s the toughest 
part. Knowing that — that this is an ordeal that 
has been going on know for three years and is 
continuing and you can’t do much about it.

R.B.: Have you been keeping in contact with any 
former students or faculty from the University?
S.A.: I know some people do send me messages 
(and) e-mails, and I get them through the 
coalition e-mails. Some people send me their 
regards and things of that sort, but I don’t have 
any official contact with anyone at the 
University. Friends and supporters, yes.

R.B.: How do you get your news?
S.A.: I am allowed a radio, and I do get a 
newspaper. Of course the conditions of 
confinement are extremely restrictive, 
particularly restrictive. I’ve spent three years 
now in solitary confinement, two of them in one 
of the most restrictive environments you could 
ever have in a federal penitentiary. It’s called 
the special housing unit, and it is no different 
really from what Guantanamo is. If you know how 
Guantanamo people are treated, (it’s) pretty 
similar to it with one exception, and that is 
that you can get weekly visits. And when I was 
there for two years at Coleman, I was the only 
pretrial detainee in that unit. That unit is 
designed for federal convicts who have 
disciplinary problems. That unit is not even 
designed for normal prisoners. If you are in the 
general compound and you knife somebody or you 
have a fight with a guard or you have any other 
kind of disciplinary problem, they will transfer 
you to that unit for disciplinary purposes, and 
normally you stay there for a month or two. I was 
there for two years. Even those people are 
allowed contact visits. I was never allowed a 
contact visit. Normally, if you are in the 
compound you have about 60 minutes a day of phone 
call privileges. Over there you have 15 minutes a 
month. That is one call a month. If you misdial 
or get the wrong number or don’t find your folks, 
that’s it and you’re on to the next month. I 
wasn’t allowed to even make a phone call for six months.

It was designed basically as psychological 
torture against me. I was the only person who was 
pretrial in the whole facility of 75,000 people.
And now I’m here (at Orient Road Jail) for a 
year, and it’s still 23 hours of solitary 
confinement a day. You are only allowed to 
exercise two hours a week, three hours if you’re 
lucky. That’s not even the standard; I mean the 
standard — if you go to any standard prison, even 
for solitary confinement people there are 
supposed to get one hour a day, and I’m not even 
getting that. And for whatever reason, I’m not 
even in the men’s section of the prison; they are 
putting me in the female section of the prison. 
And of course the females are not around me. I am 
in a whole compound by myself. There are four 
cells that are totally empty. I am the only one in it.

They tell you this is for your protection, but 
obviously it’s not that. And every time you leave 
your cell, you’ve got to be hand shackled and leg 
shackled and all kinds of humiliation and 
unnecessary procedures, which doesn’t make any 
sense because where are you going to go? You’re 
totally surrounded, but that’s the way it has 
been. All these procedures I’ve been subjected to 
here in the county, they are not regular 
procedures. These are really extraordinary 
procedures that they don’t explain to you (the 
reasons behind), but you know you can deduce the 
feds keep telling us to do this, do that.

R.B.: Would you care to elaborate what those procedures are?
S.A.: You’re not allowed, for instance, to 
congregate for religious services. I am probably 
the only Muslim here that is not allowed to join 
the Muslim congregation in prayer. I’m not 
allowed to go to the library. I’m not allowed to basically talk to anybody.
I don’t have any men to talk to here, but even if 
I had been in the men’s section, I’m not allowed 
to talk to anybody or be with anybody — even to 
exercise with anybody — so you’re in total isolation.

R.B.: How do you spend your day?
S.A.: Basically I do a lot of reading, because 
you are allowed to receive books and newspapers. 
I listen to the radio (you are allowed a radio), 
and I pray a lot. I am allowed to call my family, 
unlike in the federal system, which I was in for 
two years. But that’s only for a limited amount 
of time daily, like from a half an hour to an 
hour a day. And these kinds of restrictions, I 
can tell, you were designed to hamper my defense. 
When I was in the federal system for two years, I 
wasn’t allowed at the beginning even to have much 
legal material in my cell, and whenever I would 
meet with my lawyers, they were not allowed to 
bring in a lot of material when they met with me. 
And when you go to them, you really had to walk a 
lot of distance (with) legs shackled, hands 
cuffed behind your back, and they would refuse to 
carry your legal material. So for a couple of 
months, I had to carry them on my back. So I had 
to bend over with my legal material on my back 
and walk all the way from my cell to where my 
lawyer would be, which was about close to half a 
mile of walking distance. I walked like that for 
two months until the captain saw me one day and 
was extremely angry with the guards for the way 
they had been doing it. Then they changed it, and 
at that time they started hand cuffing me from 
the front with a chain around the waist where I 
could carry my legal stuff with my hands. All 
these were unnecessary, but it’s part of the 
system, I guess, to put whatever pressure they can on you.

R.B.: What type of an effect do you think this 
case has had on Muslim and non-Muslim relations?
S.A.: This case has been widely observed 
overseas. The channel Al Jazeera had a lot of 
coverage for it, so people are very much aware 
what is going on, and they thought that it would 
be very difficult for a Palestinian and a Muslim 
to receive a fair trial in this country, and the 
jury proved them wrong and we were extremely 
proud of them. And that’s been basically 
communicated. So in a sense it was very bad for 
the Arab, Muslim Palestinian populations in the 
Middle East to see that people are being 
persecuted for exercising their freedom of speech.
At the same time they were extremely and happily 
surprised that justice could still be rendered 
and that the jury system is indeed a system that 
shows the true meaning of democracy, where you 
have 12 ordinary people sitting and listening to 
the evidence and not being prejudiced by the 
environment around them as well as by the 
government’s intimidation and voting to acquit, 
so that I think was extremely positive in the 
minds of the people, and I think that that made 
it easier for people to appreciate the true 
meaning of democracy and involvement of every 
citizen. But at the same time you look at what 
the government is doing and you know, so the pendulum goes back and forth.

Look at what the government is doing and look 
what the people are doing, so there is a keen 
understanding that the American people are much 
more open, just and fair than the government.

R.B.: What do you think about the treatment of Sameeh Hammoudeh?
S.A.: It’s unconscionable. I mean, it’s 
unbelievable. It just shows that even if somebody 
is acquitted, that they wouldn’t let go. To me, I 
am extremely surprised and disappointed. It 
doesn’t make any sense. But I think eventually he 
would leave, it’s not going to go on forever. 
It’s just a matter of days, if not sooner. I 
cannot imagine that this can go on without the judge making a determination.

R.B.: What kind of an outcome are you looking for in your case?
S.A.: Fair treatment, and fairness said that 
there wasn’t evidence. The jurors have said that there was no evidence.

Automated Message: You have one minute left.
S.A.: The way to deal with this would be for the 
government to drop its case and move on. We have 
been treated extremely unfairly and unjustly, and 
that’s got to stop. That’s got to stop. Let’s 
face it: They had 90 counts over four defendants, 
not a single guilty verdict they were able to get 
out of this jury, and in most cases, there was 
total acquittal or (inaudible), and they had 
every single thing and demand they asked the 
judge (granted); they gave them everything.

Nahla Al-Arian: You don’t have enough time, that’s it.
end of article



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