[Ppnews] Trial of Palestinian Doctor in Tampa, FL ending

Political Prisoner News PPnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Nov 16 15:48:48 EST 2005


Closing Arguments in Dr. Al-Arian's Trial

By Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace

November 16, 2005

TAMPA-- Closing arguments in the case of Dr. Sami Al-Arian and his 
co-defendants began on Monday, November 7 with prosecutors admitting 
the evidence in the case was circumstantial. The government has 
alleged that Dr. Al-Arian's legitimate organizations---the Islamic 
Committee for Palestine, World and Islam Studies Enterprise and 
Islamic Academy of Florida-- were fronts for the Palestinian Islamic 
Jihad. While they attempted to prove that Dr. Al-Arian and his three 
co-defendants had "criminal intent" to further the unlawful goals of 
the PIJ, all they have shown was mere association and involvement in 
nonviolent, charitable activities.

To cover the fact that there is no evidence pointing to criminal 
activity, prosecutor Cherie Krisgman asked jurors to "use their 
common sense" to "connect the dots." On Tuesday, Dr. Al-Arian's 
lawyers, William Moffitt and Linda Moreno, argued that the government 
failed to prove its case against Dr. Al-Arian and present any 
evidence to back up its claims. Moreno said "when Ms. Krigsman asks 
you to use your common sense, she's asking you to take a leap of 
faith, to suspend your disbelief."

More importantly, Moffitt and Moreno argued that the case is about 
nothing more than First Amendment-protected speech. They made 
impassioned pleas to stand up for the principles upon which the 
United States was founded and to defend Dr. Al-Arian's right to speak 
out against the brutality of the Israeli occupation of Palestinians.

Moreno began her closing argument by saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, 
the prosecution against Sami Al-Arian is built entirely on his words, 
built on his beliefs, and that is un-American." For example, during 
the five-month trial, the prosecution repeatedly referred to the 
Occupied Territories simply as "the territories" to de- contextualize 
the plight of Palestinians. Furthermore, Moreno explained basic 
concepts related to Palestinians such as "Diaspora," or the forced 
migration of a people. Moreno said that to completely dismiss or deny 
the occupation is "the very reason Dr. Sami Al-Arian is sitting at 
that table." Words are very important, "they can rewrite history. 
Words can inspire people." In this prosecution, "words have been 
redacted, censored, edited, manipulated and exploited."

Moreno emphasized that many of the conversations introduced as 
evidence by the government were edited and redacted (large portions 
were removed). "Context is important. Censorship is dangerous," she 
told the jury. Pointing to several books introduced as evidence, 
Moreno said prosecutors merely translated the title or author, 
disregarding the table of contents, let alone the books themselves. 
Throughout the trial, and during its closing argument, the 
prosecution repeatedly pointed to publication or possession of 
magazines such as "Inquiry," a periodical edited by Dr. Al-Arian, as 
evidence of criminality, Moreno said such arguments are dangerous. 
"The government wants you to believe there's something terribly wrong 
with what's in those magazines," she said. "It's un- American to bar 
books." Later, Moreno pointed out that Noam Chomsky and former 
Congressman Paul Findley were both contributing writers for Inquiry.

Citing the testimony of the government's own witness, Palestinian 
Authority legislator and scholar Dr. Ziad Abu Amr, Moreno described 
the daily hardships and suffering Palestinians face under military 
occupation and their dire economic situation. For example, she said 
unemployment is at over 50 percent in Gaza, whose GNP per capita is 
less than $1,000. "Not a Palestinian home was unaffected by the 
occupation," Moreno quoted Abu Amr as saying. He also testified that 
Gaza was a "big jail." Moreno's main point to the jury was summed up 
in the following statement, "This is not a criminal case. This is a 
political case."

Dr. Al-Arian's attorneys also said that according to an affidavit by 
Abu Amr, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) has a "small military 
wing autonomous from the political wing" of the group.

Moreno also spoke about the first Intifada, explaining that it took 
the form of nonviolent protests, mass demonstrations and strikes, but 
was confronted by a lethal response by the Israeli military. It was 
in the context of the first Intifada that the Islamic Committee for 
Palestine (ICP) conferences took place, Moreno explained. In terms of 
the five ICP conferences, Moreno said they were open, videotaped and 
held in hotels. They were not underground. Dr. Al- Arian invited the 
FBI to come to them. They were focused on Palestine, and the first 
conference, held in 1988, was 40 years after the original Israeli 
occupation. She said, "We need to look at them in context, and reject 
the government's cruel and cynical interpretation of these speeches." 
Moreno then pointed out that after wire-tapping Dr. Al-Arian for nine 
years, all the government could come up with were 300 to 400 phone 
calls between the four defendants out of nearly half a million to 
introduce as evidence.

Moreno said the clearest example of Dr. Al-Arian's intent was the 
Islamic Academy of Florida, a full-time school he built from nothing. 
The school went from three or four classrooms when it first opened in 
1992 to 10 buildings on 14.5 acres of land seven years later. She 
said Dr. Al-Arian was so dedicated and committed to education that he 
"bought books out of his own money." She pointed to the testimony of 
IAF graduate Alia Radwan, who said the school prepared her for 
everything. "It prepared me to be a constructive citizen and a 
well-rounded individual," she quoted Radwan as saying. "The school 
was about teaching children to be citizens of this great country. 
This is what Sami Al-Arian was about. This is the choice that he 
made," Moreno concluded.

Next, Bill Moffitt began his part of the closing argument. "Ladies 
and gentleman, today I listened to my client called a thug and a 
crime boss, in fact, Tony Soprano." Moffitt said the best evidence 
needed for the First Amendment is prosecutor Krigsman's closing 
argument. "If you listened to Ms. Krigsman, you would not know there 
was a war going on for 50 years, or a harsh military occupation in 
the occupied territories. You would have thought that Palestinians 
and Israelis lived in peace for the last 50 years, except for these 
four gentlemen. And you'd think that Sami Al-Arian sprung up from 
nowhere simply to do evil. No mass arrests, intimidation, torture, 
etc. You might even believe that universities are open, travel 
throughout the Middle East is unlimited. You might even believe that 
Palestinian children and Israeli children are treated the same by the 
occupier."

Continued Moffitt: "If only they would not trouble us by writing, 
reading and thinking about the occupation. If only (the Palestinians) 
could see the reality in Ms. Krigsman's terms. If only they would 
share the view of their oppressors." Pointing to Dr. Al- Arian and 
raising his voice, Moffitt said: "This man has the temerity to be 
angry about how his people are treated, and then he has the audacity 
to write and publish and think about it - all crimes. And he has the 
audacity to speak about it. How horrible. Where did he get the idea 
he could do that? Certainly it wasn't in the occupied territories."

He continued, "One way to persuade people not to listen to him is to 
call him a thug." He asked, "Why should we care about the 
Palestinians? They have no army, they have no oil, let's ignore them. 
Let's ignore the context." He said that one of the problems we have, 
as a society, is the judgment we give to one's country of origin, or 
skin color. "So we can remorse over the deaths of the children of one 
side, and the other side are collateral casualties. How does that 
feel if you're on the side that's a collateral casualty?"

Moffitt said that there are numerous responses to those on the side 
of the collateral casualties. There are angry responses, there are 
violent responses. He said Dr. Al-Arian chose to respond by opening a 
dialogue and debate and discussing it in an academic context. He said 
Americans "should be proud he would come here to express himself." He 
asked the jury if there was something odd or peculiar about 
Palestinians, that they shouldn't have what Americans have. "Is it 
reasonable that they should want to come to the richest country in 
the world?" "Is it offensive to you that they should want to feed 
their children?" Moffitt said.

Referring to the prosecution's frequent references to Dr. Al-Arian's 
advanced degrees in a pejorative manner, Moffitt said, "My client's 
education is being used against him. If he allowed his people to be 
exploited, to be killed, and failed to speak up, we wouldn't be here 
today. And if he were a farmer in the field, rather than an 
intellectual, that would be the case." Moffitt said, "I'm told that 
there's nothing in this case that has to do with the First Amendment, 
but I'm confronted over and over with evidence of speeches and 
publications." Reading from the Declaration of Independence, Moffitt 
said, "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are 
created equal - even Palestinians." He concluded: "Al-Arian's dreams 
for his people are not that different from yours or mine."

The next day, Moffitt continued his closing argument by bringing up 
World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE) publications and events. 
WISE published peer-review journals and held academic conferences and 
round-table discussions that were well-attended forums where ideas 
about the Middle East were debated. "Do you think this kind of 
academic production would have been possible in Palestine in the 
early 90s?" he asked. He described WISE as "the only place in the 
world where Palestinians were given that level of humanity." 
Referring once again to the government, Moffitt said that to call 
WISE's accomplishments "propaganda," was to "cheapen the academic 
efforts of all who participated."

Turning his attention to violence, Moffitt said none of the evidence 
shows any discussion about planning any violent activity. Finally, he 
asked the jury to have the courage to maintain the "great values of 
our society that we are defending. Without the First Amendment, there 
is no United States," he concluded.

For the rest of the week, defense attorneys for the three co- 
defendants also gave their impassioned pleas to jurors, arguing that 
there was no evidence in the politically-motivated case. Sameeh 
Hammoudeh's attorney Steven Bernstein pointed to numerous mistakes in 
the government's investigation, including the mistaken identification 
of various documents. "At best, they were mistakes," he said, "but at 
worst, they are lies."

Bernstein then utilized the testimony of Hammoudeh's father, 78-year 
old Taha Hammoudeh who came from the West Bank to testify in his 
son's trial. Prosecutors had colored several telephone conversations 
between father and son about donations to Palestinian charities in a 
sinister light. Providing detailed receipts and documentation, Taha 
Hammoudeh shattered the government's insinuation that Sameeh's 
donations from the Tampa Muslim community had gone to anything other 
than charitable causes.

During their presentation, attorneys for Ghassan Ballut continued 
their argument that the case against their client was completely 
devoid of any evidence. In fact, the government had not monitored 
Ballut's telephone or come away with a single incriminating document 
from searches of his home and bank records. Mocking the government's 
claims of a "mountain of evidence," attorney Bruce Howie displayed to 
the jury the dearth of documents related to Ballut, in the form of a 
small stack of telephone transcripts.

In reference to the government's notorious graphic titled "the cycle 
of terror," Howie produced a "cycle of nonsense" that demonstrated 
the absurdity of the government's theory, in which Ballut's non- 
disclosing of alleged terrorist ties on immigration forms was proof 
of his involvement in a conspiracy. Prosecutors frequently employed 
such circular reasoning throughout their arguments.

Howie's co-counsel, Brooke Elvington, referred to the government's 
"Google search" method of investigation, in which the mere mention of 
someone's name in a conversation was submitted as evidence of a 
crime. In one instance, a 57-page telephone transcript between two 
people made brief, casual mention of Ballut in one line, but when 
asked, FBI Case Agent Kerry Myers stated that the sole purpose of the 
phone call was to inform about Ballut's activities.

Elvington also blasted the government's absurd inferences and 
insinuations, none of which were accurate or based on any facts. The 
selective use of speech was used to draw a portrait that simply did 
not reflect the reality of the situation. Very often, prosecutors 
attempted to imply the involvement of other individuals outside the 
case in supporting Palestinian Islamic Jihad, without offering a 
shred of evidence. In the case of El-Ehssan, a Gaza charity supported 
by Ballut and Hatim Fariz, Elvington assured jurors that not a shred 
of proof existed that it was run by the PIJ. "Just because they say 
it, doesn't make it so," she said, referring to the government. In 
fact, all documentation in the case supports the contention that it 
was a legitimate charity that provided support to needy Palestinian 
families. However, even if the charity were connected to the PIJ, it 
is only a crime to donate to it if it furthered illegal activity by the PIJ.

The final defense presentation was given by Federal Public Defender 
Kevin Beck on Thursday afternoon. Beck argued passionately on behalf 
of Fariz, pointing out that the government had made numerous glaring 
errors in its investigation. Arabic translators demonstrated a clear 
agenda when they frequently mistranslated innocent words to give them 
a malicious meaning, such as when a word that means "pancakes" was 
offered to jurors as "brigades." Similarly they avoided translating 
words that shed light on the benign nature of certain documents, as 
when they ignored the word "charitable" that described one 
organization supported by Fariz.

The government had even gone as far as to misidentify key individuals 
in the case, and would simply alter their theory to fit the new 
individual's identity when the truth was discovered. Overall, Beck 
painted a picture to jurors of a prosecution intent on criminalizing 
innocent activities at any cost, even manipulating the truth to fit 
its malevolent theory.

Following the final defense closing argument, the prosecution was 
given a two-hour rebuttal. Prosecutor Terry Zitek took to the 
opportunity to continue the government's racist tirade. After hearing 
Krigsman refer to Dr. Al-Arian and his co-defendants as "thugs," 
"criminals," "liars," and other insults, Zitek went further during 
rebuttal, calling them "dogs." It appeared to most observers that in 
their zeal to defend the brutal military occupation by Israel, 
prosecutors had even adopted the racist terminology of the occupiers.

This case has major implications. If the prosecution succeeds, there 
is a danger that the government will continue criminalizing political 
speech and organizations by accusing members of criminal conspiracies 
and imprisoning them.

On Monday, November 14, 2005, prosecutors will conclude their 
rebuttal. Judge James Moody is then expected to read jury 
instructions and jurors will begin deliberations.

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