[Ppnews] Palestinian Professor Sami Al-Arian Enters 54th Day of Hunger Strike

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Mar 16 14:58:47 EDT 2007


Friday, March 16th, 2007
http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/03/16/1410255

As Health Deteriorates, Jailed Palestinian Professor Sami Al-Arian 
Enters 54th Day of Hunger Strike to Protest Indefinite Imprisonment


----------
Sami Al-Arian is in dire condition. The jailed Palestinian professor 
has lost over 50 pounds as he enters the 54th day of a hunger strike 
to protest the circumstances of his continued imprisonment. We speak 
with his wife, Nahla Al-Arian. [includes rush transcript]

----------
Sami Al-Arian has spent the past four years in jail despite a jury's 
failure over a year ago to return a single guilty verdict on any of 
the 17 charges brought against him. He eventually signed a plea deal 
with the government in exchange for being released and deported.

This past January, with just three months left before his scheduled 
release, a judge found him in contempt after he refused to testify 
before a Virginia grand jury. The date of his release could now be 
extended by a year and a half. On January 22nd, Al-Arian - who is a 
diabetic - stopped eating in protest. Last month he was transferred 
to the Federal Medical facility in Butner Virginia as his health 
deteriorated. A week before his transfer, we spoke with Sami Al-Arian 
from prison in his first broadcast interview since his 2003 arrest. 
He explained why he was on hunger strike.

    * Sami Al-Arian, speaking from prison on Democracy Now! 
<http://tinyurl.com/328j7h>[Click for full interview]
His wife, Nahla Al-Arian, is going to Virginia today to visit him 
along with their five children. She joins me now from Tampa, Florida 
where she lives.

    * Nahla Al-Arian, Sami Al-Arian's wife.

----------
RUSH TRANSCRIPT

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JUAN GONZALEZ: Sami Al-Arian is in dire condition. The jailed 
Palestinian professor has lost over fifty pounds, as he enters the 
fifty-fourth day of a hunger strike to protest the circumstances of 
his continued imprisonment. Al-Arian has spent the past four years in 
jail, despite a jury's failure over a year ago to return a single 
guilty verdict on any of the seventeen charges brought against him. 
He eventually signed a plea deal with the government in exchange for 
being released and deported.

AMY GOODMAN: This past January, with just three months left before 
his scheduled release, a judge found him in contempt after he refused 
to testify before a Virginia grand jury. The date of his release 
could now be extended by a year and a half. On January 22, Al-Arian, 
who is a diabetic, stopped eating in protest. Last month, he was 
transferred to the federal medical facility in Butner, [North 
Carolina], as his health deteriorated. A week before his transfer, we 
spoke with Sami Al-Arian from prison in his first broadcast interview 
since his 2003 arrest.

In a moment, we'll speak with his wife. But now, we turn to an 
excerpt of that interview with Professor Sami Al-Arian. He explained 
why he was on a hunger strike.

SAMI AL-ARIAN: Well, I believe that freedom and human dignity are 
more precious than life itself. In essence, I'm taking a principled 
stand, that I'm willing to endure whatever it takes to win my 
freedom. I'm also protesting the continuous harassment campaign by 
the government against me because of my political beliefs. This 
campaign was supposed to have ended when we concluded the plea deal 
last year, but unfortunately it hasn't. And if you'd like, I can 
elaborate further on that.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, please do.

SAMI AL-ARIAN: OK. Well, you know, after two-and-a-half years in 
pretrial detention with Guantanamo-like conditions, mostly under 
23-hour lockdowns, followed by a six-month trial with eighty 
witnesses, including twenty-one from Israel, thousands of documents, 
phone interceptions, physical surveillance, websites, hearsay 
evidence, anything and everything they could think of, preceded by 
twelve years of investigations, tens of millions of dollars, some 
even say over $80 million spent on this investigation, with 
ninety-four charges against me and my co-defendants and with my 
defense only being four words -- "I rest my case" -- how did the jury 
see it? They gave them zero convictions.
Unfortunately, however, the judge stopped the deliberations, because 
of a distressed juror, and they ended up with some hung counts, 
although they were mostly ten-to-two in my favor. What happened was 
that the government had the power to retry me on these hung counts. 
My attorneys had prior commitments and would have left, which meant I 
probably would have to hire a new legal team and wait perhaps for 
another year or more for a new trial.
Meanwhile, in my attorneys' judgment, the government was desperate to 
settle after its total defeat. I was, at the time, perplexed, because 
I wasn't sure what offense I would plea to. But one of my attorneys 
said that even if there was none, we had to invent one to get you 
out. I authorized them to explore this option, and they concluded a 
deal with essentially time served and deportation, were I to plea to 
giving some services to people associated with an organization on 
their terrorist list. And if you'd like, I could go over quickly and 
briefly --

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. Go through what your plea agreement was.

SAMI AL-ARIAN: Yeah. Well, number one, that I sponsored a researcher 
in 1994 and '95 to come to the United States to conduct research and 
edit a magazine, which he certainly did. Two, that I wasn't candid or 
forthcoming when interviewed by a journalist in November '95 -- and 
don't ask me why this is an offense. And three, that I helped my 
brother-in-law to get out of prison when he was detained on secret 
evidence between '97 and 2000. These are the only three things that --

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mazen Najjar?

SAMI AL-ARIAN: That was Mazen Al-Najjar, that's correct. My main 
concern with this deal was that the judge got out of hand, because 
association is constitutionally protected. And everyone kept saying 
that this was just a face-saving way for the government to end this, 
and no one is going to object. And, indeed, you know, no one did.

Amy, during the plea negotiations, the government wanted a 
cooperation provision, which I totally ruled out. I told my lawyers 
that if they insisted, then to break off all these negotiations and 
proceed to a new trial. The government immediately took this off the 
table and never raised it again.
Now, they want me to testify before a grand jury in Virginia, which 
is contrary to our agreement of no cooperation. We also believe that 
this is either a perjury or contempt trap. See, back in August of 
2000, I was also subpoenaed before an immigration court, and I was 
asked if I believe in the freedom of Islam through violence. My 
answer was one word: no. But this was nonetheless one of the counts 
against me, which the jury acquitted me of. Now, I have been held in 
contempt for the total of over a month last year, and then that grand 
jury expired. Then they reconvened another grand jury this year, and 
I have been held now in contempt since January 22nd. That's why I'm 
on a hunger strike.

AMY GOODMAN: Sami al-Arian, speaking from prison last month. He's 
just entered the fifty-fourth day of a hunger strike. He is 
hospitalized. His wife Nahla Al-Arian is going to Virginia today to 
visit him along with their five children. She joins us now before she 
heads on the flight from Tampa, where she lives. Welcome to Democracy 
Now!, Nahla Al-Arian.

NAHLA AL-ARIAN: Thank you. Thanks so much for inviting me, especially 
when we see that the corporate media is completely silent concerning 
Sami's case. I cannot believe that political prisoners are being 
treated this way in this country by the media. You know, I'm talking 
about corporate media here. I feel there is some kind of complicity 
on the side of the corporate media in supporting the government's 
oppression towards Palestinian activists, especially, and political 
prisoners in general.

JUAN GONZALEZ: How was your husband the last time you spoke with him?

NAHLA AL-ARIAN: Well, last night I talked to him for about five 
minutes, and still he is very weak, and he told me he is exhausted. 
And, you know, he hasn't eaten for fifty-four days. And that's a lot. 
He lost fifty-two pounds. He cannot even walk. He is on a wheelchair 
now. And my friend went to see him last week, and then she said to me 
that she managed to feel the bones of his legs. So, you know, 
everybody who went and saw him felt shocked by the way he looks now, 
because he's very, very thin.

AMY GOODMAN: The Irish hunger strikers years ago, famous, Bobby Sands 
and others, started to die after sixty days of being on hunger 
strike. What exactly is his condition? Sami Al-Arian is a diabetic, 
is that right?

NAHLA AL-ARIAN: Yeah, he is. He stopped taking, of course, his 
diabetes medicine a long time ago, because he doesn't eat. But last 
time when they checked his blood sugar, it was 62, and that's, I 
think, very low. They haven't started force-feeding him. They put him 
in a 24-hour lockdown in a small room, and there is a camera in the 
room. And it's like, you know -- I don't know -- like they treat him 
as a lab animal or something. Why are they watching him? That's it. 
They are not doing anything else besides that.

We're very worried, and that's why our visit -- God willing -- will 
be an end to this hunger strike. We don't want him to continue. All 
of us, my children and I want to try our best to make him stop. But 
hopefully, that next week, next Friday, we're going to have good news 
from the Fourth Circuit, because they are going to issue their 
ruling. And, you know, because our case is very strong, we are 
hopeful that they will rule in our favor and they will stop this 
contempt of court. So, let's all pray for this happy ending to this 
miserable situation.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, you have five children?

NAHLA AL-ARIAN: Yeah.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What do you tell them? Your husband has been in jail 
now for four years, yet to be convicted of any crime, and yet the 
government continues to hold him. How do you explain all of this to them?

NAHLA AL-ARIAN: Well, my older children understand that their father 
is a political prisoner, and they are doing tremendous work to help 
their father and to speak on his behalf. And my younger children are 
the ones who were affected the most, because they were deprived of 
their father's love and guidance, and what happened here in Tampa was 
so much for them. I had to send my daughter, who is thirteen, I had 
to send her to Egypt to stay with her grandmother, because she 
couldn't handle some of the abuses at the public school she went to. 
It wasn't easy for us. All the time I look at my home, and I feel 
it's not a home anymore without Sami. I want him back. And the 
government wants to keep him in jail forever. And this is sadistic, 
you know. I cannot understand why they love to torment people this way.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, your husband said -- well, just on the record, the 
seventeen counts against him, he was not found guilty on any of them. 
On the majority, he was acquitted; on others, they were deadlocked. 
He said in a plea agreement that he had -- it was understood that he 
would not have to cooperate with any grand jury investigation of 
other people. And now, there has been a grand jury impaneled. He 
doesn't know how many future ones will be impaneled simply to hold 
him in jail if he refuses to cooperate. What would stop his hunger 
strike right now? And is there a point where it will become your 
decision? And, Nahla, will you decide to have him force-fed?

NAHLA AL-ARIAN: I will do my best to stop him from, like, fasting all 
this time, because we want him alive, we want his love and his 
support to continue, even though he's in jail. But what's happening 
is that, God willing, as I said, on Friday next week we will hear 
something from the Fourth Circuit. Hopefully this will make him stop 
the hunger strike, when we get a ruling from the Fourth Circuit, 
although I'm pessimistic in a way, because the atmosphere in our 
country is very, very depressing, especially when it comes to judges.

I don't know what's wrong with many, many judges here who are not 
really standing up to the government. But there are courageous 
judges, and hopefully they will rule in our favor. But even if they 
are not, God forbid, we have to stop Sami from, you know, killing 
himself, because this is not good. The government doesn't care. The 
government is sending to Iraq so many soldiers, and they don't care 
about their safety. How about the safety of my husband and his 
health? You know, this is a government that does not have any ethics, 
any compassion, nothing. And we're dealing with a monster here, unfortunately.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Throughout this long ordeal, what's your sense or your 
opinion about why your husband has been targeted in this way by the 
federal government?

NAHLA AL-ARIAN: Well, I feel, first of all, because he was very 
effective in talking about the Palestinian cause and in establishing 
ties with the larger society and in empowering the Muslim community, 
making them integrate into the larger society and exercise their 
political rights. Sami was very good in talking to everybody, helping 
and working with everybody, and what made things worse --

AMY GOODMAN: Also very good in supporting President Bush in his first 
run for office. The pictures of him and President Bush as they 
campaign through Florida -- as Bush campaigned through Florida, Sami 
was with him.

NAHLA AL-ARIAN: Because Bush deceived us. Bush lied to the Muslim 
community. Bush gave us a picture of a compassionate person, and 
that's completely the opposite. Later on, unfortunately, we found 
out. Al Gore was so arrogant, and he rejected talking to the Muslim 
community and addressing the issues that the Muslim community was 
worried about, such as the use of secret evidence against Muslims and 
Arabs. So that's why, you know, we went to support Bush, because he's 
the one who, in the second debate, came out and said we should 
support or we should stop the use of secret evidence and we should 
stop profiling Muslims and Arabs, so he was very outspoken. And that 
was unfortunately, you know, a very deceitful act. It wasn't coming 
from his heart, as we found out later.

AMY GOODMAN: What are you calling for right now, Nahla Al-Arian? We 
only have thirty seconds.

NAHLA AL-ARIAN: Well, what I want is for the government to stop the 
abuse of the power by one of the employees there, the federal 
prosecutor Mr. Kromberg. He is doing this based on his ideology that 
is racist and anti-Arab and -Muslim.

And what we are saying to the government: keep your promise, release 
Sami, deport him as you said, and let him live in peace with his wife 
and children. We suffered enough. They stole ten years from our 
lives, not only four years that Sami spent in jail, but ten years, 
because of the harassment and the campaign, the vicious campaign by 
the media for a long, long time. We deserve some peace. For how long 
they are going to torture us?

AMY GOODMAN: Nahla Al-Arian, I want to thank you very much for being 
with us. Nahla Al-Arian is Sami Al-Arian's wife. She heads to see him 
today with her five children. They are all American citizens. That 
does it for our broadcast. Sami al-Arian, the fifty-fourth day of a 
hunger strike; he was acquitted of eight of seventeen charges against 
him, deadlocked on the rest; never convicted on a charge yet remains 
indefinitely in prison. You can look at the photographs on our 
website at democracynow.org.

To purchase an audio or video copy of this entire program, 
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