[Ppnews] Sami al-Arian's Long Road to Freedom

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Sep 9 13:18:13 EDT 2008


September 9, 2008

Bail At Last!

Sami al-Arian's Long Road to Freedom


IN A long-overdue victory, Palestinian activist Dr. Sami Al-Arian was 
released on bail September 2 and reunited with members of his family 
for the first time since his arrest in early 2003.

"[I]t feels very unbelievable and surreal that he's finally with us 
after more than five-and-a-half years of being apart and of only 
being able to see him behind glass. It's breathtaking, really," his 
daughter, Laila Al-Arian, described her feelings to Democracy Now's 
Amy Goodman.

"And the whole time, we--me and my siblings--just kept telling each 
other, 'Is this a dream? Is this real?' We couldn't believe it. And 
even when we first heard the news, we were a bit skeptical, because 
we've been in this situation so many times, where we thought my 
father would finally be released, and he wouldn't. So we kind of held 
back our happiness and joy until he was finally with us."

Sami Al-Arian is the former University of South Florida professor who 
has been the victim of an ongoing government witch-hunt since the 
Bush administration, in the days following the September 11 attacks, 
accused him of using an Islamic think tank and a Muslim school and 
charity as a cover for raising funds to finance "terrorism" through 
the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Though then-Attorney General John Ashcroft held up Al-Arian's arrest 
as an essential part of the "war on terror" here at home, after a 
six-month trial costing more than $50 million, a Florida jury in 2006 
refused to find Al-Arian guilty of a single count of the 17 charges 
against him.

Facing the prospect of a lengthy and costly retrial, not to mention 
further separation from his wife and children, Al-Arian agreed to 
plead guilty to a single count of the least-serious charge against 
him in exchange for what was supposed to be a minor additional 
sentence and voluntary deportation.

Instead, before his scheduled release date, Assistant U.S. Attorney 
Gordon Kromberg had Al-Arian moved to Virginia to try to compel his 
testimony in an unrelated investigation of the International 
Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT)--despite an explicit agreement 
with Florida prosecutors, recorded in court transcripts, that 
Al-Arian would be exempt from all future testimony.

Because of his continued refusal to testify, Al-Arian has had his 
prison stay extended first with civil, and then criminal contempt 
charges. But according to his defense lawyers and family, the 
government's request of his testimony is nothing more than a 
trap--designed to keep Al-Arian imprisoned indefinitely on contempt 
charges if he refuses to testify, or allow government prosecutors a 
reason to charge him with perjury if he were to testify.

As Laila Al-Arian noted on Democracy Now, "[W]hat we've learned along 
the way [about Gordon Kromberg]...is that he's not really interested 
in the truth. What he's interested in really is retrying the case 
that the government lost so badly in Florida."

* * *

AL-ARIAN'S ORIGINAL sentence and his sentence for civil contempt 
ended in April, but the government has fought to keep him behind bars.

On August 8, at the most recent pre-trial hearing in his upcoming 
criminal contempt case, the prosecution's bias was once again on 
display. At the hearing, Judge Leonie Brinkema postponed the upcoming 
trial until a separate appeal by Al-Arian's lawyers could be ruled on 
by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In her ruling, Brinkema questioned whether prosecutors have been 
overzealous in filing additional charges against Al-Arian before the 
Supreme Court could rule, and questioned whether the most recent 
contempt charges violate the terms of Al-Arian's plea agreement, 
which bars the Justice Department from standing in the way of 
Al-Arian's deportation after he served his sentence.

When Judge Brinkema once again ordered Al-Arian released on bail into 
the care of his daughter Laila, the anti-Muslim racism of Assistant 
U.S. Attorney Kromberg was on full display.

Kromberg objected to bail, arguing that, as a Muslim woman, Laila 
Al-Arian--a well-respected author and activist--would be too weak and 
submissive to oppose any potential attempt by her father to flee. 
"[I]n this particular culture, she would not be able to stop him from 
leaving," he stated in open court.

"[E]verybody was appalled," Laila Al-Arian told Amy Goodman. "I think 
mouths dropped all over the courtroom. There were gasps. And before 
our lawyer even had an opportunity to say anything, the judge 
interrupted him and said, 'I got this covered.' She was appalled at 
what was said, and said, 'This is not only an insult to Dr. Al-Arian 
and his father, this is an insult to the court.'...I just think this 
particular prosecutor can't help himself from having these racist outbursts."

Despite Brinkema rejecting Kromberg's claim, the government moved to 
circumvent her order--with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) 
taking custody of Al-Arian, as it has in the past when it appeared 
that he could be released from jail.

According to ICE, since Al-Arian is technically under a deportation 
order, it should retain the right to keep Al-Arian in custody in 
order to, in theory, deport him under his original plea agreement. 
But ICE has never moved to deport Al-Arian when it had him in 
custody, instead simply holding him in detention until federal 
prosecutors could drag him back into court once again.

Al-Arian's attorneys, however, recently filed a petition for habeas 
corpus with the court, challenging his continued unlawful detention 
by ICE. Brinkema then set a deadline for immigration authorities to 
explain their delay in releasing Al-Arian, and, according to Laila 
Al-Arian, "since they essentially had no response, their decision was 
to release him, finally."

While an important victory for the Al-Arian family, Sami Al-Arian's 
release on bail does not end his ordeal. While out on bail, he is 
forced to remain under house arrest at his daughter's home. He also 
still faces pending criminal contempt charges, and prosecutors have 
shown that they are all-too-willing to go to any lengths to keep him 

That's why the efforts of activists--through phone calls, letters and 
more--will continue to be key in the coming weeks and months to 
winning Dr. Al-Arian's freedom once and for all.

Nicole Colson lives in Chicago, where she works as a reporter for the 
<http://www.counterpunch.org/colson07122008.html>Socialist Worker.

Freedom Archives
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