[Ppnews] Sami Al-Arian - Obstruction of Justice

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Apr 1 14:27:58 EDT 2009

Obstruction of Justice


Posted on Mar 30, 2009

By Chris Hedges

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema is 
scheduled to issue a ruling in the Eastern 
District of Virginia at the end of April in a 
case that will send a signal to the Muslim world 
and beyond whether the American judicial system 
has regained its independence after eight years 
of flagrant manipulation and intimidation by the 
Bush administration. Brinkema will decide whether 
the Palestinian activist 
Sami Amin Al-Arian, held for over six years in 
prison and under house arrest in Virginia since 
Sept 2, is guilty or innocent of two counts of criminal contempt.

Brinkema’s ruling will have ramifications that 
will extend far beyond Virginia and the United 
States. The trial of Al-Arian is a cause célèbre 
in the Muslim world. A 
film was made about the case in Europe. He has 
become the poster child for judicial abuse and 
persecution of Muslims in the United States by 
the Bush administration. The facts surrounding 
the trial and imprisonment of the 
university professor have severely tarnished the 
integrity of the American judicial system and 
made the government’s vaunted campaign against 
terrorism look capricious, inept and overtly racist.

Government lawyers made wild assertions that 
showed a profound ignorance of the Middle East 
and exposed a gross stereotyping of the Muslim 
world. It called on the FBI case agent, for 
example, who testified as an expert witness that 
Islamic terrorists were routinely smuggled over 
the border from Iran into Syria, apparently 
unaware that Syria is separated from Iran by a 
large land mass called Iraq. The transcripts of 
the case against Al-Arian­which read like a bad 
Gilbert and Sullivan opera­are stupefying in 
their idiocy. The government wiretaps picked up 
nothing of substance; taxpayer dollars were used 
to record and transcribe 21,000 hours of banal 
chatter, including members of the Al-Arian 
household ordering pizza delivery. During the 
trial the government called 80 witnesses and 
subjected the jury to inane phone transcriptions 
and recordings, made over a 10-year period, which 
the jury curtly dismissed as “gossip.” It would 
be comical if the consequences were not so dire for the defendant.

A jury, on Dec. 6, 2005, acquitted Dr. Al-Arian 
on eight of the counts in the superseding 
indictment after a six-month trial in the U.S. 
District Court for the Middle District of 
Florida. On the 94 charges made against the four 
defendants, there were no convictions. Of the 17 
charges against Al-Arian­including “conspiracy to 
murder and maim persons abroad”­the jury 
acquitted him of eight and was hung on the rest. 
The jurors, who voted 10 to 2 to acquit on the 
remaining charges, could not reach a unanimous 
decision calling for his full acquittal. Two 
others in the case, Ghassan Ballut and Sameeh 
Hammoudeh, were acquitted of all charges.

The trial result was a public relations disaster 
for the Bush White House and especially 
then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who had 
personally announced the indictment and 
reportedly spent more than $50 million on the 
case. The government prosecutors threatened to 
retry Al-Arian. The Palestinian professor 
accepted a plea bargain that would spare him a 
second trial, agreeing that he had helped people 
associated with 
Islamic Jihad with immigration matters. It was a 
very minor charge given the high profile of the 
case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle 
District of Florida and the counterterrorism 
section of the Justice Department agreed to 
recommend to the judge the minimum sentence of 46 
months. But U.S. District Judge James S. Moody 
Jr., who made a series of comments during the 
trial that seemed to condemn all Muslims, 
sentenced Al-Arian to the maximum 57 months. In 
referring to Al-Arian’s contention, for example, 
that he had only raised money for Palestinian 
Islamic Jihad’s charity for widows and orphans, 
the judge told the professor that “your only 
connection to orphans and widows is that you create them.”

I spent an afternoon with Dr. Al-Arian in his 
small apartment in Arlington, Va., on Friday. His 
lawyers have asked that he make no public 
statements about his case. But we talked widely 
about the Middle East, the new Israeli 
government, the siege of Gaza, our families and 
the changes he hopes will come with an Obama 
administration. He sat on a couch wearing an 
electronic monitoring bracelet on his ankle, 
thankful to be with his wife and children after 
being shuttled between jails across the South and 
kept for 45 months in solitary confinement during 
his five-and-a-half-year ordeal. But he remains 
perplexed, as are many, by the gross miscarriage 
of justice and the ferocity of the government’s 
campaign to smear him with terrorism charges.

The government originally sought a standard 
cooperation provision as part of the final plea 
agreement. Al-Arian objected. He refused to plead 
guilty if he had to cooperate with the Justice 
Department. The Justice Department­including 
lawyers from the counterterrorism section of Main 
Justice­then negotiated to take out the 
cooperation provision in return for a longer 
sentence on the one count. That was the deal. He 
was to have been held in jail until April 2007 
and then deported. But that never happened.

Right-wing ideologues, led by Assistant United 
States Attorney 
Kromberg, had no intention of letting him leave 
the country. Kromberg, a staunch supporter of 
Israel, arranged to keep Dr. Al-Arian behind bars 
even after he had finished serving his sentence. 
He blocked the deportation and subpoenaed 
Al-Arian to appear in Virginia to testify in an 
unrelated investigation of a Muslim think tank. 
This subpoena was a clear violation of the 
original plea bargain, and Al-Arian, heeding the 
advice of his lawyers, refused to give in to 
Kromberg’s demands. This led Kromberg to set in 
motion the newest charges of criminal contempt. 
Criminal contempt, bolstered by something called 
terrorism enhancement under Patriot Act II, is 
the only charge in U.S. statutes that does not 
carry a maximum penalty. The enhanced criminal 
contempt charge increases Al-Arian’s sentence 
from the usual 14 to 21 months for criminal 
contempt to a staggering 17 to 24 years for 
obstructing a state terrorism investigation. A 
handful of members of the House, including Jim 
Moran and Dennis Kucinich, have denounced 
Kromberg’s newest attempt to orchestrate a judicial lynching.

Kromberg, like many involved in the case, has 
also repeatedly made derogatory and insulting 
comments about Muslims. When Al-Arian’s lawyers 
asked Kromberg to delay the transfer of the 
professor to Virginia, for example, because of 
the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, they were told 
“if they can kill each other during Ramadan they 
can appear before the grand jury.” Kromberg, 
according to an affidavit signed by Al-Arian’s 
attorney, Jack Fernandez, also said: “I am not 
going to put off Dr. Al-Arian’s grand jury 
appearance just to assist in what is becoming the Islamization of America.”

Judge Brinkema, in one of the rare examples of 
judicial courage during this saga, defied the 
government to allow Al-Arian out on bail.

The case against Al-Arian, in the eyes of the 
grand inquisitors like Kromberg, is a battle 
against a culture and a religion that they openly 
denigrate and despise. This racism, the driving 
engine behind the campaign against Al-Arian, 
mocks the integrity of the American judicial 
system. Let us hope that in a few weeks we will 
witness a new era. Justice delayed is better than 
justice denied. We owe Dr. Al-Arian, and 
ourselves, a return to the rule of law.

Freedom Archives
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San Francisco, CA 94110

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