[Ppnews] Is Justice Finally in Sight for Sami Al-Arian?

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Mar 24 13:47:30 EDT 2009


http://www.counterpunch.org/colson03242009.html

March 24, 2009


End of a Witch Hunt?

Is Justice Finally in Sight for Sami Al-Arian?

By NICOLE COLSON

Supporters of Dr. Sami Al-Arian are cautiously optimistic after 
several court hearings where the government was left scrambling to 
justify its continued campaign of persecution.

Al-Arian is the former University of South Florida professor accused 
after September 11 by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft of 
providing "material support to terrorists," largely due to his 
outspoken defense of Palestinian rights.

Arrested in 2003, Al-Arian went on trial in late 2005 on charges that 
he used an Islamic think tank and a Muslim school and charity as a 
cover for raising funds to finance "terrorism." In 2006, after a 
six-month trial costing taxpayers a reported $50 million, a Florida 
jury refused to find Al-Arian guilty on a single one of the 17 counts 
he was charged with. The jury acquitted Al-Arian of eight charges, 
including the most serious, and deadlocked on nine others; 10 of 12 
jurors reportedly favored acquittal on all counts.

With prosecutors threatening a retrial, Al-Arian--who had already 
spent years in prison away from his wife and children, and had legal 
fees totaling more than $1 million--agreed to plead guilty to a 
single count of the least serious charge against him, in exchange for 
what was supposed to be a short sentence added to the time he had 
already been behind bars, plus voluntary deportation.

But the nightmare was only beginning. Against even government 
prosecutors' recommendations, Judge James Moody sentenced Al-Arian to 
the maximum allowable sentence.

Then, while Al-Arian was still incarcerated, Assistant U.S. Attorney 
Gordon Kromberg had Al-Arian transferred to Virginia to force him to 
testify as a material witness in an investigation into a Muslim 
charity there--in defiance of an agreement with Florida prosecutors, 
recorded in court transcripts, that Al-Arian would be exempt from 
future testimony.

For Al-Arian, it was a no-win situation. Refusing to testify brought 
first civil, and then criminal contempt charges upon him. But had he 
testified, it is likely that prosecutors would have tried to charge 
him with "perjury" and continued his imprisonment anyway.

While in prison, Al-Arian has faced physical and verbal abuse, and 
racism from prison guards.

Kromberg himself made his anti-Muslim prejudice known in court. As 
Al-Arian's daughter, journalist Laila Al-Arian, said in a Socialist 
Worker interview:

To describe where [Kromberg's] coming from, he's blogged about trips 
he's taken to Israel and his fear of Palestinians. He's made 
anti-Arab and anti-Muslim statements on the record that he's never 
apologized for. During one trial in Virginia, he said "all Arabs 
lie"--that's what he told the jury--and he said "don't believe 
anything they tell you."

This is a person with a lot of power and authority. Not to say that 
he's the only one driving the ship--I think his bosses are supporting 
what he's doing. But we know Kromberg wasn't happy with the Florida 
jury's verdict, and this was his way of trying to retry the case in Virginia.

At one point, Kromberg objected to defense attorney requests that 
Al-Arian not be transferred to another prison during the Muslim 
religious holidays of Ramadan. Kromberg reportedly said, "If 
[Muslims] can kill each other during Ramadan, they can appear before 
the grand jury, all they can't do is eat before sunset. I believe Mr. 
Al-Arian's request is part of the attempted Islamization of the 
American Justice System."

And in August, when Al-Arian was finally ordered released into his 
daughter's custody on bail while awaiting trial on contempt charges, 
Kromberg objected, claiming that, as a Muslim woman, Laila Al-Arian 
would be too weak and submissive to oppose any potential attempt by 
Dr. Al-Arian to flee.

* * *

DESPITE THE protracted government witch-hunt against him, a campaign 
of support, led by the Al-Arian family and the Tampa Bay Coalition 
for Justice and Peace (TBCJP), has helped publicize the injustice of the case.

Although Al-Arian's initial prison sentence ended in April 2007, and 
his sentence for civil contempt ended in April 2008, the government 
has fought to keep him behind bars on charges of criminal contempt. 
But to judge from recent court hearings, Kromberg may have 
over-reached in his attempts to keep Al-Arian imprisoned indefinitely.

Last fall, despite Kromberg's strenuous objections (and attempts to 
subvert her order), Judge Leonie Brinkema ordered Al-Arian released 
on bail, and openly questioned whether prosecutors had been 
overzealous in filing additional charges, and if the criminal 
contempt charges themselves were a violation of the terms of 
Al-Arian's plea agreement.

In February, when Brinkema repeatedly ordered Florida prosecutors and 
Justice Department officials to provide affidavits regarding the 
promises made to Al-Arian in his original plea bargain negotiations, 
Kromberg's office ignored the orders three separate times, arguing 
that such knowledge was "irrelevant."

Brinkema disagreed, saying she doesn't think "the Department of 
Justice can compartmentalize itself...This is not one U.S. Attorney's 
Office versus another...You have the United States Department of 
Justice...involved at both ends."

As the TBCJP reported, the filing that Kromberg's office did submit 
revealed just how split the Justice Department may have been over the 
case. According to TBCJP, the filing acknowledged that:

--Prosecutors in Virginia began the process of compelling Dr. 
Al-Arian's appearance before a grand jury in the midst of the plea 
negotiations in early 2006.

--Prosecutors from Florida and the Department of Justice who were 
involved in the negotiations objected to this move by Kromberg.

--Virginia prosecutors conceded that, following the plea 
negotiations, both the defense and prosecution expected that Dr. 
Al-Arian would be sentenced to time served and immediately deported.

--Virginia prosecutors then exploited the fact that the judge in 
Florida gave Dr. Al-Arian the maximum sentence despite the 
government's recommendation of time served. They pressed for the 
grand jury appearance even though the cooperation clause was 
explicitly removed from the plea agreement.

In other words, Kromberg's own filing suggests he has been engaged in 
a campaign of persecution against Al-Arian, even when it meant 
overriding the objections of other Justice Department officials.

* * *

IN THE most recent hearing on March 9, Kromberg argued for the fourth 
time that Al-Arian's 2006 plea agreement is irrelevant to the 
criminal contempt charges--despite Judge Brinkema's repeated rulings.

In a positive sign, Brinkema then opened the door to a possible 
dismissal of the case--giving Al-Arian's defense lawyers 10 days to 
file for dismissal on the grounds that prosecutors failed to keep 
their promises under the plea bargain. After the defense files its 
motion for dismissal, prosecutors will have 10 days to respond.

According to the Associated Press, Judge Brinkema "acknowledged that 
the protections Al-Arian wants enforced may not have been explicitly 
outlined in the original agreement," but she added that she felt the 
Justice Department may have duped Al-Arian into accepting the deal.

"I think there's something more important here, and that's the 
integrity of the Justice Department," Brinkema said.

According to the Associated Press, "Brinkema has presided over 
several terrorism trials, and in recent years has frequently 
expressed frustration that the government has been untruthful in its 
dealings with her. She at one point threatened to toss out the 
government's death penalty case against September 11 conspirator 
Zacarias Moussaoui, but later relented."

While Brinkema's latest ruling is a welcome one, the fight for 
justice for Sami Al-Arian is far from over.

In the more than seven long years since his ordeal began, Dr. 
Al-Arian has spent much of that time in jail and on trial, separated 
from his wife and children, faced with massive legal fees and held 
hostage to the whims of a racist zealot of a prosecutor. No matter 
what happens from here on out, this can't be called "justice."

Public support for Al-Arian will continue to be crucial in the weeks 
to come. As he wrote in a message to supporters when he was finally 
released on bail in September, "My thanks go to those in all corners 
of the globe who have campaigned for my case and for other prisoners 
of conscience. It takes courage and principle to stand up for justice 
at a time when fear often trumps rationality and fairness."

Nicole Colson writes for the <http://www.socialistworker.org>Socialist Worker.




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