[Pnews] Sami Al-Arian - 5 years later & he's still under house arrest

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 22 12:27:58 EDT 2014

    5 years later, Fla.-Va. terrorism case in limbo

*Associated Press*
Published: May 22, 2014

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) --- For five years, a federal judge upset with the 
prosecution of a Florida professor once accused of being a leading 
terrorist has simply refused to rule on his case. It's left the 
government unable to deport him, unable to prosecute him, and flummoxed 
on how to move forward.

In April 2009, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema told lawyers she 
would rule "soon" on whether to dismiss criminal contempt charges filed 
in Virginia against former University of South Florida professor Sami 
Al-Arian, a longtime prominent Palestinian activist, who refused to 
testify in a separate terror-related investigation.

The ruling hasn't come, and nothing has happened in the case. The delay 
is unusual for Alexandria's federal courthouse, known in legal circles 
as the Rocket Docket for its swift disposition of cases. Legal experts 
say they can't think of a similar case elsewhere that has languished for 
so long.

On the surface at least, Al-Arian --- who has declined to invoke his 
speedy trial rights --- benefits from his silence and the standoff. If 
the Virginia case were dropped, Al-Arian, 56, born in Kuwait to 
Palestinian refugees before coming to the U.S. in 1975, would be 
deported under the terms of a Florida plea.

Instead, while he is technically on house arrest, Brinkema liberalized 
the conditions of Al-Arian's confinement last year. She gave him freedom 
to leave the house as long as he doesn't miss an unspecified curfew. And 
instead of having to deal with unsettled conditions in Egypt where he 
might be deported, he lives with his wife, Nahla, and his oldest 
daughter, one of his five children who he is free to see. All of 
Al-Arian's children were born in the U.S. and are U.S. citizens though 
his citizenship application was denied in the 1990s.

Al-Arian and his attorney, Jonathan Turley, declined to comment. In 
2008, Brinkema warned all sides to watch carefully what they said in 
public following several contentious hearings and a speech by 
then-presidential candidate Mike Gravel who, in defense of Al-Arian, 
urged people to pressure the prosecutor and "find out where his children 
go to school."

In the anxious months after the Sept. 11 attack, the Florida prosecution 
of Al-Arian exposed the polarized opinions that Americans held regarding 
the Bush administration's aggressive tactics in the Global War on Terror.

Al-Arian's critics said he was a leader of one of the most ruthless 
terrorist groups in the world --- the Palestinian Islamic Jihad --- and 
that he used his position as a computer science professor as a base to 
quietly raise money for attacks. His supporters saw a man who was 
trapped by anti-Muslim hysteria, unfairly snared in a vague, amorphous 
web of guilt-by-association when his real goal was to help his native 
people in the Palestinian territories.

In 2003, federal prosecutors in Florida filed an indictment alleging 
Al-Arian was a leader of the terrorist group and complicit in the murder 
of innocent civilians. A jury acquitted him on numerous counts, and was 
hung on others. A mistrial was declared.

Prosecutors and Al-Arian then cut a deal that they thought would be the 
end of it. He agreed to plead guilty to lesser charges, followed by a 
recommendation for time served and immediate deportation --- possibly to 
Egypt, where he lived before he came to the U.S. Specifically, he 
admitted to lesser charges including conspiring to aid the PIJ by 
helping a relative with links to the group get immigration benefits.

At Al-Arian's insistence, the deal also eliminated a standard provision 
requiring defendants to cooperate with government investigations.

But then, federal prosecutors in Virginia sought his testimony in a 
long-running, terror-related grand jury investigation of their own, 
focused on a Herndon-based organization called the International 
Institute of Islamic Thought, which was raided by the FBI in 2002 and 
provided funding to a think tank founded by Al-Arian.

Al-Arian was granted immunity and subpoenaed. U.S. attorneys argued that 
his plea deal bound federal prosecutors in Florida, but not in Virginia 
--- language that is typical in plea agreements. Al-Arian refused to 
testify and went on several hunger strikes.

Eventually, in 2008, the Virginia prosecutors charged him with criminal 
contempt. After some heated pretrial hearings in which the judge 
questioned whether the government was violating the spirit of the 
Florida plea deal, if not the letter of it, Brinkema canceled all 
further proceedings and essentially put the case on ice, where it remains.

Occasionally over the years, prosecutors have filed gentle reminders 
about the case's status that have been ignored. Brinkema declined to 

Pete White, a former prosecutor in the Eastern District of Virginia who 
is now a defense attorney, said it is rare for a criminal case to sit 
this long under these circumstances, especially in the Rocket Docket. 
There are no official statistics that document the rarity of a criminal 
case sitting in limbo for such a long time, but White and others said 
they could not think of a similar case, especially one that grew out of 
a terror-related investigation.

White said the only option prosecutors have to propel the case forward 
would be to file something called a writ of mandamus against Brinkema 
--- basically asking another judge to order her to take action.

Taking such a drastic step would be tricky for a U.S. Attorney's Office 
that appears in front of the judge for hundreds of cases every year.

The acting U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, Dana 
Boente, declined to comment on the Al-Arian case.

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who closely 
follows the federal courts in Virginia, said Brinkema has significant 
experience dealing with national security cases, and on several 
occasions has expressed frustration with the government's tactics in its 
pursuit of terror convictions.

When Brinkema presided over the trial of 9/11 conspirator Zacarias 
Moussaoui, she expressed chagrin when the government admitted after the 
trial that interrogations of certain al-Qaida detainees which were 
relevant had been videotaped, when the government represented at the 
time that no such tapes existed.

Brinkema suggested afterward that she can't trust what government 
agencies say about classified evidence in terror cases. She said she 
might order a new trial in another high-profile terror case --- northern 
Virginia Islamic scholar Ali al-Timimi, convicted of soliciting treason 
for urging followers to join the Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks. 
Unlike in the Al-Arian case, though, the judge has continued to hold 
hearings and issue rulings in that case.

"Maybe this is just her way of addressing ... her concerns about the 
government's case," Tobias said.

Indeed, in a March 2009 hearing, Brinkema expressed her opinion that 
Al-Arian may have been essentially hoodwinked.

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

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