Monday, June 13, 2005
Show Trial in Florida
The Feds' witch-hunt of Sami Al-Arian goes to court
Show trial in Florida
By Nicole Colson June 10, 2005
AFTER MORE than two years in prison--much of it spent in solitary
confinement--former University of South Florida professor and political
activist Sami Al-Arian finally went on trial in Tampa, Fla., this week.
There's little chance, however, that Al-Arian will be able to get a fair
Al-Arian faces counts of racketeering, conspiracy, materially aiding
terrorists and dozens of other charges, along with eight
co-defendants--Sameeh Hammoudeh, Hatem Fariz and Ghassan Ballut, as well
as five others who are being charges in absentia--in a case that began
more than a decade ago.
This trial is part of the U.S. government's post-September 11 witch-hunt
of Arabs and Muslims. The men are accused of using an academic think
tank, a Muslim school and a charity as a cover for raising money for the
Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a group that the U.S. State Department
labeled a "terrorist organization" in 1995.
The charges against Al-Arian have been investigated--and dismissed--by
the government before. But following September 11, the Feds renewed
their drive to get a conviction--arresting Al-Arian in a pre-dawn raid
on his home in February 2003.
The case against Al-Arian is full of holes. A large part of the charges
rest on anti-Israel statements supposedly made by Al-Arian--and guilt by
Last year, it was revealed that prosecutors were refusing to provide the
defense translations of more than 21,000 hours of prosecution wiretap
tape recordings in Arabic--or give Al-Arian access to numerous documents
in Arabic and Hebrew that are the bulk of their supposed "evidence."
According to the Chicago Tribune, search warrants and other related
materials from the early searches of Al-Arian's home and office were
mistakenly shredded by court officials.
As Georgetown University law professor David Cole told the New York
Times, "The government has built a very broad conspiracy case, and the
question is whether this will be a trial of Sami Al-Arian and what he
actually did or didn't do over the years, or a trial of Palestinian
Islamic Jihad itself and guilt by association."
Prosecutors have already largely succeeded in convicting Al-Arian in the
court of public opinion. From day one, Al-Arian has been vilified by
Florida's press and politicians.
He even became the target of TV spots in Florida's senatorial campaigns
last year, when GOP Senate candidate Mel Martinez criticized his
Democratic opponent, former University of South Florida President Betty
Castor, for not doing enough in the 1990s to run Al-Arian off campus.
Castor's camp shot back that it was Republicans who were "soft" on
Al-Arian--treating him as such a low security threat that he was able to
visit the White House shortly after George W. Bush won.
According to the Martinez campaign, so many campaign ads about Al-Arian
saturated the airwaves that the average TV viewer in Tampa, St.
Petersburg and Orlando saw them 40 times. Not surprisingly, more than
150 of the first 328 questionnaires returned by prospective jurors
showed such abundant bias that they were swiftly disqualified.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, among the prospective jurors who
made the first cut was one man who "said he thinks the government
wouldn't have spent so much time investigating Sami Al-Arian if he
hadn't done something wrong." Other prospective jurors reportedly
expressed the sentiment that "if [Al-Arian and the other defendants]
have nothing to hide, they would testify." Several also said that the
government "would not arrest him unless they had something on him," "our
legal system does not simply arrest people for no reason," or "where
there is smoke, there is fire."
Yet despite the clear indications that a fair trial in Florida will be
impossible, the judge has refused to allow a change of venue. As
Al-Arian's lawyer, William Moffitt, said: "This is probably the first
time that I will go into a case believing that my client is not presumed
Letters of support can be sent Dr. Sami Al-Arian #05007418, Orient Road
Jail, 1201 Orient Rd., Tampa, FL 33619. Donations to help cover the cost
of Al-Arian's legal expenses can be made to the National Liberty Fund,
P.O. Box 3568, Washington, D.C. 20007.
<http://www.freesamialarian.com> for information.