Show trial in Florida: The Feds' witch-hunt of Sami Al-Arian goes to court

From the archive (legacy material)

Nicole Colson | The Socialist Worker, Page 2 | 10 June 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 trial.
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 charged 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 association.
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 innocent.”
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.
Visit for information.