Statement by the Blue Triangle Network on the Arrest of Professor Sami Al-Arian

From the archive (legacy material)

Blue Triangle Network (Refuse and Resist) | Blue Triangle Network – Solidarity USA | April 2003

The Blue Triangle Network expresses grave concern over the arrest of Professor Sami Al-Arian in Tampa, Florida and four others on terrorism-related allegations. Professor Al-Arian has undertaken a hunger strike in jail to protest his arrest, and this too is a cause for concern.
After his arrest, Al-Arian made this statement: “I’m crucified today because of who I am: a stateless Palestinian, an Arab, a Muslim, an outspoken advocate for Palestinian rights, but more significantly a persistent defender of civil and constitutional rights on the home front.”
Whether or not the government is able to prove that Professor Al-Arian, or the others indicted, carried out any of the specific acts of which they are accused, the central issue here is this: the unlimited power of the government to single out a person for his or her political stance, conduct unlimited covert surveillance and then bring criminal charges. To be blunt, that is just what a police state looks like.
Professor Al-Arian has been the target of U.S. government surveillance for 15 years, during which time he was known as a vocal supporter of Palestinian rights. He also attracted government attention because of his participation in the campaign against the use of secret evidence as a tool to detain Muslim and Arab immigrants in the years before Sept. 11, 2001. In the period since 9/11, Professor Al-Arian became an outspoken and eloquent critic of the attacks on civil liberties and attacks on Muslim, Arab and South Asian immigrants that were carried out by the U.S. Government.
Immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, Professor Al-Arian was suspended from his University of South Florida position because of his political views. Unsubstantiated accusations were made that alleged he was connected with Palestinian groups which had been labeled as “terrorist” by the U.S. government. In particular, he was singled out for using the phrase “death to Israel” during a speech. It is a long established standard in the U.S. legal system that such political advocacy is protected free speech. In the past few months, he had won some victories in his court fights to prevent the University from firing him.
After 15 years of surveillance, the government had not been able to bring any criminal charges against Professor Al-Arian. Now come the indictments and arrests of February 20.
The indictment against Al-Arian details political statements and political activity over the years. For example, the indictment states he attended an April 7, 1991 conference in Cleveland, Ohio and that allegedly “SAMI AMIN AL-ARIAN further mentioned the Gulf War, and questioned why they stopped the protests against it. He then said they should continue the protests, continue to damn America, continue to damn Israel, and continue to damn the allies of America and Israel until death.” (It should also be pointed out that while the indictments of Professor Al-Arian and the others have been handed down in the name of U.S. national security, the things they are accused of doing were entirely focused in Palestine and Israel.) We must ask, why are perfectly legal political speech and activities listed in a criminal indictment? What is this meant to prove?
The government is basing its indictments on alleged evidence gathered from wiretaps authorized by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This is a court which meets in secret and whose proceedings are totally unknown to the subjects of its deliberations. For 25 years any information gathered by these wiretaps could not be used in a criminal case. This was because, until late last year, these wiretaps had been supposedly for counterintelligence purposes, i.e. for spying on people who the government said were spying on the U.S., and not for gathering evidence for criminal prosecutions. The constitutional standards that apply in criminal courts and which must be met to obtain the wiretaps, did not apply. Late last year a secret appeals court ruled that this information could now be used as “evidence” in criminal cases. The government says it can now use the “evidence” gathered over the last 15 years against Professor Al-Arian.
What does this mean in reality? A secret court can authorize secret surveillance that will be used to collect secret evidence based only on the government’s claim that someone is “working as an agent of a foreign power.” There is absolutely no requirement, as in a criminal court, to present factual evidence that a crime has been committed or is about to be committed in order to obtain a wiretap. Instead, the government can place people under electronic surveillance permanently without claiming that they have evidence of criminal activity.
What is wrong with this picture? Why is it legitimate for there to be a separate legal system that applies completely different standards of rights and justice towards anyone the government wants to label as a “terrorist?”
Under this system there is no protection for people targeted in this way. The restrictions on government spying on people inside this country that were put into place in the past were necessary because it had been shown that the government often blatantly fabricated “evidence” against opponents of its actions. The FBI’s plots against leaders and organizations in the people’s movements of the 1960’s are well documented. The surveillance and disinformation campaigns waged against Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Panther Party and the anti-war movement were also justified as necessary for “national security.”
This has a double chilling effect. It is a warning to all political activists, as White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer stated after 9/11, “People have to watch what they say and watch what they do.” It is also a threat to people from other countries that they may face criminal charges in the U.S. if they carry out political opposition to U.S. actions around the world while they are here.
These methods have been directed against Muslim, Arab and South Asian immigrants in the U.S. in a wholesale dismantling of civil liberties. These are all measures, which, in effect, portray the Muslim, Arab and South Asian immigrants in this country as “the enemy within.” They have made the very fact of being a Muslim cause for suspicion by law enforcement, government officials and uninformed citizens. This demonization has produced calls for mass detentions of Arab-Americans similar to the rounding up of Japanese-Americans in 1942. Such alarming proposals have been expressed by government officials and elected representatives such as U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Kirsanow and U.S. Congressman Coble.
This is cause for serious alarm for all those concerned with protecting civil liberties and stopping the repression being directed against Muslim, Arab and South Asian immigrants.
Signed by:
Blue Triangle Network
[The prosecution of Professor Al-Arian is a particularly egregious example of the denial of basic civil liberties in the name of the war on terrorism. The web pages prepared by the University of Florida Faculty are a good source of information on this case: ]]