Al-Arian still jailed, on hunger strike

On March 3, jailed Palestinian professor Sami Al-Arian was informed that he would be called to testify before a grand jury in Virginia which is investigating allegations that Muslim charities aided terrorism organizations. Al-Arian responded by starting a hunger strike the same day, refusing all food and water. On March 20, Al-Arian appeared before the grand jury and declined to testify. Later on March 20 Al-Arian began drinking water, but he continues to fast at the Northern Neck Regional jail in Warsaw, Va. (On March 12 he was transferred to a medical prison in Butner, NC, but on March 18 he was returned to the Warsaw jail.) Over the course of this latest hunger strike Al-Arian, who is diabetic, has lost 30 pounds; he has not been offered an IV or treatment for any of his symptoms, including chest pains, severe dehydration and headaches.

This is Al-Arian’s third hunger strike since he was arrested on Feb. 20, 2003, on charges of conspiracy to aid the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Following his arrest, Al-Arian went on a liquid-only hunger strike that lasted 140 days. He was hospitalized and lost 45 pounds. On Jan. 22, 2007, after being held in civil contempt for not testifying before a grand jury, Al-Arian went on a water-only hunger strike for 60 days. He lost 55 pounds, was hospitalized and was confined to a wheelchair.

On Dec. 6, 2005, a jury acquitted Al-Arian of eight charges and deadlocked 10-2 for acquittal on another nine charges. When the government threatened to retry him on the remaining counts, Al-Arian pleaded guilty on April 14, 2006, to a single count of conspiracy to “make or receive funds… for the benefit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” In May 2006 Judge James S. Moody Jr. of Federal District Court in Tampa sentenced Al-Arian to 57 months in prison with credit for time served. The plea agreement was based on the understanding that the government would not seek his testimony in future terrorism cases, and that he would be deported as soon as his term was up.

Al-Arian is declining to testify before the grand juries because he doesn’t want anyone “to be persecuted the way he was,” said Jonathan Turley, his attorney. Under his original plea agreement, Al-Arian was due to be released in April 2007, but he served an additional year for refusing to testify before the grand jury in January 2007. Just as Al-Arian was due to be released on April 7 of this year, the government again brought him before a grand jury, knowing he would refuse to testify. “You have a great injustice being perpetrated by the Justice Department,” said Turley. “They’ve daisy-chained three grand jury investigations to prolong his incarceration.”

Al-Arian’s supporters are concerned that the grand jury subpoena is an attempt by Assistant US Attorney Gordon Kromberg to ensnare Al-Arian in a perjury trap. According to Al-Arian’s daughter, Laila Al-Arian, Kromberg “has made on-the-record anti-Muslim statements; he said he doesn’t want to assist in the, quote, ‘Islamization of America and of he American justice system.'”

For information on Al-Arian’s case see, the website of the Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace. (Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace press releases, March 3, 25; Washington Post, March 22; statement from Jonathan Turley, March 22; Democracy Now, March 21 column by attorney Peter Erlinder in Jurist, March 11)

From Immigration News Briefs, March 29

See our last posts on the politics of immigration, Sami Al-Arian and other Palestinians caught in the web.

  1. False Claims by Al Arian
    This article relies on press releases that are part of a disinformation campaign. You should do some fact checking and go to the original documents like the plea bargain and learn that Al Arian signed a document that specifically said the agreement was limited to the Office of the US Attorney for the Middle District of Florida and the Counterterrorism Section of the Department of Justice; in other words, not only is he NOT shelded from testifying before a Grand Jury, he is still liable for prosecution by other authorities for other crimes he may have committed.

    The Court found his claim of immunity to be incorrect:

    No false claims in press releases will change the fact that he pled guilty to supporting a terrorist organization. The Judge got it right when he called Al Arian a master manipulator.

    All he needs to do is tell the truth to the Grand Jury and he can go home.

    1. constitutional safeguards
      I never said he was shielded from testifying by the plea agreement. I said: “The plea agreement was based on the understanding that the government would not seek his testimony in future terrorism cases, and that he would be deported as soon as his term was up.” Originally they tried to get him to sign a plea agreement that would have required him to testify, and he refused to sign that. The government was forced to take that clause out for the final agreement, which was understood to mean they wouldn’t require him to testify. Unfortunately for him, that understanding was not put in writing in the agreement, and the government has reneged on it.

      If you were held as long as he was in solitary confinement, you’d probably plead guilty to just about anything. In fact, Al-Arian only plea-bargained to one charge of providing services to people the government has associated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, specifically: hiring an attorney for his brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, during Al-Najjar’s deportation hearings in the late 1990s; filling out immigration forms for a resident Palestinian scholar from Britain; and not disclosing details of his colleague’s political associations to a local reporter.

      Are you suggesting that the jurors who refused to find Al-Arian guilty on a single count were manipulated? Who manipulated them? Al-Arian’s defense didn’t call a single witness during trial. After reviewing the prosecution’s piles of “evidence,” the jury acquitted Al-Arian of most of the serious charges. On the remaining charges, jurors voted 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal. The two jurors who wanted to convict Al-Arian told their fellow jurors they were relying on their “feelings.” They were the only jurors who were regular readers of the Tampa Tribune, a rightwing daily that had been bad-mouthing Al-Arian for years.

      Why don’t you just admit that you agree with the judge and those two holdout jurors–despite the fact that no evidence supports your position? Why not admit you just have a “feeling” he’s a bad guy, and you believe constitutional safeguards like “innocent until proven guilty” and “freedom of speech” should be suspended on the basis of your feelings.

      As for “he should tell the truth to the grand jury and he can go home,” the chances are great that if he testifies, the government would attempt to set a perjury trap. The government has shown that it is not content to deport him, and will continue to harass him and violate his rights as long as it can. Presumably this is being done as a favor to the Israeli government, who doesn’t want any articulate opponents of its policies to be free to express their views.

      If people want to learn more about Al-Arian’s case, rightwing blogs which dedicate themselves to attacking Muslims are not the place to go. In addition to, which obviously supports him but is committed to accuracy in its facts, people can get information and a fresh perspective from the new documentary film, USA vs. Al-Arian, which can be viewed on Link TV at .