In the meantime, al-Arian remained in custody pending sentencing and deportation. He expected to be freed on May 1, 2006. But the presiding judge changed the deal. He sentenced al-Arian to the maximum 57 months, gave him credit for time served, and ordered him held for the remaining 11 months, after which an April 2007 deportation would follow.
In October 2006, assistant prosecutor Gordon Kromberg violated the plea bargain terms by subpoenaing Al-Arian before a grand jury. His defense attorneys tried to block it by citing his “no-grand jury cooperation” promise. But prosecutors gutted the cooperation clause from the agreement, which was made during plea negotiations (when to prevent the DOJ from springing a perjury-obstruction trap). The defense’s motion was denied, and on November 16 Al-Arian again refused to testify and again was held in civil contempt.
A month later, the grand jury expired, a new one was convened, and al-Arian was again subpoenaed to testify. He continued to refuse, was held in contempt, and had his sentence increased by an additional year to April 7, 2008.
On March 3, 2008, Kromberg ordered al-Arian before still another March 19 grand jury, three weeks before his scheduled release and deportation. On the same day, al-Arian began his third hunger strike against the government’s continued harassment. For a man with diabetes, lack of food is life-threatening; he needs regular sustenance to avoid serious health problems. Al-Arian’s January through March, 2007 hunger strike had depleted a quarter of his body weight. His family says it gravely harmed him, and ended only at their urging.
Twenty days into his latest fast, and having lost 30 pounds, al-Arian was shuttled to various medical facilities. On March 18, he was returned to Warsaw, Virginia’s Northern Neck Regional jail ahead of his third grand jury appearance. Again, he refused to testify.
Because he refused to testify before a federal grand jury after the court held that he had no legal basis for refusing, in November 2006 he was held in civil contempt and imprisoned by a federal court judge in Virginia. He served 13 months on this charge until the court lifted its contempt order in December 2007. In June of 2008, at the behest of Kromberg, al-Arian was indicted on two counts of criminal contempt for not testifying.
In September 2008, al-Arian was released from detention on bond. He remains under house arrest as he awaits trial on criminal contempt charges. For the first time in over five years, he was reunited with his family, but his ordeal continues. On this occasion alone, he has been waiting for his day in court for more than three years.
The Virginia grand jury that al-Arian has refused to appear before was investigating a Herndon, Va.-based think tank, the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), and its alleged terrorism financing and support networks.
The government claims IIIT gave money to a PIJ-related think tank in Tampa that al-Arian once ran. During the mid 1990s, this think tank employed several PIJ members, the government said, including Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, who left Tampa in 1995 for Syri at to assume leadership of PIJ. The PIJ affiliations of Shallah and others were acknowledged by al-Arian in his plea agreement.
At the time, his attorney, Professor Jonathan Turley, called the Justice Department’s ploy “a classic perjury trap used repeatedly by the government to punish those individuals who could not be convicted before an American jury.”
Obama’s prosecutors proved to be as ruthless as their predecessors. For example, DOJ asked the Court to deny a defense motion, filed 18 months earlier, to dismiss criminal contempt charges. Three previous DOJ motions were rejected.
This time, Holder prosecutors not only requested denying the defense’s dismissal motion, but asked Judge Brinkema to reverse her earlier decision letting al-Arian’s attorneys present evidence in case of trial.
In March 2009, she backed the defense’s request to file a motion to dismiss al-Arian’s charges, saying she’d rule later at further hearings, and expressing concern over government “bait and switch” tactics: “where Dr. al-Arian and his counsel were assured that, if he agreed to plead guilty (to one minor charge), he would not be subject to any further involvement with the DOJ beyond his deportation following the completion of his sentence.” Bush prosecutors reneged on the agreement and Obama’s lawyers followed suit. Judge Brinkema has never ruled on this request.
Al-Arian’s former appeals attorney, Professor Peter Erlinder, a former president of the National Lawyers Guild, said:
“The prosecution of Dr. Sami al-Arian was a blatant attempt to silence political speech and dissent in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy. The nature of the political persecution of this case has been demonstrated throughout all its aspects, not only during the trial and the never-ending right-wing media onslaught, but also after the stunning defeat of the government in 2005, and its ill-advised abuse of the grand jury system thereafter.”
Others who have followed the al-Arian case are equally critical. For example, Lawrence Davidson, professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester, Pennsylvania, told this reporter, “Bush thoroughly corrupted the Justice Department by stacking it with Christian Fundamentalists on the one hand and rabid Zionists on the other.”
He added, “The al-Arian case is a classical case of injustice and ideological corruption of the justice system. The judge (appointed by Bill Clinton) as well as the prosecutors should be disbarred. Everyone on the government side acted unethically, if not illegally.”
There is at least one further irony in the seemingly endless prosecution of Dr. al-Arian. Early in his trial, the judge ruled that information concerning the Israeli-Palestinian dispute could not be admitted as evidence. Yet that dispute is at the very center of the case and of al-Arian’s life. Were there no Israeli-Palestinian dispute, there would be no trial.
One wonders why al-Arian and not someone else? Glenn Greenwald gives a plausible explanation:
“In reality, al-Arian has been persecuted for one reason only: because he’s a Palestinian activist highly critical of the four-decade brutal Israeli occupation.”
Simply Unbelievable!! Dr. Sami Al-Arian’s Struggle for Justice
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