Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 2006, page 10
Freeing Sami Al-Arian Will Help the U.S. Regain Our Higher Ground
By Paul Findley
A FEW days ago in Tampa, Florida, I spoke at a vigil seeking the release of Dr. Sami Al-Arian, still incarcerated after three years’ confinement for allegedly supporting terrorism. He is not the only person wrongly imprisoned in America these days, but he is one I have known and respected for more than a decade.
Until charged, he was a popular tenured professor in computer science at the University of South Florida. In 2000, although an immigrant hoping someday to attain citizenship in an independent Palestine and therefore not qualified to vote himself, he led a campaign that prompted 90 percent of Muslim voters in Florida to support George W. Bush for president.
The margin proved to be Bush’s key to the White House, but for Al-Arian the outcome became a personal irony. He was caught in the frenzy that followed the 9/11 horror. The unpatriotic PATRIOT Act was enacted by a panicky Congress, and Al-Arian, an enthusiastic supporter of Palestinian causes, was among hundreds of innocent people caught in a net spread by a new army of federal investigators hunting for terrorists among the Arab Muslims in our midst.
He languishes in jail even though, after a six-month trial, a jury of his peers failed to pin any guilt on him. The jury found him not guilty on eight of 15 counts that charged support for terrorism, and, although unable to agree on the remaining seven counts, in each instance 10 of the 12 jurors favored acquittal. All charges date back at least 15 years.
He remains in what amounts to solitary confinement, treated as an inmate too dangerous to release. Another costly, lengthy trial on the seven unsettled counts seems likely.
In its Dec. 19, 2005 issue, Time magazine reported that years of FBI investigation established “no real links between Al-Arian and terrorist acts. Nevertheless, says a former FBI supervisor involved in the case, in late 2002 word came down from [then-Attorney General John] Ashcroft to build an Al-Arian indictment. ”˜We were in shock, but those were our marching orders,’ says the supervisor, who felt that the Justice Department was rushing to indict before it had really appraised the evidence.”
The evidence actually suggests strongly that Ashcroft decided, whether there was proof or not, to make Al-Arian a terrorist trophy.
These are days of sacrifice and dislocation for all Americans—not just for Al-Arian. This great nation is in the grip of divisive, misdirected patriotism at home and costly war-making abroad. Once renowned as a safe haven for dispossessed and storm-tossed humankind from any corner of the earth and revered as the world champion of human rights through the rule of law, America is now sidetracked on a futile quest for security through the lethal force of arms abroad. At home, we pursue a double standard that harms severely the well-being of law-abiding residents like Al-Arian who seek nothing more than the protection of the civil liberties that are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
Al-Arian is, I believe, a victim of discrimination based on race and country of origin that one day will puzzle historians who attempt to examine and explain this errant period in our history.
It may be small comfort to his suffering family to know that the professor joins a long line of great people who, while incarcerated, composed some of their most moving statements. While locked up, Al-Arian has set on paper some of his finest compositions about liberty and justice.
His exoneration in the jury trial is a source of great joy and perhaps surprise to many people who had despaired of a favorable outcome in any proceedings that are cast in today’s dark shadows.
Now the opportunity for a still greater advance lies on the desk of Ashcroft’s successor as U.S. attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, who knows from the experience of his parents the challenges, opportunities and joys of immigration.
Sami Al-Arian has never been the slightest threat to our liberties. To the contrary, he is a bulwark to our precious traditions, and his release by Ashcroft’s successor would bring credit and worldwide praise to President Bush and all who serve his administration. If Attorney General Gonzales will order the dismissal of the charges left unsettled by the jury, he will quicken the spirit of all those who suffer discrimination. They will have reason to hope it heralds a new day of equal justice in this land.
The decision would help guide this troubled nation as it tries to regain the high road it once proudly traveled—where America can once again demonstrate that true security lies in liberty, not starting wars; in prompt justice, not in the law’s delays.
Paul Findley was a Member of Congress (R-IL) from 1961 to 1983, and is the author of five books, all available from the AET Book Club, the latest being Silent No More: Confronting America’s False Images of Islam. He resides in Jacksonville, IL.