One of my readers, Miriam, informed me yesterday that a federal judge granted Palestinian former academic, Sami Al-Arian bail in a case brought by the federal government to compel him to testify against a pro-Palestinian think tank. The judge also warned the Justice Department prosecutors not to engage in improper conduct by scuttling Dr. Al-Arian’s ability to settle in countries which have expressed a willingness to accept him once he is deported from the U.S.
Those who have followed a litany of Justice Department anti-terror cases since 9/11 will know its record of abject failure. The original Al-Arian case was no different in that the feds failed to gain a conviction. The defendant agreed to a plea bargain by which he would plead guilty to a lesser charge and accept deportation to a foreign country. The Bush Administration, however, has refused to deport Al-Arian as it originally agreed to do, instead attempting to embroil him in a completely new case for which he has refused to testify.
One of the important themes of this blog is critiquing the American Jewish press; especially its generally inadequate coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Usually, I have fairly good things to say about a few publications, one of which is The Forward. But not today. Nathan Guttman published a story in yesterday’s Forward which missed most of the developments mentioned above (the reporter claims his story was written before they happened–though I note it was published after), but succeeded in presenting an entirely partisan version of the Al-Arian story without including any fully-informed dissenting voice.
I asked Guttman why he did not include an interview with the Florida professor’s laywer, Jonathan Turley. Guttman wrote me that he called him but received no reply. This doesn’t explain why he couldn’t have found someone who could fully explain Al-Arian’s perspective on the charges. The best Guttman can do is quote a law professor who says something far less definitive than the reporter claims:
The government’s new charge against Al-Arian was met with accusations that the prosecution had an agenda beyond compelling the professor to testify.
“Contempt of court is a legitimate tactic to squeeze information from someone who had a minor role in the alleged crime,” said Clifford Fishman, a law professor at Catholic University in Washington. “But it is also used sometimes as a back door to impose punishment when they cannot prove the case against a defendant, and that use isn’t kosher.”
You’ll note that nowhere does Fishman say that the Al-Arian case DOES constitute abuse of the contempt of court provision.
The real shocker in the story is Guttman’s inclusion of an interview with an anti-Jihadi terror “expert” affiliated with the noted Islamophobe, Steve Emerson (an association Guttman fails to note):
According to the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a not-for-profit organization that monitors radical Islamic groups, Al-Arian is staying silent in an effort to cover up other alleged terrorism-related activities.
“I think his motivation is not to tell the truth about the depth of his support for other tentacles of the operation he is involved in,” said Michael Fechter, a researcher at the Investigative Project on Terrorism who, when he was a reporter for The Tampa Tribune, covered Al-Arian’s 2006 trial.
So the federal government fails precisely in proving Al-Arian has any connection to “terror-related activities” in its first trial. Yet this supposed expert, whose main claim to expertise appears to lie in the fact that he was a reporter at one time for the Tampa Tribune, gets to trot out the old charges as if they were true. And note that Fechter provides no new proof of the charges–in fact he provides no proof whatsoever, which is a classic trait of the Islamophobic right (Pipes, Horowitz, Jacobs, Dershowitz, et al.).
The report closes with a breathless recounting of how severely Al-Arian could be punished if found guilty:
There is no maximum penalty for criminal contempt charges, and the sentence can be lengthened on the basis of what is known as “terrorist enhancement,” which allows courts to impose tougher sentences in cases involving terrorist activity.
Given the Justice Department’s long record of failure in such cases, you’d think a judicious journalist might note the possiblity that the same could happen in this case. This story is yet another example of the less than adequate job Jewish journalism is doing in informing American Jews about the contentious issues that relate to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Your comprehensive and compelling analysis of the Al Arian case, offers stark contrast with Guttman’s ‘spin’ piece that reads more like propaganda for aipac than a journalist’s effort to report facts, unbiased and with balance.
Thank you Richard for being the thoughtful and conscientious man you are–(Amazing Jonah’s dad!)
This case in general has been a tough one to ollow…literally and figuratively these last 5 yrs. FIVE YRS! He’s been in prison, shifted round and round from one security site to another, without notice, without explanation and without his wife and children knowing where he is.Kept in Isolation. Without mattress, blanket warmth. Limited cell phone to family once/monthly. Family’s rights to husband and father have been completely ignored; as can be witnessed in the the outstanding Norweigian doc-film about his hellish incarceration– “USA versus Al Arian” – Recently aired on LINK TV and is downloadable for free at their website btw. (http://www.usavsalarian.com/) The younger kids suffered the loss hardest, spending five years of their child’s lives without Dad –emotionally scarring; his supportive wife without a sense of when/if she’ll see him next and how their lives have been turned upside down by the govt’s witch-hunt. This is at its heart about being (an outspoken peace activist for Palestine) while Muslim. Most American Jews are raised in complete ignorance over Palestinian resistance to occupation. Its analogous to living in the Warsaw ghetto under nazi occupation and being expected to adapt and shut up.
Dr Al Arian came close to death on several occasions because his diabetes was exacerbated due to his fasting to protest the abusive treatment. Supporters continued to call the prison pleading with them to put him in hospital. They did not.
(My heartfelt thanks to the Tampa Bay Coalition for keeping American activists informed!) National media did not find his plight newsworthy; a near blackout of his pre-trial, trial and post trial crises these many months.
No reporting about government’s reneging their signed agreement with him to not have to testify at a 3rd grand jury, nor any mention he offered numerous times to take polygraph exams. Guttman fails us all, when he doesn’t do a proper journalist’s job. These sorts of injustices have been occurring for years under the Bush regime but many seem to not care to know what is being done in our names. Forgive my rant..but its all media not just obviously Jewish press that has failed us. I’ll close with a Thomas Jefferson quote: ” The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.” –Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1823.”
Peace and all good, Richard!/Miriam
Thanks Richard and Miriam,
I have much respect for this principled man. What a travesty of justice. Democracy Now is the only media I know of which faithfully keeps us informed.
I wish him and his family the best. Please let him know, Miriam, if you are in contact with him, that some of us are at least breaking the silence around his situation.
Dear Ellen, thank you for your post, your concern and desire to remain informed. Often its felt like no one was listening so impenetrable the news blackout— seemed inevitable to learn about the connections between a politicized Dept of (in)Justice, US Attorneys, specific types of cases being pursued and what targets. With an in house gang of Regent U law grads who like good nazis ‘Just Follow Orders” the firing of 9 US attorneys and thousands of Muslim and Arab men who were and have been profiled, rounded up, imprisoned and deported for minor technical violations for years, none of us should be surprised that a man the calibre of Al Arian would be swept up– cannot help but remind us of the Gestapo round ups. thankful for Democracy Now which has brought intermittent reports on this travesty of American jurisprudence..and for guys like Richard Silverstein and John Sugg /Atlanta who wrote about this case.
There was an recent address posted at the Tampa Bay Coalition site with Dr Al Arian’s snail mail address for the Hampton Roads Jail, but there’s always the chance that he will be moved or even FREE on bail —be sure that I will post the BEST ADDRESS TO WRITE TO HIM as soon as I hear back from the Tampa Bay organizers. just in case here’s the current: Dr Sami Al Arian, Hampton Roads Regional Jail, POBox 7609, Portsmouth, VA, 23707.
BTW, as of 2005 his legal expenses went over $1million so that may be part of another phase of national campaign efforts to pay down his legal fees. With Richard’s permission I will share whatever information/updates I have to get us all to the same page.
Peace to all/Miriam
close with this quote:
“The case against Clevinger was open and shut. The only thing missing was something to charge him with.”
– Joseph Heller, Catch-22
John Dickerson says
THE FOLLOWING WAS CONTAINED IN A 6/27/08 E-MAIL FROM THE “WASHINGTON REPORT ON MIDDLE EAST AFFAIRS”:
For more information about Dr. Al-Arian’s case, please:
Read articles available on the Washington Report’s home page: http:www.wrmea.com
See today’s Washington Post article “Former Professor Indicted In Muslim Charities Case”
by Jerry Markon, Friday, June 27, 2008; B02
Please visit: .
Read an article by Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Chris Hedges:
To contribute to Dr. Al-Arian’s legal defense, please send checks to:
National Liberty Fund
P.O. Box 1211 24525 E. Welches Road
Welches, OR 97067
John Dickerson says
You can also contribute online to Dr. Al-Arian’s defense here:
The Al-Arian case is truly tragic. It depresses me that our country has descended to such a disgustingly barbaric state that we would target and seek to destroy a man because of his ethnicity and religion–and his inconvenient political views. It’s an illustration of how Otheri-zed and dehumanized Arab Palestinians have become in the U.S. It is hard to recognize the America I love in this assault on a man’s dignity (although why should I be surprised given our various current depredations around the world). Alexander Cockburn writing in the Nation magazine has been passionate and eloquent on this topic (in the latest issue of the Nation, and Cockburn had an article on Al-Arian a while back as well). Americans all over the country should be outraged and appalled by our nation’s treatment of Sami Al-Arian.