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.