Alexander Cockburn: The Persecution of Sami Al-Arian
Posted by uscsjp on March 23, 2007
One of the first big show trials here in the post-9/11 homeland was of a Muslim professor from Florida, now 49, Sami al-Arian. Pro-Israel hawks had resented this computer professor at the University of South Florida long before Atta and the hijackers flew their planes into the Trade towers, because they saw al-Arian, a Palestinian born in Kuwait of parents kicked out of their Homeland in 1948, as an effective agitator here for the Palestinian cause. As John Sugg, a fine journalist, then based in Tampa, who’s followed al-Arian’s tribulations for years, wrote in the spring of 2006 on this website:
“When was al-Arian important? More than a decade ago, when Israel’s Likudniks in the United States, such as [Steven] Emerson, were working feverishly to undermine the Oslo peace process. No Arab voice could be tolerated, and al-Arian was vigorously trying to communicate with our government and its leaders. He was being successful, making speeches to intelligence and military commanders at MacDill AFB’s Central Command, inviting the FBI and other officials to attend meetings of his groups. People were beginning to listen and to wonder why only one side of the Middle East debate was heard here. That was the reason for Al-Arian’s political prosecution.”
Now the United States is a country that is blessed by a constitution, a Bill of Rights and the rule of law, all of them upheld with degrees of enthusiasm that rise and fall according to sex, income and ethnicity. The fall is particularly drastic if your name is Arab, you publicly profess the justice of the Palestinian cause. Living in Florida doesn’t help either.
At the direct instigation of Attorney General Ashcroft, the feds threw the book at al-Arian in February 2003. He was arrested with much fanfare and charged in a bloated terrorism and conspiracy case. He spent two and a half years in prison, in solitary confinement under atrocious conditions. To confer with his lawyers, he had to hobble half a mile, shackled hand and foot, his law files balanced on his back.
The six-month trial in US District Court in Tampa featured 80 government witnesses (including 21 from Israel) and 400 intercepted phone calls (the results of a decade of surveillance and half a million recorded calls). The government’s evidence against Al-Arian consisted of speeches he gave, magazines he edited, lectures he presented, articles he wrote, books he owned, conferences he organized, rallies he attended, news he heard and websites no one accessed. One bit of evidence consisted of a conversation a co-defendant had with al-Arian in his dream. The defense rested without calling a single witness or presenting any evidence since the government’s case rested entirely on First Amendment protected activities. (continued)