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Gov’t abuses grand jury system to indict Al-Arian

Published Jul 10, 2008 9:30 PM

If a prisoner in the U.S. has been found guilty, the Constitution says that person should not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. Shouldn’t this be even more so if the prisoner is innocent, if no charges have been proven against him or her? But the only way one can describe the authorities’ treatment of Dr. Sami Al-Arian is cruel, although in the U.S. it is all too usual.

On June 26, after he had spent over three years in prison, and two years after both the defense and the state had agreed on a deal to release and deport Al-Arian, the U.S. authorities brought new charges against him: two counts of contempt of court. His supporters have said this attempt to force him to testify is a clear perjury trap. Since there is no limit on sentencing for contempt, the court may sentence this father of five to life in prison.

Al-Arian, while a tenured professor at the University of South Florida, was arrested in 2003. At that time, Attorney General John Ashcroft called this seizure the “arrest of the most dangerous financier of Islamic Jihad in the Western world.” What this Palestinian man had done was raise funds for orphans and charities back home.

Through the last five years, his case has been viewed as one of the most extreme examples of racist and anti-Muslim persecution. The Justice Department spent $50 million prosecuting the case. After a six-month trial, a jury found no evidence that any crime had been committed.

Despite the failure to convict and in violation of the terms of release and deportation set by the Justice Department in the 2006 agreement, the authorities continued to refuse to release Al-Arian. Instead, they have tried to use and abuse the grand jury system to force him to give testimony against others. This he courageously has refused to do.

Supporters of the persecuted computer scientist are circulating a petition on his behalf. It can be found on the site of the International Action Center at iacenter.org. The petition, signed by human-rights and civil liberties activists and leaders of the Muslim community in the United States, demands that Al-Arian be released immediately.

Signers include, among others, human-rights activist Ramsey Clark; Laila Al-Arian, daughter of Sami Al-Arian; Muhammad Salim Akhtar, chair of American Muslim Alliance—Midwest Region; Malaak Shabazz, daughter of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X); Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid; Naib Ameer, MANA; Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers’ Guild; Ghazi KhanKan, American Muslim Alliance; Aliya Latif, civil rights director of Council on American-Islamic Relations; and Sara Flounders, co-director of International Action Center.

For more information on Al-Arian, see freesamialarian.com.