John Sugg: What Took So Long? (1/19)Jan. 19, 2005
Why 20 years to build the Al-Arian case? Maybe the evidence wasn't there.
By John F. Sugg
Link: Click hereSami Al-Arian must pose a very serious threat to the United States. After all, the government has spent tens of millions of your dollars over two decades trying to trap the wily former University of South Florida professor. And, shucks, the Tampa Tribune has been calling him a terrorist for a decade, so it must be true.
Well, maybe not.
The government has termed as irrelevant the government's own analysis that the group Al-Arian is accused of supporting has never targeted America. And despite lurid recounting of 14 terrorist actions in the Feb. 2003 indictment of Al-Arian, there is no proof offered - or even an allegation made - that the academic sponsored, funded, planned, participated in or had advance knowledge of the violent acts.
Strange doings, and as we'll see, the feds' case looks weaker at every hearing prior to the scheduled April trial of Al-Arian and three co-defendants.
Why has the government been sooooooo relentless in its persecution of Al-Arian? It's instructive to note whom the feds are not prosecuting. You get a hint of what the Al-Arian case is all about, and why the United States is perceived as anything but even-handed by much of the world.
For example, last May, two groups of Israelis -- both claiming to be "movers" or "deliverymen" - were apprehended by authorities in separate incidents in the South near highly sensitive defense establishments.
One group of "movers" was collared in Tennessee after a high-speed chase. They were observed tossing a toxic liquid from their moving van, and had fake identification and a flight school business card in their possession. About the only significant industry in Unicoi County, where the chase occurred, is the nation's primary supplier of nuclear fuel for naval ships.
Days later, two other Israelis were nabbed trying to sneak into Kings Bay Naval Base - home to much of the nuclear submarine fleet - near St. Marys, Ga.
Intelligence sources, including former CIA officials Vince Cannistraro and Philip Giraldi, have concluded that in the Tennessee incident, the Israelis had stolen byproducts of the submarine nuclear fuel.
In both cases last May, the Israelis were quickly and quietly deported for visa violations. More than 250 Israelis considered spies by our spooks have been deported, usually for "visa violations," since 9/11. (Israeli always denies spying on America - as it did for years in the Jonathan Pollard case. Giraldi calls such denials "fatuous.")
So, if people doing real damage to the United States merit only a polite deportation, what gives with Al-Arian?
Another example: Al-Arian's indictment focuses on what he and his co-defendants thought and said, statements such as: "Blood will flow until the complete liberation of our country Palestine."
Yet, we never hear about, say, recently deceased former Israeli army chief Rafael Eitan, who pronounced: "We declare openly that the Arabs have no right to settle on even one centimeter of Eretz Israel," which includes much of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. "When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches."
First, it should be a relief to know that Al-Arian has been knocked down a peg or two on the neo-con scale of really scary bad guys. When prosecutors first indicted Al-Arian, they had accused him being the financial mastermind of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as the boss of the group in the United States. Apparently it just ain't so.
"Now they've demoted my husband," quipped Nahla Al-Arian with a twist of sad humor.
In an update of the indictment last September, the reference to Sami Al-Arian as the U.S. head of the Islamic Jihad is missing, as well as his role as a sort of Meyer Lansky moneyman for the group. Call the earlier description a big "oops" by a prosecution team led by none other than the man who would be Homeland Security chief, former Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, who has headed or been a member of several GOP political lynch mobs, including the Whitewater jihad against Bill Clinton and botched anti-terrorism cases à la Al-Arian in Detroit and Boise.
You can learn a lot about prosecutors' motives from reading indictments. In the first Al-Arian indictment, for example, Palestinian lands are described as "occupied territories." Israel spin docs don't like that description - after all, it's the bedraggled Palestinians who are to blame for everything, not the brutal occupation - so by the second indictment, we only read about "territories."
To understand just how bad the G-men's case is, we need to time-travel back only to last week, to a hearing on whether the government had waited too long to indict Al-Arian.
Since Al-Arian first came under the lawmen's microscope - a full two decades ago - he has been bugged, scoped, snooped and searched. Despite the years of scrutiny, no charges were brought against him. At the hearing last week, Al-Arian's attorneys asked that the case be dismissed. American jurisprudence - an institution paid scant attention by the Bush regime - holds it unfair to wait years and years to indict someone. Evidence disappears, memories fail, witnesses die.
No problem, declared chief prosecutor Terry Zitek. It's not when the investigation began that counts, but when it ended - a few months before the indictment. Predictably, the somnambulant daily newspaper reporters didn't bother to peek at the indictment. Few of the "overt acts" alleged occurred in the months prior to the indictment, and very few of those involved Al-Arian.
Acts before 1996 - when the Islamic Jihad was declared a terrorist organization - wouldn't have been illegal. After 1996, most of the acts attributed to Al-Arian are hardly insidious or criminal. He sent faxes. He had what the government calls a "coded conversation." He discussed newspaper articles. He contemplated and prepared for an assault by the feds.
What's clear is that the bulk of Al-Arian's activities that interested prosecutors took place more than a decade ago. So the question remains: Why no indictment until the heart of the case was stone cold dead?
The answer: After Al-Arian's brother-in-law won exoneration before a federal immigration judge, Israel came forward claiming it has "secret evidence," and made it available through such trusted government allies as the Trib's Michael Fechter and the New York Times' Judith Miller. The government - our government, that is - has refused to disclose that evidence.
And another answer is that the government never had a case. That was the opinion of the FBI's then-counterterrorism chief Bob Blitzer six years ago, and of prosecutor Bob O'Neill, who previously headed the Al-Arian probe.
Final thought: The indictment is based on about 300,000 intercepted conversations. The defense attorneys are incensed that many of the conversations Al-Arian is known to have had - with members of Congress and other officials - are missing. (Previously, the government admitted it also had destroyed files in the case.)
Zitek responded that the missing conversations were "minimized" - destroyed because they weren't, um, relevant. The defense counters: Sez who? The much more likely explanation is that the purged evidence shows Al-Arian to be an educator, a advocate for his people, an activist - all protected by the U.S. Constitution.
The government - Israel's, that is - doesn't want you to know that Al-Arian.