Day 60 of hunger strike (3/22)
Mar. 22, 2007
Day 60 of hunger strike
TAMPA -- Today is Day 60 of Dr. Sami Al-Arian's hunger strike for
justice, in which he has lost 55 pounds or more than 25 percent of
his body weight. Please see below two recent articles about his
deteriorating physical condition:
USF Oracle, 3/22/07
Al-Arian continues deteriorating
By David Guidi, Asst. News Editor
Sami Al-Arian slumped forward in his wheelchair Saturday, reached
forward and grasped a black chess piece to make his next move, as
his wife, Nahla, looked on. His hand trembled, one of the many tolls
exacted by a hunger strike approaching 60 days.
Nahla said he looked at his 16-year-old son, Ali, across the table
of the crowded visiting room of the Butler, N.C., federal medical
detention facility. Ali and the five other members of the Al-Arian
family - two older sisters, an older brother, a younger sister and
his mother - looked back at a father and husband 53 pounds lighter
than when they last saw him in December.
The piece fell from his hand. A few minutes later he dropped another
one. The weakness of taking only water for nourishment for 57 days
made it difficult for Al-Arian, 49, to control delicate hand
movements, like holding a chess piece. Then it happened again. And
"We were all shocked and upset," Nahla said. "He wanted to show the
youngest ones that he was OK. But they were worried. We are all very
Al-Arian's hunger strike - begun Jan. 22 in protest of his continued
incarceration - has left him a physical shell of the man his family
knew, Nahla said. He can no longer walk and trembles constantly, and
while he still laughs and jokes, his voice is a soft rustle compared
to what it one was.
"He is so weak. We couldn't believe it was him," she said Wednesday,
following family visits on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. "When I saw
him, I thought that this is not the man I knew before, but then he
began to talk and I could still recognize his voice."
The toll on Al-Arian's family may lack the stark quality of the
former USF professor's physical deterioration, but it was there, in
the tears and worried looks of five children and a wife who cried
when they first saw Al-Arian wheeled into the visiting room. Today,
the former professor of computer science, who collapsed in a
Virginia prison 37 days ago, carries his hunger strike into its 60th
day, a point at which many hunger strikers die - if they live that
His family has found it hard to bear, said Nahla. She plans to
return to the medical center today to persuade Al-Arian - who told
the family Monday that he still plans to continue his strike - that
he must stop. Federal Bureau of Prisons policy mandates the forcible
feeding of inmates when their lives or health are threatened. BOP
spokeswoman Traci Billingsley has said they will not let Al-Arian
"It is becoming very dangerous now," Nahla said. "I must convince
him to stop."
Youngest feel it most Nahla said her youngest children - Lama, 13,
and Ali, 16 - have had the hardest time coping with their father's
hunger strike. Ali told his mother he feared what his father might
look like after two months of a water-only diet, she said.
"He asked me how will we see him like that," Nahla said. "He will
Ali and Lama have spent their school holidays going to see their
father in prison since his arrest in 2003 on
53-count indictment that charged Al-Arian with financing and
executing a leadership position in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad
(PIJ). They were very worried when they first saw their father,
"But little by little he began laughing, and joking and playing
chess with them," Nahla said. "And they began to feel better."
During their five-hour visits with Al-Arian on Saturday, Sunday and
Monday, the family only drank water to make it easier on Al-Arian,
Ali and Lama will join their mother as she visits Al-Arian again
today. Her eldest daughters returned to their lives in Chicago and
New York. Laila, 21, is a journalism student at Columbia University.
Nahla and her two children stayed with the oldest of the Al-Arian
children, Abdullah, on Wednesday and Thursday, non-visiting days at
the federal facility in Butner.
"(Ali and Lama) told me that we have to do our best to stop him,"
Al-Arian has been held in an isolation cell and is bedridden. He has
continued to receive breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a nurse checks
on him twice a day, said officials from the Bureau of Prisons. Nahla
said Al-Arian has not seen a doctor in two weeks and that she has
requested she be allowed to send in outside doctors to check on her
husband. Virginia White, executive assistant of the Butler facility,
said she could not comment on the specifics of prisoners' care.
"I hope that they will do something if they have to," Nahla said.
Is it worth it?
Nahla, who calls Sami a political prisoner of the American
government, has supported him throughout the hunger strike. When he
called her to tell her he planned to begin the strike in January and
even when he collapsed 23 days later in a Virginia prison, she
supported him. But now, she says, it is time for her husband to stop.
Since his hunger strike began, Al-Arian and his family have appeared
on Democracy Now!, and other national news outlets have provided
coverage, such as the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and the
New York Times.
Muslim and human rights advocacy groups have called for popular
support of Al-Arian during the strike. The National Council of
Churches initiated a letter-writing campaign through
FaithfulAmerica.org, urging those concerned to voice their opinions
directly to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. In late February, a
coalition of Muslim groups called for a worldwide fast in support of
"But it comes at a cost," said Nahla. "(Al-Arian) has to pay with
his health, and we have to pay with our worry."
Nahla, who said her husband began the hunger strike in part because
he felt the media had ignored his current situation, said it was too
soon to tell whether the difficulties endured by her family thus far
outweighed the potential benefits of the increased attention to her
At the time of his arrest in 2003, when he was the epicenter of a
storm of controversy, Al-Arian was a cause celebre among civil and
human rights advocacy groups and received extensive media attention.
The frenzy continued during his trial, when a jury found him not
guilty of eight of the 17 terrorism-related charges brought against
him, but deadlocked on the other nine. After the trial, Al-Arian
signed a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, who planned to
retry him on the remaining nine charges, and pled guilty to
providing service for nonviolent terrorist activities to the PIJ.
After the plea agreement, much of the coverage of Al-Arian's case
dwindled, said Ahmad Bedier, director of the Tampa chapter of the
Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR).
"Since his hunger strike began, people have sent us letters that
they are surprised that he is still in prison," Bedier said. "They
thought he was deported after the after the plea agreement. He has
been successful because now you've got people all over the country
who are discussing his situation."
John Arnaldi, a USF employee who befriended Al-Arian after they met
at a interfaith prayer service following the Sept. 11 attacks, said
he supported Al-Arian at first, but now feels ambivalent.
"There are ways to work within the system," said Arnaldi, who is a
member of a local association of Quakers that have supported Al-
Arian since his arrest. "We believe that in the end, the courts will
decide things in his favor. We just hope he lives that long."
This is not Al-Arian's first hunger strike. In 2003, he began a
strike shortly after his arrest by federal prosecutors and according
to supporters, the strike lasted 140 days. But during that strike he
took nutrients in liquids, and his situation never grew as grim as
it is now, Nahla said.
Nahla said her husband called on Jan. 22 to tell her that he planned
the hunger strike following a judge's decision to hold him in
contempt of court for a second time. He has twice refused to testify
before a Virginia grand jury investigating a group of Islamic
charities in northern Virginia. The contempt of court decision
carries with it an 18-month prison sentence. It was handed down by a
Virginia judge late last year when Al-Arian refused to testify for
the first time. The sentence came 174 days before he finished the
remainder of a sentence provided for in his plea bargain.
� Copyright 2007 The Oracle
Family of fasting inmate asks for hunger strike to stop
RALEIGH, N.C. - A former University of South Florida professor
is "very, very weak" and cold after spending two months on a hunger
strike that his family believes threatens his life, his wife said
Sami al-Arian, 49, a Palestinian who taught computer science at the
university, stopped eating Jan. 22 to protest a judge's decision to
hold him indefinitely after he refused to testify before a Virginia
Since then, al-Arian has lost 54 pounds, said his wife Nahla al-
Arian, who has visited her husband at the Federal Medical Facility
in Butner, most recently Monday.
"When I first saw him on Saturday I cried so hard because I couldn't
believe he could look like this, no muscles, nothing," she
said. "He's very weak, very very weak. He lost a lot of weight. He
was cold all the time, shivering, because his body temperature is
Authorities at the federal facility about 30 miles north of Raleigh
have told Sami al-Arian they will force-feed him if his condition
worsens, his lawyer said Tuesday, but his wife said that hasn't
When al-Arian began his water-only diet he weighed 203 pounds, and
now weighs 149, she said.
Sami al-Arian's family fears for his life, said Nahla al-Arian, and
is trying to convince him to stop the hunger strike. He has so far
"We need him, we need his love, we need his presence in our lives.
Even if he were in jail we still need him," Nahla al-Arian said.
During a six-month trial in 2005, prosecutors labeled al-Arian a
leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which the United States calls a
foreign terrorist organization. The trial ended in an acquittal on
some counts and a hung jury on others.
But in a plea bargain last April, al-Arian admitted he conspired to
aid individuals associated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad and was
sentenced to nearly five years in prison, although al-Arian received
credit for the time he had already served. Al-Arian and his lawyers
contend the plea deal also exempts him from testifying before the
Alexandria, Va. grand jury, which is investigating a cluster of
Islamic charities in northern Virginia.
Federal prison authorities declined to discuss al-Arian's health
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va. is
expected to review the judge's decision to hold al-Arian in civil
contempt this week, his wife said.