Day 39 of hunger strike (3/1)Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace
March 1, 2007
TAMPA -- Today is Day 39 of Dr. Sami Al-Arian's hunger strike for
justice, in which he has lost 43 pounds. Please see below a column by
The Nation magazine's Alexander Cockburn published today, a story
below that about the Al-Arian family's trip to Oslo, Norway and a
blurb about Dr. Al-Arian's condition.
March 19, 2007 issue
beat the devil | posted March 1, 2007 (March 19, 2007 issue)
The Persecution of Sami Al-Arian
By Alexander Cockburn
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 based in Tampa who's followed Al-Arian's tribulations for
years, wrote in the spring of 2006:
"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."
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, hands and feet shackled, his law files balanced
on his back.
The six-month trial in US District Court in Tampa featured eighty
government witnesses (including twenty-one from Israel) and 400
intercepted phone calls (the result of a decade of surveillance and
half a million recorded calls).
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.
The man presiding over Al-Arian's trial was US District Court Judge
James Moody, a creature from the dark lagoon of Floridian
jurisprudence. Hospitable to all testimony from Israelis, Moody ruled
that Al-Arian and his associates could not say a single word about
the military occupation or the plight of the Palestinian people.
During closing arguments, the prosecution noted a document that
mentioned UN Resolution 242. Moody nixed that on the grounds that it
showed Palestinians in altogether too warm a light and therefore
might tax the objectivity of the jurors.
In December 2005, despite Moody's diligence, the jury acquitted Al-
Arian of the most serious charges. On those remaining, the usual
prosecutorial flailings under conspiracy statutes, jurors voted 10 to
2 for acquittal. Two co-defendants were acquitted completely. It was
a terrible humiliation for the Justice Department, which had flung an
estimated $50 million into the trial.
A jury split 10 to 2 in a defendant's favor doesn't augur well for
conviction in a retrial. But the Feds insisted they wanted to put
Al-Arian through the wringer again and--prudently, given Moody's
prejudice--Al-Arian's lawyers urged him to make a plea and put an end
to his ordeal.
A central aspect of the plea agreement was an understanding that Al-
Arian would not be subject to further prosecution or called to
cooperate with the government on any matter. The government
recommended the shortest possible sentence.
On May 1, 2006, Al-Arian came before Judge Moody for sentencing.
Watching the proceedings Sugg, as he reported on the CounterPunch
website, noted a smug air among the prosecutors. He also noted that
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had arrived in the Tampa area five
days earlier. Under the plea, Al-Arian's sentence amounted to little
more than time served, followed by his departure from the United
States. But Judge Moody sentenced Al-Arian to the maximum, using
inflamed language about Al-Arian having blood on his hands, a charge
one juror said the jury emphatically rejected.
Now Al-Arian faced eleven more months in prison, with release and
deportation scheduled for April 2007. But the Feds' appetite was far
from slaked. In October Gordon Kromberg, an assistant federal
prosecutor in Virginia notorious as an Islamophobe, called Al-Arian
to testify before a grand jury investigating an Islamic think tank.
The subpoena was an outright violation of Al-Arian's April plea
agreement, and his attorneys filed a motion to quash it. The motion
included affidavits by attorneys who participated in the negotiations
attesting that "the overarching purpose of the parties' plea
agreement was to conclude, once and for all, all business between the
government and Dr. Al-Arian." The defense lawyers insisted that Al-
Arian would never have entered a plea that left him vulnerable to
government fishing expeditions.
Al-Arian's lawyers feared that their client was being set up for a
perjury trap. Up in Virginia, Kromberg ranted to Al-Arian's attorney
about "the Islamization of America," while down in Tampa, Judge Moody
ruled that federal marshals could drag Al-Arian to Virginia to
testify. On November 16 Al-Arian was brought before the grand jury
and placed in civil contempt for refusing to testify.
One month after Al-Arian was placed in civil contempt, the grand jury
term expired, so Kromberg impaneled a new one. Al-Arian was again
subpoenaed and again expressed his ethical stance against testifying.
This judge also held him in contempt, which could prolong his
imprisonment by up to eighteen months.
Al-Arian, who is diabetic, is now in the sixth week of a water-only
hunger strike and has already lost forty pounds. On February 14, the
twenty-third day of his fast, Al-Arian collapsed; he has since been
moved to a prison medical facility in North Carolina.
Measured against Jos� Padilla, a man driven insane on Rumsfeld's
orders, I guess Al-Arian is lucky. He's alive, and still sane, though
getting weaker by the day. He needs all the support we can muster.
Across the globe, Al-Arian's case has aroused much outrage, and
respect for the US commitment to constitutional freedoms sinks lower
For information on the case, go to www.freesamialarian.com.
The Al-Arian family, stars of Norway
Thanks to a new documentary, the Al-Arians are celebrities in a
country fascinated with their case
BY SE�N KINANE
OSLO, Norway -- Before daylight on the day that marked four years of
Dr. Sami Al-Arian's imprisonment, his eldest daughter Laila and wife
Nahla were guests on the popular Norwegian television program God
morgen Norge (Good Morning Norway). But during a week in which she
was whisked from one reporter to another, that show wasn't even the
most watched television program on which Nahla appeared.
Three days after those Feb. 20 appearances, Nahla headlined Norway's
top TV show, F�rst & sist (First and Last), the equivalent of
appearing on Letterman, Leno and 60 Minutes combined. Nahla was seen
by 1.3 million viewers in this country of 5 million.
Being major celebrities is a new experience for even such a media-
weary family as the Al-Arians. They were in Norway last week for a
whirlwind of interviews, television appearances, meetings at
Parliament and film screenings surrounding the premiere of the new
documentary USA mot Al-Arian (USA vs. Al-Arian). The film is a hit,
and the Al-Arians a cause celebre.
The star welcome here is in stark contrast to antipathy (or apathy)
they've grown accustomed to in Florida. Concerned Norwegians have
followed the case in the media for the last four years, but interest
has magnified ever since the Jan. 19 screening of the film at the
Troms� International Film Festival, where it received the Audience
Award. After the film makes the festival and cinema rounds, an
abbreviated version will air on Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish
and Greek television and on the satellite channel Al-Arabiya,
potentially reaching 55 million viewers.
The documentary is an emotional chronicle of the Tampa trial, plea
agreement and sentencing of Dr. Al-Arian during 2005 and 2006, with
emphasis on how the ordeal is affecting his family. On the morning of
the Oslo grand premiere last Thursday, which received a standing
ovation, the reviews were published in newspapers across Norway: "Go
see this one!" "An international-class documentary film," "Sober, low-
key and balanced ... a strong human portrait," "A real-life horror
film" and "Touching and memorable" were some of the raves,
accompanied by ratings of 5 and 6 out of 6.
So much buzz had been created that Agot Valle, a Member of
Parliament, hosted a private screening of the film for her fellow
members last Tuesday.
"Franklin D. Roosevelt warned the American people not to give in to
fear," Valle told me. "Giving in to fear may lead us to infringe
human rights, civil rights, freedom of speech -- the basis of
democracy." She said that since 9/11, Americans have been consumed by
fear, "but a movie like this, I think will bring a new debate on how
far [stripping of civil liberties will] go and not to give in to
The tenor of Valle's comments was echoed by many Norwegians -- the
view that Al-Arian got a raw deal and that his treatment was directly
related to post-9/11 attitudes toward Muslims. Gunnar Ballo, a Member
of Parliament from the Socialist Left Party, said, "If we don't keep
up with the human rights situation ... and just fight [for] human
rights, we will lose as a democracy and USA will lose as a democracy."
Gerald Kador Folkvord of Amnesty International Norway agreed. He
leads their campaign against human rights violations in the "war on
terror." On Monday, Amnesty sponsored a screening of the documentary
followed by a reception hosted by the Nobel Peace Center. Folkvord
said that based on Amnesty's research, Al-Arian has been
subjected "to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. One of the
things that Amnesty has repeatedly pointed out was that this very
much looked like just a means of punishing him for his attitudes."
People who saw the film or met the Al-Arian family spoke of
contrasting attitudes between the United States and Norway regarding
civil liberties and human rights. Some mentioned that Norwegians
don't have the same level of paranoia as Americans. Others felt that
the U.S. government is targeting Muslim activists in order to silence
Even the film's Norwegian director, Line Halvorsen, described how
much of a contrast it was for her to work on the film in the U.S.
compared with Norway. In Florida, she found it "kind of a struggle to
convince people that there's something fishy going on in the Al-Arian
case. While here in Norway, people seem to be much more
receptive. ... There's a lot of things happening in the States right
now that the Norwegian people are skeptical of."
In early 2004, before the trial started, Halvorsen moved to Lakeland
from Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank where she had made a film
about Palestinian children. She met Nahla when that film, A Stone's
Throw Away, was screened in Tampa. "The more that I got to know the
family, the more I realized that this was an interesting story, and
I'd like to make a film on it. ... It was also very interesting for
me having lived among Arabs and Muslims in Palestine. To see in a
post-9/11 climate how Muslims and Arabs were treated in the States.
And when I found this story, it all came together."
Halvorsen looks forward to her new documentary spurring a debate in
Norway on where to strike the balance between civil liberties and
security. "In Norway we have some suggestions to change the laws
where the police would take these so-called terrorism cases out of
the court and treat them in secret courts, and I think it's really
important that we have a debate if that's the kind of society we
Al-Arian is still in jail, in the second month of his hunger strike
protesting being held in contempt of court for refusing to testify
before the Virginia grand jury. His original sentence, based on the
plea agreement, would have had him freed and deported in April, but
the contempt may prolong his incarceration. The Norwegians I spoke
with think the U.S. government should keep its word.
Al-Arian enters Day 39 of prison hunger strike
Sami Al-Arian passed the 38th day of his prison hunger strike
The former Univeristy of South Florida professor has lost 43 pounds
and was having great difficulty standing up in a federal prison
hospital in Butner, N.C.
"We will intervene. We will not let him die," said Federal Bureau of
Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley. But as of Wednesday afternoon,
no intervention to force feed Al-Arian, 49, had taken place.
He is drinking only water to protest being held beyond his sentence
for refusing to testify before a Virginia grand jury. After pleading
guilty in May to aiding associates of a terrorist group in nonviolent
ways he was due to be released in mid-April and deported. Unless he
agrees to testify, he could be held another 18 months.