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Judge says integrity of Justice Department at issue in Al-Arian case
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On Friday, a U.S. Circuit Court judge in Virginia will either dismiss the criminal contempt case against former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian or set a trial date.
If the judge's comments in court are any indication of how she's leaning, Al-Arian's business with the U.S. government is about to end and he will be one step closer to being deported to Egypt.
Judge Leonie Brinkema has called the case against Al-Arian "troubling" and under "a very significant cloud" because of prosecutors' failure to produce evidence from Al-Arian's 2006 plea deal negotiations that could show whether he is innocent of criminal contempt.
Obstruction of Justice
March 30, 2009
By Chris Hedges
J u s t i c e d e l a y e d i s b e t t e r t h a n j u s t i c e d e n i e d
U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema is scheduled to issue a ruling in the Eastern District of Virginia at the end of April in a case that will send a signal to the Muslim world and beyond whether the American judicial system has regained its independence after eight years of flagrant manipulation and intimidation by the Bush administration. Brinkema will decide whether the Palestinian activist Dr. Sami Amin Al-Arian, held for over six years in prison and under house arrest in Virginia since Sept 2, is guilty or innocent of two counts of criminal contempt.......Read more >> Obstruction of Justice
Press Conference for Justice Held in Nation’s Capital/Complaint Filed Against Prosecutor
Washington, D.C.- April 24, 2009
Nearly fifty supporters, many representing local and national civil and human rights organizations, attended a press conference in front of the Department of Justice in Washington on Friday. On a day that was to see a possible resolution of Dr. Sami Al-Arian’s case, groups from around the country gathered at the Justice Department. The press conference was called after Federal Judge Leonie Brinkema canceled a hearing in Alexandria, VA, scheduled for this morning, that was to determine whether the criminal contempt charges against Dr. Al-Arian would be dismissed.
Sponsored by the Tampa-based Friends of Human Rights, the press conference featured speakers representing a number of major organizations from around the country. They called on the Department of Justice to honor its plea agreement with Dr. Al-Arian, and to drop the charges against him.. ..Read More >> Press Conference
Motion to Dismiss Filed
March 26, 2009 - Alexandria, VA - Dr. Sami Al-Arian's attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the criminal contempt charges against him in federal court on Monday. The motion contained three grounds for the dismissal of the charges. It argues that the orders to testify before the grand jury violated the 2006 Plea Agreement between Dr. Al-Arian and the government. Second, it states that the government has provided the Court with insufficient evidence for this case to proceed to the jury. Finally, upholding the indictment would undermine the integrity of the Court and the legal process.--------------
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More Prosecutorial Misconduct in the Al-Arian Case
The Associated Press reports:The Justice Department may have hoodwinked a defendant in a high-profile terrorism case into thinking his plea bargain would protect him from further prosecutions, a federal judge said Monday. Monday’s hearing in U.S. District Court was the latest in which Judge Leonie Brinkema questioned the Justice Department’s tactics in pursuing a criminal contempt case against former professor Sami Al-Arian, once accused of being a leading Palestinian terrorist. ......
Remarks by Dr. Al-Arian Regarding the 60th Anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Hague, Holland - December 10, 2008 - This week, Dr. Sami Al-Arian released the following statement to be read before the broadcast of the award-winning Norwegian-produced documentary USA v. Al-Arian on the Greek television network ERT.
Judge Allows Defense to File Motion to Dismiss
March 9, 2009 - Alexandria, VA
Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled in favor of a defense request to file a motion to dismiss the charges against Dr. Sami Al-Arian at a hearing in federal court today. Her decision follows new revelations that prosecutors in Florida were opposed to efforts by a Virginia prosecutor to call Dr. Al-Arian to testify in another case. The judge's important decision raises the possibility that Dr. Al-Arian's ordeal could be resolved and that he can finally regain his freedom after six years of grueling legal battles.
Judge Agrees with Defense: 2006 Plea Negotiations Should be Revisited
February 20, 2009 - Alexandria, VA - At a pre-trial hearing today, federal judge Leonie Brinkema denied a government motion requesting her to reconsider a previous ruling. At the last hearing, Judge Brinkema ruled that the government must provide information to the defense and the court regarding the original 2006 plea negotiations between the Department of Justice and Dr. Al-Arian's attorneys.
Federal judge says Sami Al-Arian plea deal does matter
For the first time, federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., have acknowledged that when Sami Al-Arian took a plea deal in early 2006, federal prosecutors in Tampa believed — as did Al-Arian — that it exempted him from testifying in other cases. But with this surprising admission, which begins a 24-page document filed in Virginia federal court Wednesday night, comes a provocative argument: It doesn't matter. "The understandings of the prosecutors who negotiated that agreement … are irrelevant to (Al-Arian's) guilt or innocence" for criminal contempt, wrote the Alexandria federal prosecutors, who maintain they are not bound by an agreement made in another district.
Prosecutors defy judge's order in Al-Arian case
The court papers, filed late Wednesday night, also reveal a rift between prosecutors in Virginia and Florida about how to proceed against Al-Arian, with the Justice Department ultimately adopting the more aggressive stance sought by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Virginia. deliberations in coming to a plea agreement with a former professor once accused of being a top Palestinian terrorist.
AP Report: Judge suspects feds duped defense in Al-Arian case
Govt Admits: Fla. and Va. Prosecutors Were Split / Trial Postponed
March 7, 2009 - Alexandria, VA -
According to federal court briefs filed on Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg restated his request for the judge to overturn her order compelling prosecutors to turn over evidence regarding the 2006 plea negotiations. This marks the third time that the government has defied the court's order, signaling a desperate move to avoid revealing the facts in the 2006 plea negotiations.
Dr. Al-Arian was Physically and Verbally AbusedAlexandria, VA - December 9, 2008 - Late last week, the Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General (OIG) sent a letter to Dr. Al-Arian's counsel regarding its 18-month-long investigation regarding allegations that Dr. Al-Arian had been mistreated and abused by officers from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
The letter from the OIG states: "The OIG determined that the preponderance of the evidence supports Al-Arian's allegation that he was verbally abused by two correctional officers during the transportation process from FCC [Federal Correctional Complex] Petersburg to Alexandria, Virginia, on January 18, 2007, and April 12, 2007. We also found that one of these officers physically abused Al-Arian on April 12, 2007, by pushing him into a wall at the USMS [U.S. Marshall Service] detention facility." (For TBCJP's original press release revealing these incidents, click here.)
Last January, during the course of the investigation, Dr. Al-Arian was given a polygraph examination regarding the incident. The FBI agent who administered the examination remarked that Dr. Al-Arian had "passed with flying colors."
It should be noted that, on average, the OIG investigates only one complaint out of every 10,000 submitted. There can be no doubt that the flood of letters and phone calls from thousands of conscientious people concerned with Dr. Al-Arian's situation like you prompted the OIG to carry out this investigation. Send a Brief Message to the OIG!
The Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace would like to urge Dr. Al-Arian's supporters to send a brief email to the OIG, thanking them for their investigation, and urging them to hold the offending officers accountable to prevent future incidents from occurring. You can contact the OIG by email:
Or regular mail:
Immediate Office of the Inspector General
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Suite 4706
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001
Remember: your continued support does make a difference.
Al-Arian to face criminal contempt trial
ALEXANDIRA, Va. – A federal judge ruled Friday that Sami Al-Arian will stand trial in March for criminal contempt.
Al-Arian had requested that the charge be dismissed based on “selective prosecution.”
But, while U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema agreed with Al-Arian that such prosecutions are “rare” and that the facts of his case are “absolutely unique,” the judge said a jury would have to decide if Al-Arian committed a crime.
According to federal prosecutors in Virginia, the criminal contempt charge stems from Al-Arian’s refusal to testify before a grand jury about the actions of a Virginia think tank, the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT).
Over 16 years ago, the think tank gave $50,000 to WISE (World and Islam Studies Enterprise), a former think tank on Middle Eastern issues at the University of South Florida, run by Al-Arian. Federal prosecutors want Al-Arian to testify about the details of that transaction.
But, according to documents filed by Al-Arian’s attorneys, Al-Arian “did cooperate and answer questions on IIIT” for federal prosecutors, which shows, wrote the defense attorneys, that the Virginia prosecutors are “ultimately not interested in IIIT … but want to revisit the Tampa trial.”The Tampa trial ended in December 2005 when a jury acquitted Al-Arian of eight terrorism charges, some related to the finan cial transactions of WISE, and deadlocked on nine other charges, 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal.
Contempt Charges Will Stand
A federal judge in Alexandria ruled yesterday that she would not throw out contempt-of-court charges against former professor Sami al-Arian, who has refused to cooperate with a terrorism investigation, and set his case for trial on March 9.
U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema said that Arian can use the defense that he was relying on the advice of his attorneys when he declined to testify before grand juries investigating whether Muslim groups in Herndon were financing terrorism in the Middle East.
"We are very gratified by Judge Brinkema's rulings with regard to the trial," said Jonathan Turley, one of Arian's attorneys. "We look forward to putting Dr. al-Arian's case in front of the jury."
Introducing Gordon Kromberg, a Federal Prosecutor on the Hot Seat
Wall Street Journal Law's Blog
Sep. 15, 2008
By Ashby Jones
It’s not often that an assistant U.S. Attorney gets singled out and criticized by name (far more frequent, it seems, are attacks on an entire U.S. Attorney’s office or the Justice Department itself.) But the Washington Post over the weekend spilled a lot of ink over a controversy involving Gordon Kromberg, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
According to the story, Kromberg has taken a lot of heat recently for comments made and tactics taken in terrorism prosecutions. The story’s lead:
When Sami al-Arian, one of the nation’s most prominent terrorism defendants, was about to be released into his daughter’s custody to await a new trial on contempt charges, Kromberg protested, saying that “in this particular culture,” a woman could not prevent her father from fleeing. Federal judge Leonie M. Brinkema lashed out at the prosecutor, calling his remark insulting. Earlier, she had chastised Kromberg for changing a boilerplate immunity order beyond the language spelled out by Congress and questioned whether Arian’s constitutional rights had been violated.
“I’m not in any respect attributing evil motives or anything clandestine to you, but I think it’s real scary and not wise for a prosecutor to provide an order to the Court that does not track the explicit language of the statutes, especially this particular statute,” Brinkema said at the hearing in the Alexandria courtroom.
Through a spokesman, Kromberg declined to comment to the WaPo. But according to the story, Kromberg’s critics say he has joked about torture, improperly confronted another suspect in public and has lamented “the Islamization of the American justice system.”
Kromberg’s defenders call his style “tough but fair.” “Gordon is very effective and professional,” said Andrew McCarthy, a former federal terrorism prosecutor. “As long as nothing goes boom, they want to say you’re an Islamophobe. The moment something does go boom, if the next 9/11 happens, God help anyone who says they weren’t as aggressive as Gordon.”
Defense lawyers and legal ethicists argue that Kromberg’s comments and actions, if true, have crossed the line. “He’s a loose cannon,” said Stephen Gillers, an expert in legal ethics at New York University Law School who reviewed court documents in the Arian case. “If I were the Justice Department, I wouldn’t want him on the front lines of these highly visible, highly contentious prosecutions.”
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Relentless Terrorism Prosecutor Faces Accusations of His Own
By: Jerry Markon
September 14, 2008
Sami Al-Arian one of the nation's most prominent terrorism defendants, was about to be released into his daughter's custody to await a new trial on contempt charges. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg protested, saying that "in this particular culture," a woman could not prevent her father from fleeing.
U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema lashed out at the prosecutor, calling his remark about the Muslim family insulting. Earlier, she had chastised Kromberg for changing a boilerplate immunity order beyond the language spelled out by Congress and questioned whether Arian's constitutional rights had been violated.
"I'm not in any respect attributing evil motives or anything clandestine to you, but I think it's real scary and not wise for a prosecutor to provide an order to the Court that does not track the explicit language of the statutes, especially this particular statute," Brinkema said at the hearing in the Alexandria courtroom.
Kromberg, 51, is in many ways the quintessential post-Sept. 11 prosecutor, a relentless interrogator and sophisticated lawyer who has won convictions in high-profile terrorism cases. But he has been dogged by a pattern of controversial comments and actions that some Muslims say reflects bias against their faith. Those allegations have swirled on the Internet, in the halls of the Alexandria federal courthouse and in sworn affidavits by defense attorneys, who say Kromberg joked about a suspect being tortured, improperly confronted another suspect in public and decried "the Islamization of the American justice system."
Defenders of the fast-talking New York native say he has a tough-but-fair style that keeps Americans safe and reflects the Bush administration's aggressive approach to fighting terrorism. They expressed frustration that Arian's supporters, who have mounted an international campaign for his release, have made a career prosecutor the issue almost as much as the convicted terrorism supporter whose testimony he is pursuing.
"Gordon is very effective and professional," said Andrew McCarthy, a former federal terrorism prosecutor. "As long as nothing goes boom, they want to say you're an Islamophobe. The moment something does go boom, if the next 9/11 happens, God help anyone who says they weren't as aggressive as Gordon."
Defense lawyers and legal ethicists argue that Kromberg's comments and actions, if true, crossed the line. "He's a loose cannon," said Stephen Gillers, an expert in legal ethics at New York University Law School who reviewed court documents in the Arian case. "If I were the Justice Department, I wouldn't want him on the front lines of these highly visible, highly contentious prosecutions."
Through a spokesman, Kromberg declined to comment.
The tensions surrounding Kromberg burst into public view during the Aug. 8 hearing for Arian, who is charged with refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating whether Islamic charities in Northern Virginia were financing terrorists. The prosecutor arose in the crowded courtroom, accused his critics of "venomous, hateful, anti-Semitic attacks" and cited a rally in the District last month at which a former U.S. senator from Alaska told Arian supporters to "find out where [Kromberg] lives."
"Find out where his kids go to school. Find out where his office is. Picket him . . . call him a racist," said Mike Gravel, who ran for the Democratic nomination for president this year, according to an audiotape.
An NYU Law School graduate who worked as a military defense attorney for the Army in the 1980s, Kromberg was using cutting-edge legal tactics before Sept. 11, 2001. After joining the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria in 1993, the wiry, quick-witted prosecutor became an expert in forfeiture -- seizing money and property gained from crime.
He highlighted his approach during a 1999 speech at the Cato Institute in Washington, saying the government should seek the assets of drug dealers even if they are not charged. "Does that mean you should just walk away and let the activity continue? . . . Not if you want to punish the defendant in some way short of prosecuting him," he said, according to a videotape.
During the 1990s, Kromberg helped the government seize fees defense attorneys had received from drug dealers, an uncommon tactic that led to denunciations from defense lawyers nationwide. William Moffitt, who lost one of those cases, called Kromberg "a very good prosecutor and a very smart man."
But Moffitt, who also has represented Arian, said Kromberg "clearly has a bias. Some of his statements indicate that he's stepped over the line with regard to Muslims."
In 2003, Kromberg was asked by a defense lawyer whether Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, a Falls Church man held in a Saudi prison amid allegations he was being tortured, would be brought to the United States to face charges.
Kromberg responded: "He's no good for us here. He has no fingernails left," according to an affidavit filed in court by the lawyer, Salim Ali. Abu Ali was later convicted of plotting with al-Qaeda to kill President Bush. Salim Ali, who moved to Kuwait several years ago, could not be located but told a reporter in 2004 that he stood by the affidavit.
Paul J. McNulty, who was U.S. attorney at the time, said he never saw any sign of bias and praised Kromberg for "selflessly devoting himself to preventing terrorism through enforcement of the law. He is aggressive, but in an appropriate way." The current U.S. attorney, Chuck Rosenberg, called Kromberg a "dedicated, talented and scrupulously fair prosecutor," and added that decisions on whether to prosecute cases are "based strictly on the facts and the law and in the pursuit of justice, period."
Kromberg's highest-profile case since joining the office's new terrorism unit after Sept. 11 was what prosecutors called the "Virginia jihad network," 11 Muslim men convicted on such charges as preparing for holy war by, among other things, playing paintball. Justice officials hailed it as a classic post-Sept. 11 case of prevention, but civil libertarians and some Muslims said it targeted Muslim men.
But the Arian case escalated the tension. Arian pleaded guilty to one count of supporting Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Tampa in 2006 after a federal jury acquitted him or deadlocked on other counts. The judge who sentenced Arian to 57 months in prison called Arian a "master manipulator" who had been a "leader" of the terrorist group.
Kromberg sought Arian's testimony in the Islamic charities probe and refused to delay his appearance until after the Muslim holiday of Ramadan because, he said, that would aid the "Islamization" of the courts, according to an affidavit filed by one of Arian's attorneys, Jack Fernandez.
"They can kill each other during Ramadan, they can appear before the grand jury. All they can't do is eat before sunset," Kromberg said in the 2006 conversation, according to the affidavit.
"I have no clue what's in Gordon Kromberg's heart," Fernandez said. "It struck me as intemperate. More emotion than you'd want in a prosecutor."
Arian's attorneys seized on that reported comment, accusing Kromberg of bias and filing a motion to dismiss the contempt indictment for "selective prosecution." Arian's attorney at the Aug. 8 hearing, Jonathan Turley, declined to comment. Arian was released this month into his daughter's custody. His trial has been delayed indefinitely.
The lawyers also filed a sworn affidavit from Arian saying Kromberg approached him at a meeting of the American Muslim Council in Alexandria in 2002, when he was an investigative target but had not been charged. The affidavit says Kromberg refused to shake Arian's hand, telling him "you have blood on your hands." After Kromberg apologized, he spoke to Arian for an hour, discussing the federal probe and asking about his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Arian wrote.
Kromberg declined to comment. Ethics rules restrict a prosecutor from speaking to the target of an investigation without his attorneys present, and lawyers said that rarely happens.
Gillers, the legal ethics professor, said Kromberg's reported comments and actions show a "groupthink" view of Muslims that constitutes bias. "You can't make generalizations about people in our courts simply because they are a member of a particular racial, religious or ethnic group," he said. "It's not allowed."
The current dispute in the Arian case centers on the immunity order drafted by Kromberg and signed by a judge. Prosecutors sometimes seek such orders when a witness refuses to testify. Closely tracking a federal law, they are considered boilerplate, almost always saying the witness can be prosecuted for his testimony if he lies, lawyers said.
Kromberg acknowledged in court that he changed that wording, expanding the categories for which Arian could be prosecuted, based on his testimony, to obstruction of justice and crimes he might later commit. Defense attorneys and the judge said that could violate Arian's Fifth Amendment rights against incriminating himself, and the defense is asking Brinkema to dismiss the indictment.
Kromberg argued that his order gives defendants more protection and warning because courts have allowed prosecutions for obstruction and future crimes, despite the federal statute. He acknowledged that his action was unique because "most of my colleagues haven't thought about it and haven't researched it."
Justice Department officials said they hadn't known about the wording change. But they are strongly backing Kromberg, telling Brinkema in a court filing last week that Kromberg's order "only provides accurate information" to a witness and "does not infringe any of his rights in any way."
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