Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

U.S. Government's "Secret Evidence" against Mazan Al-Najjar Has Yet to Produce Indictments

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

U.S. Government's "Secret Evidence" against Mazan Al-Najjar Has Yet to Produce Indictments

Article excerpt

U.S. Government's "Secret Evidence" Against Mazan Al-Najjar Has Yet to Produce Indictments

On May 7, President Clinton spoke to almost 800 Arab Americans at a Washington dinner. University of South Florida Professor Sami Al-Arian, clutching an envelope addressed to Clinton, sat in a front row. The speech ended, and the president began working the crowd. For a few seconds, the professor had his ann around Clinton, and Secret Service agents politely took the package of letters and articles.

"Mr. President, help us," pleaded Al-Arian's wife, Nahla. "My brother has been in jail for a year on secret evidence."

"Clinton asked where we were from, and I said, `Tampa,'" Sami Al-Arian recalls. "The president pointed to the package and promised, `I'll get back to you on this.'"

If you believed the Tampa Tribune's reports on terrorism, that would have been a frightening moment. Dr. Sami Al-Arian has been labeled the mastermind of "one of the world's most lethal terrorist factions" by the Tribune's Rasputin-like mentor on terrorism, Steven Emerson, whose persistent, sensational charges against U.S. Muslims and Arab Americans are largely ignored or discounted by other journalists in his home base of Washington, DC.

Nevertheless, for three years, the Trib has relentlessly insisted that an insidious terrorist cabal lurks at the University of South Florida. You'd think, therefore, that G-men would be tripping over themselves watching Al-Arian's every blink and twitch. Certainly someone so "lethal" would never be allowed to get near the president.

If you believed the Trib and Emerson.

A lot of people don't believe them -- including a large grassroots Tampa coalition, journalists from across the nation, members of the intelligence community, and -- on some very telling issues -- even the U.S. Justice Department.

The Trib's reports are based on:

- Emerson's allegations. Grossly mistaken accusations, questionable translations, unsubstantiated claims, and a self-evident bias against Muslims and Arabs mar Emerson's work.

- Claims and testimony contained in affidavits by federal agents. Many of the agents' allegations are based on secret information, and much of that bears uncanny similarity to Emerson's spewing. In any event, cops' unsubstantiated affidavits aren't proof.

- Characterizations of evidence that are occasionally deceptive, demonstrably out of context in terms of timing of events, often uninformed and sometimes just plain wrong.

- Biased sources. Virtually the only alleged experts used by the Trib are those supporting the terrorism thesis.

The Trib's articles have prompted federal agents to investigate Tampa's Muslims.

The nationally circulated Miami Herald recently concluded that the Trib ignored innocent interpretations of events in favor of only those explanations that suggested "extremely dark forces were on the prowl in Tampa."

Valid or not, the Trib's reporting has caused real human suffering. Court documents show the newspaper's articles prompted federal agents to investigate Tampa's Muslims. Then, a year ago on May 19, Mazen Al-Najjar, another USF academic and Sami Al-Arian's brother-in-law, was jailed by the agents. The government refused to grant Al-Najjar bail while he appealed a deportation order. The agents claim they have "secret evidence" that he is linked to Palestinian terrorists.

Secret evidence: An outrage against the Bill of Rights' guarantees of freedom of speech, assembly, association, due process, the right to confront accusers and know the evidence against you. Its use against U.S. citizens is illegal.

However, Al-Najjar, who is not a U.S. national, languishes in a cramped Bradenton cell with a dozen other men. Bare concrete floors and two open toilets are the decor. Deeply religious, he is constantly assaulted by inmates' profanity. The food is offensive -- "the same vegetable soup every day for more than 100 days," he sighs. …

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