Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

After 10-Year Investigation, U.S. Government Fails to Convict Dr. Sami Al-Arian

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

After 10-Year Investigation, U.S. Government Fails to Convict Dr. Sami Al-Arian

Article excerpt

A Fair Trial?

In a country that holds up the ideals of equality and justice for all, the case against Sami Al-Arian has been strange from the outset, beginning at the bond hearing. Dr. Al-Arian's defense lawyers presented a strong case, with many witnesses attesting to his good character. They also showed that he was not a flight risk, since he has no passport or travel documents of any kind, and he was certainly not dangerous to the community where he has lived for almost 20 years.

The government, on the other hand, based its arguments on the assumption that accusations are the same thing as evidence. In response to the claim that there was no evidence against Dr. Al-Arian, prosecutor Chérie Krigsman proclaimed, "You want evidence? Here's the evidence!" as she held up the indictment (read "accusation"). Although most Americans probably would agree that an accusation is not the same thing as evidence, the judge sided with the government, and Dr. Al-Arian remained in jail. Even though errors in the indictment were soon discovered, including the misidentification of one of the key people, Dr. Al-Arian remained in jail. And this was just the beginning.

Traditionally, in the United States, the accused are given a speedy trial-as is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Dr. Al-Arian did not waive this right; however, the government stated that it would need at least two years to prepare its case (despite the 10 years it had already spent investigating Dr. Al-Arian). Again, the judge took the side of the government, and so Dr. Al-Arian went to jail for over two years as he waited for his trial to begin.

And this was no ordinary jail. Dr. AlArian was soon moved to the maximum-security section of the Federal Penitentiary in Coleman, Florida, where he and co-defendant Sameeh Hammoudeh were the only pre-trial detainees. Although they had not been tried, they were kept under extremely harsh conditions where access to lawyers, telephones, and even pencils was severely limited.

Traditionally, lawyers have unlimited access to their clients. Dr. Al-Arian's lawyers protested the conditions under which he was imprisoned, saying that preparing a defense was impossible, and asked that he be moved closer to Tampa and put in a less restrictive environment. Hearings were held, but Dr. Al-Arian was not allowed to attend, and no changes were made. He remained at Coleman most of the time, until shortly before the trial began.

Also traditionally, the accused and their lawyers have access to all the evidence being used against them-but not in this case. In particular, attorney William Moffitt questioned why the prosecution had not released evidence that they had in their possession since 1995. Much of the evidence was not given to the defense until shortly before the trial.

As the trial date neared, jury selection commenced, with questionnaires mailed to prospective jurors. It soon became apparent that there was a high degree of bias in the Tampa area (see May/June 2005 Washington Report, p. 23), and yet the trial was not moved to a more neutral location. And as the trial was underway, bias again was evident when two jurors reported to the judge that one of their peers was making frequent prejudicial comments to other jurors. Yet this juror was left to continue making comments until the end, when he finally was moved to the alternate list. And most recently, an unscientific poll about the case (conducted by the Tampa Tribune) found its way into the jury room.

Another aspect of the unfairness of this trial related to the type of evidence that was admitted. The government was allowed to bring Israeli witnesses to testify about bombings in Israel and show videotapes of exploded buses, even though prosecutors agreed that the defendants had nothing to do with the events, nor did they have any foreknowledge of the events. One therefore would expect that evidence about the situation in Palestine surrounding these events would also be allowed, but no, it was not. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.