Last March, Sami Al-Arian was given a choice: 1) damned if you do; and 2) damned if you don't; he chose "damned if you don't". Finally, a full three months after making that decision, he was formally charged last Thursday with contempt of court, a crime which has no maximum penalty. In other words, Dr. Al-Arian - a man whose innocence has been grudgingly admitted by even his worst enemies* - is now facing the possibility of life in jail all because he had the guts to stand up for what he believes in.
To recap what happened: Dr. Al-Arian was scheduled to be released and deported on April 11th, but on March 3rd, out of the blue, a federal judge ordered him to testify before a third grand jury. Dr. Al-Arian was brought to the grand jury on March 20th, but refused to testify for two reasons:
- The plea agreement he concluded with government prosecutors in 2006 clearly and unambiguously exempts him from having to testify;
- The government attorney seeking his testimony, Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) Gordon Kromberg, is a blatant Islamophobe whose contempt of Muslims is surpassed only by his contempt for the rule of law (Kromberg has publicly claimed that it is his right to use "other means" to "punish" people he cannot convict of any real crime in a court of law).
(For a more detailed discussion of these two points, please read my earlier post about this case)
It is not that Dr. Al-Arian has anything to hide; indeed, he has submitted two detailed affidavits explaining how he does not have any knowledge of unlawful activities regarding the defendant in this case; he has furthermore offered - repeatedly, I might add - to undergo a polygraph test. On top of that, Dr. Al-Arian was under constant surveillance (including wire tap) for a full decade before his arrest in 2003. It is utterly inconceivable that the government could not simply get whatever information they need straight from the FBI. And indeed, the government has admitted that Dr. Al-Arian is only a minor witness in the current case they are investigating.
Despite being charged only with contempt of court - not supporting terrorism - Dr. Al-Arian will likely not be offered bail, even though he has no passport. Even though his children live in the area. Even though he is willing to live under house-arrest. You would think the government would allow him to get out and just be able to hug his kids for a little bit before trying to lock him up for another long stretch.
Just how long of a stretch? That's a good question. The problem is that criminal contempt has no maximum penalty. If convicted, Dr. Al-Arian could be put in jail for the rest of his life. A similar case involving another Palestinian-American professor ended with him being sentenced to eleven years, a sentence longer than what even Hitler's successor Karl Doenitz was given.
[Did I ever mention that the government has never actually proven that Sami Al-Arian has ever committed any sort of a crime?]
In any case, we will find out soon. Dr. Al-Arian's one- to three-day trial will be held in mid-August.
Knowing that they have only a few months left to wreak their havoc, right-wing extremists in the Justice Department are waging an all-out war, not just against individuals like Sami Al-Arian, but against the civil liberties of all of us. There is good reason for the rest of us to hope that Barack Obama will come to power and halt this disgusting assault on our most basic American values; unfortunately for Sami, time is running out, and his fate will be decided before then.
To stand up for your civil liberties, you can do the following:
1. Call Senator Patrick Leahy (202-224- 4242) and Congressman John Conyers (202-225-5126) - the Judicial Committee chairmen of the Senate and House respectively - and ask them to meet with the Attorney General and have him stop Assistant US Attorney Gordon Kromberg from going forward with this unlawful indictment. When talking to their staffers, mention that the Senator/Congressman is already well-aware of the case, so that you don't have to provide background information. [Also, be aware that, even if you are not their constituent, they are obliged to listen to your opinion since their duties extend to all Americans.]
2. Fax a letter to the Office of Professional Responsibility at the US Department of Justice: (202) 514-5050. Click here for a letter template
Similarly, the chief prosecutor in Dr. Al-Arian's original trial admitted that "Mr. al-Arian was not directly linked to any of the violent acts that we showed during the trial." (See frames 3:49-3:59 of this YouTube video.