Today, December 6, 2015, marks the ten year anniversary of the jury’s verdict in my six-month trial. It was an emotional and blessed day in the life of Al-Arian family and the families of my co-defendants, Sameeh Hammoudeh, Hatem Fariz, and Ghassan Ballut. [That day was captured in the documentary USA vs. Al-Arian from (min. 65 to 75). [Links: here or here]. Special thanks go to the Norwegian production team, Line Halverson, Jan Dalchow, and Tone Andersen for having the courage, foresight, and talent to make this documentary.] On this day my family and I offer our sincere thanks and deep gratitude to the Almighty God for His mercy, grace, and continued blessings, as well as for sustaining our faith and providing us with great friends and supporters. Today we also pray for all the victims of the government’s witch-hunts and oppressive measure. Let’s remember that there are hundreds of innocent victims today in U.S. prisons (see my recent reflections) who along with their struggling families are still suffering and awaiting justice. Read More–>>
There is an old Arabic maxim that describes a particular remarkable person as “a nation in a man.” Such men and women are rare in history. But this description is truly the best portrayal of Dr. Jamal Barzinji, who passed away on September 26, the second day of the Muslim feast of sacrifice, at the age of 75. I’ve had the honor and privilege of knowing Dr. Barzinji since 1976. He left his native country, Iraq, in the late 1950s as his life was threatened by the regime because of his student activism. He subsequently received his Masters degree from England in 1962 and his PhD from the U.S. in 1974. Dr. Jamal was one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever encountered. He was an intellectual, an educator, a community builder, a brilliant strategist, a humanitarian, a loving family man, and for countless others a problem solver. His personal attributes of intellect, spirituality, compassion, patience, kindness, generosity, and decency endeared him to everyone who knew him. Read More–>>
Today, December 6, 2015, marks the ten year anniversary of the jury’s verdict in my six-month trial. It was an emotional and blessed day in the life of Al-Arian family and the families of my co-defendants, Sameeh Hammoudeh, Hatem Fariz, and Ghassan Ballut. [That day was captured in the documentary USA vs. Al-Arian from (min. 65 to 75). [Links: http://www.snagfilms.com/
Among the believers are men who were true to their covenant with God; some of them have fulfilled their vow by death, and some are still awaiting, and they have not changed in the least. [Qur’an 33:23]
There is an old Arabic maxim that describes a particular remarkable person as “a nation in a man.” Such men and women are rare in history. But this description is truly the best portrayal of Dr. Jamal Barzinji, who passed away on September 26, the second day of the Muslim feast of sacrifice, at the age of 75.
I’ve had the honor and privilege of knowing Dr. Barzinji since 1976. He left his native country, Iraq, in the late 1950s as his life was threatened by the regime because of his student activism. He subsequently received his Masters degree from England in 1962 and his PhD from the U.S. in 1974. Dr. Jamal was one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever encountered. He was an intellectual, an educator, a community builder, a brilliant strategist, a humanitarian, a loving family man, and for countless others a problem solver. His personal attributes of intellect, spirituality, compassion, patience, kindness, generosity, and decency endeared him to everyone who knew him.
As an intellectual Dr. Jamal co-founded in 1981, the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), an institute dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, high quality research, and serious dialogue between Muslim and Western scholars. During this period he oversaw the publications of over 600 titles including some of the best books and manuscripts ever produced in the last three decades in the fields of Islamic disciplines, social sciences, and the humanities. As an educator, he served for many years as an academic dean at the International Islamic University in Malaysia. As a senior officer in IIIT, he raised millions of dollars establishing endowed chair positions and centers in some of the most prestigious universities in the U.S. and around the world including Georgetown University, Harvard University, Hartford Seminary, George Mason University, Cambridge University, California State University, and many others. He also oversaw the sponsorship of thousands of educational scholarships for deserving and committed students regardless of race, gender, or faith. In 1983, I witnessed first hand when Dr.Barzinji and IIIT offered full university scholarships by sponsoring over one hundred and fifty Palestinian students who had scholarships from the UAE that were cut off after one year of study in the U.S. when a new minister of education in the UAE was appointed and abruptly withdrew the support without warning. These students who became successful professionals and have been serving the Palestinian people in Gaza, the West Bank and the diaspora for over 30 years, would not have been able to complete their graduate degrees had it not been for the compassion, commitment, and foresight of Dr. Barzinji and his colleagues at IIIT.
As a community builder, Dr. Barzinji was involved in the establishment of every major Islamic organization in the United States in the past four decades, where he either headed the organization, served on its board, or helped in building its programs and outreach, including the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA), the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), the Association of Muslim Scientists and Engineers (AMSE), the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS), The World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), The American Muslim Council (AMC), the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (GSISS), The Fairfax Institute, the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), as well as many other organizations and institutions from all over the world, big and small, Muslim and non-Muslim, who sought his counsel and support because he was a resourceful intellectual, a brilliant strategist, and an effective leader, who cared deeply about education, justice, humanity , women’s rights, and empowerment of the weak. He counted among his many friends and colleagues hundreds of scholars and clergy including Christian, Jewish, and people of other faiths who loved his company and respected him deeply.
Upon hearing the devastating news, my wife Nahla sadly but reflexively said, “Today, the American Muslim community has been orphaned.” This comment truly summarizes the void that is left by, and the impact of, the departure of Dr. Barzinji, who spent over fifty years in the West to empower his fellow Muslims and integrate them in the society at large with full recognition and respect.
But the state of the American Muslim community before and after the tragic attacks of 9/11 could best be illustrated through two powerful but contrasting events, with one of them involving Dr. Barzinji. In June 2001, leaders of the major American Muslim organizations were invited to the White House to discuss former President George Bush’s faith-based initiative. The Muslim community at the time felt empowered, as it stood united and firm against the use of secret evidence employed against Arab and Muslim immigrants by President Clinton’s justice department. Even though by the end of 2000, all victims of secret evidence were freed through the collective and sustained efforts of many individuals and organizations, the American Muslim community supported Bush during the 2000 presidential elections based on his promise to oppose and ban this unconstitutional practice. When Bush won Florida and with it the presidency, due credit was given to the American Muslim community, which demanded that the political establishment fulfill its promises as this meeting at the White House was taking place in recognition of the community just few months before 9/11. However, the meeting was disrupted when a high level Zionist in the National Security Council at the White House asked the Secret Service to eject my son (because of his last name) who was 21 year-old at the time and who was also interning with Congressman David Bonior (the Minority Whip in the House at the time.) Within seconds the leaders of the American Muslim community immediately ended the meeting in protest and were united in their stand against this exclusionary politics utilized by some government officials in their attempts to divide American Muslims. They held an impromptu news conference in front of the White House and demanded an official apology. Within hours, the White House press secretary apologized in public, the Secret Service apologized to my son and offered him a guided tour of the West Wing, and President Bush personally sent a written apology to the family.
Contrast this event with another one in the fall of 2010 under supposedly a friendlier White House, where a delegation of American Muslim leaders was invited. This time another individual was also excluded from the meeting and not allowed to enter the White House, though sadly the other members of the delegation shamefully proceeded as if nothing had happened. The person who was excluded this time was none other than Dr. Barzinji, who could be fittingly called the father of the American Muslim community. So when the American Muslim leaders stood with a 21 year-old intern, the community was respected and admired, but when they abandoned a 71 year-old intellectual and leader, the community is disregarded or worse insulted with impunity. After 9/11 Dr. Jamal and IIIT were targeted by anti-Muslim and racist government prosecutors for many years in order to silence them, marginalize their accomplishments, and break up their institute. But they kept fighting, building institutions and alliances, and expanding their efforts until the government finally abandoned its futile pursuit, even though at a great cost to their families, friends, finances, and work.
Leaders like Dr. Barzinji and Dr. Agha Saeed (who led the efforts to unite and empower the community for many years) represent the best examples of Muslim leaders in the West who built institutions across cultures, races, and ethnicities, that were based on shared principles and common interests without compromising core values or sacred causes such as Palestine. The American Muslim community, but especially, its youth, who have since 9/11 been suffering enormously from societal alienation, government overreach, Xenophobic attacks, andIslamophobia, must follow in the footsteps of Dr. Barzinji, and learn about his life and sacrifices. They must look up to his example for inspiration and hope. When they do that they would learn that they need to seek knowledge to free their minds; that they must fight ignorance and Islamophobia with education and outreach; that they must stand up for their rights and speak out against injustice to be respected and empowered; that they must unite and stand for high principles and moral values against false promises and easy access to power. To honor the legacy and life of Dr. Barzinji is to live by his values and example.
We offer our deep condolences and sympathies to Dr. Jamal’s family, his kind wife Souzan, and his children Suhaib, Fadwa, Iman, Firas,Zaid, and his many grandchildren, his brother Fakhri and the rest of the Barzinji family, his IIIT colleagues, and countless friends across the globe. May God’s mercy, grace, and blessings be on his soul. He was truly loved and will be terribly missed.
We offer our deep condolences and sympathies to Dr. Jamal’s family, his kind wife Souzan, and his children Suhaib, Fadwa, Iman, Firas, Zaid, Ghaida, and his many grandchildren, his brother Fakhri and the rest of the Barzinji family, his IIIT colleagues, and countless friends across the globe. May God’s mercy, grace, and blessings be on his soul. He was truly loved and will be terribly missed.
February 4, 2015
To my dear friends and supporters,
After 40 years, my time in the U.S. has come to an end. Like many immigrants of my generation, I came to the U.S. in 1975 to seek a higher education and greater opportunities. But I also wanted to live in a free society where freedom of speech, association and religion are not only tolerated but guaranteed and protected under the law. That’s why I decided to stay and raise my family here, after earning my doctorate in 1986. Simply put, to me, freedom of speech and thought represented the cornerstone of a dignified life.
Today, freedom of expression has become a defining feature in the struggle to realize our humanity and liberty. The forces of intolerance, hegemony, and exclusionary politics tend to favor the stifling of free speech and the suppression of dissent. But nothing is more dangerous than when such suppression is perpetrated and sanctioned by government. As one early American once observed, “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” Because government has enormous power and authority over its people, such control must be checked, and people, especially those advocating unpopular opinions, must have absolute protections from governmental overreach and abuse of power. A case in point of course is the issue of Palestinian self-determination. In the United States, as well as in many other western countries, those who support the Palestinian struggle for justice, and criticize Israel’s occupation and brutal policies, have often experienced an assault on their freedom of speech in academia, media, politics and society at large. After the tragic events of September 11th, such actions by the government intensified, in the name of security. Far too many people have been targeted and punished because of their unpopular opinions or beliefs.
During their opening statement in my trial in June 2005, my lawyers showed the jury two poster-sized photographs of items that government agents took during searches of my home many years earlier. In one photo, there were several stacks of books taken from my home library. The other photo showed a small gun I owned at the time. The attorney looked the jury in the eyes and said: “This is what this case is about. When the government raided my client’s house, this is what they seized,” he said, pointing to the books, “and this is what they left,” he added, pointing to the gun in the other picture. “This case is not about terrorism but about my client’s right to freedom of speech,” he continued. Indeed, much of the evidence the government presented to the jury during the six-month trial were speeches I delivered, lectures I presented, articles I wrote, magazines I edited, books I owned, conferences I convened, rallies I attended, interviews I gave, news I heard, and websites I never even accessed. But the most disturbing part of the trial was not that the government offered my speeches, opinions, books, writings, and dreams into evidence, but that an intimidated judicial system allowed them to be admitted into evidence. That’s why we applauded the jury’s verdict. Our jurors represented the best society had to offer. Despite all of the fear-mongering and scare tactics used by the authorities, the jury acted as free people, people of conscience, able to see through Big Brother’s tactics. One hard lesson that must be learned from the trial is that political cases should have no place in a free and democratic society.
But despite the long and arduous ordeal and hardships suffered by my family, I leave with no bitterness or resentment in my heart whatsoever. In fact, I’m very grateful for the opportunities and experiences afforded to me and my family in this country, and for the friendships we’ve cultivated over the decades. These are lifelong connections that could never be affected by distance.
I would like to thank God for all the blessings in my life. My faith sustained me during my many months in solitary confinement and gave me comfort that justice would ultimately prevail.
Our deep thanks go to the friends and supporters across the U.S., from university professors to grassroots activists, individuals and organizations, who have stood alongside us in the struggle for justice.
My trial attorneys, Linda Moreno and the late Bill Moffitt, were the best advocates anyone could ask for, both inside and outside of the courtroom. Their spirit, intelligence, passion and principle were inspirational to so many.
I am also grateful to Jonathan Turley and his legal team, whose tireless efforts saw the case to its conclusion. Jonathan’s commitment to justice and brilliant legal representation resulted in the government finally dropping the case.
Our gratitude also goes to my immigration lawyers, Ira Kurzban and John Pratt, for the tremendous work they did in smoothing the way for this next phase of our lives.
Thanks also to my children for their patience, perseverance and support during the challenges of the last decade. I am so proud of them.
Finally, my wife Nahla has been a pillar of love, strength and resilience. She kept our family together during the most difficult times. There are no words to convey the extent of my gratitude.
We look forward to the journey ahead and take with us the countless happy memories we formed during our life in the United States.
June 27, 2014
It is with a great sense of relief and thankfulness that I can now report that all charges have been dropped against my client Dr. Sami Al-Arian. Minutes ago, United States District Judge Anthony J. Trenga signed the order dismissing the indictment against Dr. Al-Arian. The case was before Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, but it was Judge Trenga who signed the order on Friday afternoon.
I have represented Dr. Al-Arian for roughly eight years as we fought for his deportation and the dismissal of these charges. We have litigated the case from the 11th Circuit to the 4th Circuit to the Supreme Court and back again. It has been a long and difficult road for the Al-Arian family.
From the blog of Jonathan Turley: http://jonathanturley.org/
June 27, 2014 by jonathanturley
In September 2004, Dr. Sami Amin Al-Arian was charged, along with various co-defendants, in a 53-count Superseding Indictment. Following a highly publicized six-month trial in 2005, Dr. Al-Arian was acquitted on eight counts and the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the remaining nine counts. There were only two jurors who voted against acquitting Dr. Al-Arian of all of the remaining counts.
As the government considered whether to bring charges against Dr. Al-Arian on the remaining counts, the parties began to negotiate a plea agreement. As a result of these negotiations, Dr. Al- Arian executed a written plea agreement on February 28, 2006. Pursuant to this agreement, Dr. Al-Arian committed to pleading guilty to Court 4 of the Superseding Indictment. The narrative of this count largely dealt with a statement that Dr. Al- Arian made to a reporter and his support with an immigration matter for a person “associated” with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). The count notably did not admit to any of the core terrorism charges levied against him regarding alleged leadership in PIJ and the other terrorism acts. Dr. Al-Arian was sentenced to a 57-month term of imprisonment on May 1, 2006.
In fact, as evidence of the high-profile nature of the case, then-Attorney General Ashcroft called an unorthodox press conference to announce Dr. Al-Arian’s arrest. Ashcroft had publicly and repeatedly cited the prosecution as a major victory in his administration. See, e.g., Paul Lomartire, Professor Says Terrorism Arrest ‘All About Politics,’ Cox News Service, Feb. 20, 2003. A movie has since been made of the trial and hundreds of articles have appeared in local and national publications regarding the case.
The trial loss and plea agreement was viewed as a significant defeat for the Justice Department. In the immediate aftermath of the settlement and public criticism, prosecutors set out to call Dr. Al-Arian to a grand jury despite his prior insistence that he would not cooperate in such an investigation as a condition of his plea agreement.
The result was a highly abusive incarceration of Dr. Al-Arian and eventually this indictment in 2008 by the Justice Department. He was indicted despite my producing a polygraph showing that he could offer nothing of the matters under investigation by the grand jury and a sworn detailed declaration of his lack of knowledge. We filed a series of motions contesting the indictment for selective prosecution, errors in the indictment, and a clear violation of the agreement made by the Justice Department.
A few years ago, we were able to have Dr. Al-Arian released from jail and later we were able to have his home confinement conditions lifted. He has lived with his family in Virginia.
This case remains one of the most troubling chapters in this nation’s crackdown after 9-11. Despite the jury verdict and the agreement reached to allow Dr. Al-Arian to leave the country, the Justice Department continued to fight for his incarceration and for a trial in this case. It will remain one of the most disturbing cases of my career in terms of the actions taken by our government. However, despite our often heated hearings in this case, I thank those at the Justice Department who agreed to the dismissal of the indictment. This family has been put through over a decade of grinding, unrelenting litigation. It is time to bring closure to this matter once for all.
I am very thankful to the many law students who have assisted me on this case as well as the help of the law firm of Bryan Cave as local counsel in the case. We have represented Dr. Al-Arian pro bono because of the important constitutional and ethical issues raised by his case. The core values underlying this defense ultimately prevailed but only due to the extraordinary effort of Dr. Al-Arian, his loyal family, and a wide array of supporters. It is often said that Justice delay is Justice denied. However, despite this delay, justice did ultimately prevail for not just the Al-Arians but our legal system.
June 27, 2014
We are glad that the government has finally decided to drop the charges against Sami Al-Arian. It has been a long and difficult 11 years for our family in what has ultimately been shown to be a political case. We are relieved that this ordeal finally appears to be at an end. We hope that today’s events bring to a conclusion the government’s pursuit of Dr. Al-Arian and that he can finally be able to resume his life with his family in freedom.
We are so grateful to our brilliant attorney, Jonathan Turley and his legal team for their tireless efforts and advocacy on our behalf. Thank you to all of our supporters around the country and across the globe, who have stood behind us throughout the years.
Link: Fla-Ca Case in Limbo
5 years later, Fla.-Va. terrorism case in limbo
By MATTHEW BARAKA
Thursday, May 15, 2014
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — For five years, a federal judge upset with the prosecution of a Florida professor once accused of being a leading terrorist has simply refused to rule on his case. It’s left the government unable to deport him, unable to prosecute him, and flummoxed on how to move forward.
In April 2009, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema told lawyers she would rule “soon” on whether to dismiss criminal contempt charges filed in Virginia against former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, a longtime prominent Palestinian activist, who refused to testify in a separate terror-related investigation.
The ruling hasn’t come, and nothing has happened in the case, unusual for Alexandria’s federal courthouse known in legal circles as the Rocket Docket for its swift disposition of cases. Legal experts say they can’t think of a similar case elsewhere that has languished for so long.
On the surface at least, Al-Arian — who has declined to invoke his speedy trial rights — benefits from his silence and the standoff. If the Virginia case were dropped, Al-Arian, 56, born in Kuwait to Palestinian refugees before coming to the U.S. in 1975, would be deported under the terms of a Florida plea.
Instead, while he is technically on house arrest, Brinkema liberalized the conditions of Al-Arian’s confinement last year. She gave him freedom to leave the house as long as he doesn’t miss an unspecified curfew. And instead of having to deal with unsettled conditions in Egypt where he might be deported, he lives with his wife, Nahla, and his oldest daughter, one of his five children who he is free to see. All of Al-Arian’s children were born in the U.S. and are U.S. citizens though his citizenship application was denied in the 1990s.
Al-Arian and his attorney, Jonathan Turley, declined to comment. In 2008, Brinkema warned all sides to watch carefully what they said in public following several contentious hearings and a speech by then-presidential candidate Mike Gravel who, in defense of Al-Arian, urged people to pressure the prosecutor and “find out where his children go to school.”
In the anxious months after the Sept. 11 attack, the Florida prosecution of Al-Arian exposed the polarized opinions that Americans held regarding the Bush administration’s aggressive tactics in the Global War on Terror.
Al-Arian’s critics said he was a leader of one of the most ruthless terrorist groups in the world — the Palestinian Islamic Jihad — and that he used his position as a computer science professor as a base to quietly raise money for attacks. His supporters saw a man who was trapped by anti-Muslim hysteria, unfairly snared in a vague, amorphous web of guilt-by-association when his real goal was to help his native people in the Palestinian territories.
In 2003, federal prosecutors in Florida filed an indictment alleging Al-Arian was a leader of the terrorist group and complicit in the murder of innocent civilians. A jury acquitted him on numerous counts, and was hung on others. A mistrial was declared.
Prosecutors and Al-Arian then cut a deal that they thought would be the end of it. He agreed to plead guilty to lesser charges, followed by a recommendation for time served and immediate deportation — possibly to Egypt, where he lived before he came to the U.S. Specifically, he admitted to lesser charges including conspiring to aid the PIJ by helping a relative with links to the group get immigration benefits.
At Al-Arian’s insistence, the deal also eliminated a standard provision requiring defendants to cooperate with government investigations.
But then, federal prosecutors in Virginia sought his testimony in a long-running, terror-related grand jury investigation of their own, focused on a Herndon-based organization called the International Institute of Islamic Thought, which was raided by the FBI in 2002 and provided funding to a think tank founded by Al-Arian.
Al-Arian was granted immunity and subpoenaed. U.S. attorneys argued that his plea deal bound federal prosecutors in Florida, but not in Virginia — language that is typical in plea agreements. Al-Arian refused to testify and went on several hunger strikes.
Eventually, in 2008, the Virginia prosecutors charged him with criminal contempt. After some heated pretrial hearings in which the judge questioned whether the government was violating the spirit of the Florida plea deal, if not the letter of it, Brinkema canceled all further proceedings and essentially put the case on ice, where it remains.
Occasionally over the years, prosecutors have filed gentle reminders about the case’s status that have been ignored. Brinkema declined to comment.
Pete White, a former prosecutor in the Eastern District of Virginia who is now a defense attorney, said it is rare for a criminal case to sit this long under these circumstances, especially in the Rocket Docket. There are no official statistics that document the rarity of a criminal case sitting in limbo for such a long time, but White and others said they could not think of a similar case, especially one that grew out of a terror-related investigation.
White said the only option prosecutors have to propel the case forward would be to file something called a writ of mandamus against Brinkema — basically asking another judge to order her to take action.
Taking such a drastic step would be tricky for a U.S. Attorney’s Office that appears in front of the judge for hundreds of cases every year.
The acting U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, Dana Boente, declined to comment on the Al-Arian case.
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who closely follows the federal courts in Virginia, said Brinkema has significant experience dealing with national security cases, and on several occasions has expressed frustration with the government’s tactics in its pursuit of terror convictions.
When Brinkema presided over the trial of 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, she expressed chagrin when the government admitted after the trial that interrogations of certain al-Qaida detainees which were relevant had been videotaped, when the government represented at the time that no such tapes existed.
Brinkema suggested afterward that she can’t trust what government agencies say about classified evidence in terror cases. She said she might order a new trial in another high-profile terror case — northern Virginia Islamic scholar Ali al-Timimi, convicted of soliciting treason for urging followers to join the Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks. Unlike in the Al-Arian case, though, the judge has continued to hold hearings and issue rulings in that case.
“Maybe this is just her way of addressing … her concerns about the government’s case,” Tobias said.
Indeed, in a March 2009 hearing, Brinkema expressed her opinion that Al-Arian may have been essentially hoodwinked.
“But I think there’s something more important here, and that’s the integrity of the Justice Department,” she said.