Court Transforms into"Reader's Theatre" (8/7)
Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace
Aug. 7, 2005
Court Transforms into"Reader's Theatre"
Dr. Sami Al-Arian and his co-defendants' trial will enter its third month tomorrow, Monday, Aug. 8. Below are reflections about the
trial from one court observer.
The Al-Arian Trial Continues
The strange trial of Dr. Al-Arian continues with the ongoing "Reader's Theatre," as role-playing prosecutors read the translations of wiretapped telephone conversations from 1994.
They take on the voices of the various characters and dramatize the evidence, probably hoping this will keep the jury awake!
Much of the past three weeks of testimony by the lead FBI agent has exhibited what can only be seen to be a blatant mischaracterization of Arab and Muslim cultural norms and practices, leading many courtroom observers to conclude that racism is behind much of this prosecution.
Prosecutors have repeatedly attempted to confuse jurors by alluding to common Arabic names and terms of respect and terminology as "aliases." Though Arabic translators have previously testified that calling one by the name of their firstborn child is a deeply-rooted practice in Arab culture, the government has implied that such names by the men in this case are an attempt to conceal their true identities.
Also, in one instance, prosecutors attempted to show that one person mentioned by last name only "Hassanein" in a 1994 telephone conversation was the same person mentioned in another conversation eight years later, in 2002, by two completely different people. One cannot help but conclude that if the name in question was a common English name such as "Smith," the connection would be deemed laughable by anyone present.
Throughout the past two weeks, the FBI agent who has been on this case for ten years was asked to explain particular words in the course of the conversations that he claims are "code." He ignored the fact that most of the terms referenced were common slang known in many parts of the Arab world, and not something exclusive to the conversants. The term "rabbit," for example, is used to refer to a sum of money and is common Egyptian slang. He also did not seem to be aware that the word "family" is frequently used among Palestinians (and almost everyone else, as well!) to refer to immediate and distant relatives. The question on many people's minds has been, if the defendants in the case were African-American, would a federal agent have dared to insinuate that their common terms were in fact "code" without being labeled a racist?
Ultimately, most people who have been bored by the prosecution's case have reached the conclusion that this case is much ado about nothing. In the dramatization that I witnessed on Thursday, about an hour and a half was spent on one conversation. The topic? How to help financially struggling students with employment.
During the week, Judge Moody was heard to remark, "At this rate, I may not live long enough to finish this trial." He sarcastically announced a search for a replacement judge.
The government has introduced numerous books, journals, and documents (including a copy of the U.S. Constitution seized from Dr. Al-Arian's home) as evidence in the case. Judge Moody frequently has instructed the jury that possession of this or that particular document is not illegal. He also instructed the jury that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad had not been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government until 1995.
Thus, it appears that that the government has spent two months and a lot of our tax dollars to prove that Dr. Al-Arian has done a lot of perfectly legal things. Our presence in the courtroom and in front of the courthouse from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Monday will show our support for justice and the rights guaranteed by our Constitution.
Please join us at the federal courthouse, 801 N. Florida Ave every Monday, unless otherwise noted.