Al-Arian on hunger strike againMarch 6, 2008
St. Petersburg Times
By Meg Laughlin
Sami Al-Arian is on the fifth day of a hunger strike in a Virginia prison, protesting a third subpoena to testify before a grand jury. He has refused food and water and has been transferred to a medical ward.
His daughter Laila, who visited him Wednesday, described him as "dehydrated, weak and disoriented.''
Al-Arian’s wife Nahla, who lives in Egypt with their two youngest children, telephoned him today and said she could barely hear him.
"I am so very worried about Sami,'' she said. "It’s shocking that the Department of Justice would reach this low.''
In December 2005, a Tampa jury acquitted Al-Arian on eight terrorism-related charges and deadlocked on nine. In May, 2006, Al-Arian accepted a plea deal, admitting to helping associates of a terrorist group with immigration and legal matters. Federal prosecutors recommended Al-Arian be released from prison in a few months and deported. But Tampa federal judge James S. Moody extended his sentence until April, 2007.
A few months before Al-Arian's scheduled release, Gordon Kromberg, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, subpoenaed Al-Arian to testify before a grand jury or face civil contempt charges. Al-Arian argued the order contradicted his plea agreement which exempted him from signing a cooperation clause.
But Moody ruled that the exemption "was not memorialized in writing'' and was not binding.'
Kromberg has subpoenaed Al-Arian three times to testify before a Virginia grand jury, which has been convened to look at the activities of an Islamic think tank in Virginia. Kromberg would not comment. Twice, Al-Arian was charged with civil contempt for refusing to testify, which extended his time in prison a year beyond his sentence.
In late January, 2007, Al-Arian went on a water-only hunger strike to protest being held in contempt for refusing to testify. After losing 60 pounds in 60 days, his family convinced him to eat again.
In December, 2007, a federal judge in Virginia lifted Al-Arian’s contempt charge and he was scheduled to be released in early April, 2008. But last week, Kromberg issued a third subpoena which, if Al-Arian refuses to testify, could keep him in prison for another 18 months. This time, he is neither eating food nor drinking any liquids.
"My dad told us he has reached his limit,'' said Laila Al-Arian. "When he was acquitted over two years ago, we thought his nightmare was over, but it never ends.'