Three years after arrest, Dr. Al-Arian Remains in Jail (2/20)Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace
February 20, 2006
Three years after arrest, Dr. Al-Arian Remains in Jail
On this day exactly three years ago, federal authorities took Dr.
Sami Al-Arian away from his family during the pre-dawn hours. Over
the next two years, the government spent millions of taxpayer
dollars to prosecute Dr. Al-Arian, meanwhile placing him under harsh
and psychologically debilitating conditions at Coleman Federal
Penitentiary before trial.
Despite a six-month trial in which the deck was stacked against Dr.
Al-Arian and his three co-defendants in countless ways, the four men
were found innocent in December.
Even so, the government has continued to prolong Dr. Al-Arian and
his family's suffering by threatening to re-try him. These actions
are especially shameful considering the jury's stinging rebuke of
the government's case; after the verdict, several jurors said the
evidence to convict was simply not there.
As over 150 supporters, including civil rights attorneys and a
former congressman, said in a vigil yesterday in front of Orient
Road Jail in Tampa, Dr. Al-Arian must be released immediately. Three
years is far too long to continue unjustly detaining an innocent
Below, please see an interview with Dr. Al-Arian published today,
and two articles about yesterday's event.
We ask all conscientious and justice-seeking individuals to call,
email and write Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and chief
prosecutor Paul Perez asking them to drop all charges and free Dr.
E-MAIL, CALL and WRITE Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales
PHONE: 202-514-2001 and 202-353-1555
MAIL: U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Paul Perez, Chief Prosecutor. Emails can be sent to
Ask that it be forwarded to Paul Perez.
Al-Arian reflects on past three years
In only his second interview since being arrested exactly three
years ago on terrorism-related charges, former USF professor Sami Al-
Arian discusses his trial, the conditions of his incarceration and
the suffering his family has endured.
by Ryan Blackburn
February 20, 2006
"I woke up and said to myself, `They're here,'" Nahla Al-Arian said.
She and her husband, still asleep in bed, frantically tried to dress
themselves as the officers shouted for them to open the door.
After numerous threats to break it down, Nahla opened the door.
Several FBI officers rushed in, some brandishing their weapons.
"The first thing I saw was a gun in my face," Nahla said.
Moments later, former USF computer engineering professor Sami Al-
Arian was forced up against a wall and taken into custody.
That was three years ago today when FBI agents hauled her husband
off to a federal prison in Coleman.
Hours later, former Attorney General John Ashcroft said Al-Arian had
been actively funding terrorist attacks in Israel as the head of the
Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
USF administrators alleged he used his academic position to support
terrorism and fired Al-Arian six days later.
When his case went to trial in June 2005, U.S. attorneys used
thousands of taped phone conversations, electronic documents and
dozens of witnesses to convince the jury of his involvement with the
In the end, he was found not guilty on eight of 17 charges,
including conspiracy to maim and murder people abroad and providing
material support to a terrorist organization. He was acquitted on
all other charges, with 10 of 12 jurors acquitting him on all
Al-Arian remains in jail pending the government's decision to retry
him on the remaining counts. Conspiracy to commit racketeering and
conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization
are among the remaining charges.
Judge James Moody has scheduled the retrial for April.
As a prisoner at Orient Road Jail, Al-Arian is limited to three 20-
minute phone conversations per day. Al-Arian agreed to an exclusive
phone interview with the Oracle on Thursday.
It is the second phone interview to be conducted with the media
since his incarceration. What follows is a transcript of one 20-
minute conversation split between Sami Al-Arian, his wife and the
Oracle News Editor Ryan Blackburn. Al-Arian was not provided with
the questions ahead of time.
Ryan Blackburn: How are you feeling?
Sami Al-Arian: I'm all right, I guess. I'm very disappointed that we
have to go through this again, but other than that I'm all right.
R.B.: What do you think should have happened after the acquittal in
S.A.: If the government were true to the system let me give you a
simple example: Right before the verdict on my part, there was a
federal trial with a guy. I forgot his name; he was the owner of the
Hooters the restaurant chain, and he was accused and charged with
tax evasion I think $11 billion dollars or something to that
effect. His case ended with a mistrial, 6-6, and the government said
if we couldn't convince more than six people, we're not going to
retry this, that's the end of it.
Then on my part, I got a 10-2 acquittal not 6-6, 10-2 and still
they don't want to drop it. They still want to spend the taxpayers'
money and continue this persecution without any regard to what the
jurors said and observed and commented. I'm disappointed in that,
had I not been a Palestinian and a Muslim and an Arab, things would
have been extremely different. People would have understood that the
government cannot win this case and they would just drop it, but
this government will not do that. Because, I think, of the reason to
(inaudible) and also because I believe the media pressure that has
been going on, which is unrelenting unfortunately from the
R.B.: What's been the worst part of all this?
S.A.: The worst part is feeling that your family is suffering.
That's been the most torturous part. You know you're innocent, you
know that you haven't done anything that deserved all this, and this
has been a political case from day one, and knowing that not only
you had to suffer which, sometimes if you have to take it, you
take it. But why should your family be suffering? Your children are
growing up without you, they are deprived of your love and your
kindness and your guidance and your advice, and your wife is
suffering on a daily basis; that's the toughest part. Knowing that
that this is an ordeal that has been going on know for three years
and is continuing and you can't do much about it.
R.B.: Have you been keeping in contact with any former students or
faculty from the University?
S.A.: I know some people do send me messages (and) e-mails, and I
get them through the coalition e-mails. Some people send me their
regards and things of that sort, but I don't have any official
contact with anyone at the University. Friends and supporters, yes.
R.B.: How do you get your news?
S.A.: I am allowed a radio, and I do get a newspaper. Of course the
conditions of confinement are extremely restrictive, particularly
restrictive. I've spent three years now in solitary confinement, two
of them in one of the most restrictive environments you could ever
have in a federal penitentiary. It's called the special housing
unit, and it is no different really from what Guantanamo is. If you
know how Guantanamo people are treated, (it's) pretty similar to it
with one exception, and that is that you can get weekly visits.
And when I was there for two years at Coleman, I was the only
pretrial detainee in that unit. That unit is designed for federal
convicts who have disciplinary problems. That unit is not even
designed for normal prisoners. If you are in the general compound
and you knife somebody or you have a fight with a guard or you have
any other kind of disciplinary problem, they will transfer you to
that unit for disciplinary purposes, and normally you stay there for
a month or two. I was there for two years. Even those people are
allowed contact visits. I was never allowed a contact visit.
Normally, if you are in the compound you have about 60 minutes a day
of phone call privileges. Over there you have 15 minutes a month.
That is one call a month. If you misdial or get the wrong number or
don't find your folks, that's it and you're on to the next month. I
wasn't allowed to even make a phone call for six months.
It was designed basically as psychological torture against me. I was
the only person who was pretrial in the whole facility of 75,000
And now I'm here (at Orient Road Jail) for a year, and it's still 23
hours of solitary confinement a day. You are only allowed to
exercise two hours a week, three hours if you're lucky. That's not
even the standard; I mean the standard if you go to any standard
prison, even for solitary confinement people there are supposed to
get one hour a day, and I'm not even getting that. And for whatever
reason, I'm not even in the men's section of the prison; they are
putting me in the female section of the prison. And of course the
females are not around me. I am in a whole compound by myself. There
are four cells that are totally empty. I am the only one in it.
They tell you this is for your protection, but obviously it's not
that. And every time you leave your cell, you've got to be hand
shackled and leg shackled and all kinds of humiliation and
unnecessary procedures, which doesn't make any sense because where
are you going to go? You're totally surrounded, but that's the way
it has been. All these procedures I've been subjected to here in the
county, they are not regular procedures. These are really
extraordinary procedures that they don't explain to you (the reasons
behind), but you know you can deduce the feds keep telling us to do
this, do that.
R.B.: Would you care to elaborate what those procedures are?
S.A.: You're not allowed, for instance, to congregate for religious
services. I am probably the only Muslim here that is not allowed to
join the Muslim congregation in prayer. I'm not allowed to go to the
library. I'm not allowed to basically talk to anybody.
I don't have any men to talk to here, but even if I had been in the
men's section, I'm not allowed to talk to anybody or be with
anybody even to exercise with anybody so you're in total
R.B.: How do you spend your day?
S.A.: Basically I do a lot of reading, because you are allowed to
receive books and newspapers. I listen to the radio (you are allowed
a radio), and I pray a lot. I am allowed to call my family, unlike
in the federal system, which I was in for two years. But that's only
for a limited amount of time daily, like from a half an hour to an
hour a day.
And these kinds of restrictions, I can tell, you were designed to
hamper my defense. When I was in the federal system for two years, I
wasn't allowed at the beginning even to have much legal material in
my cell, and whenever I would meet with my lawyers, they were not
allowed to bring in a lot of material when they met with me. And
when you go to them, you really had to walk a lot of distance (with)
legs shackled, hands cuffed behind your back, and they would refuse
to carry your legal material. So for a couple of months, I had to
carry them on my back. So I had to bend over with my legal material
on my back and walk all the way from my cell to where my lawyer
would be, which was about close to half a mile of walking distance.
I walked like that for two months until the captain saw me one day
and was extremely angry with the guards for the way they had been
doing it. Then they changed it, and at that time they started hand
cuffing me from the front with a chain around the waist where I
could carry my legal stuff with my hands. All these were
unnecessary, but it's part of the system, I guess, to put whatever
pressure they can on you.
R.B.: What type of an effect do you think this case has had on
Muslim and non-Muslim relations?
S.A.: This case has been widely observed overseas. The channel Al
Jazeera had a lot of coverage for it, so people are very much aware
what is going on, and they thought that it would be very difficult
for a Palestinian and a Muslim to receive a fair trial in this
country, and the jury proved them wrong and we were extremely proud
of them. And that's been basically communicated. So in a sense it
was very bad for the Arab, Muslim Palestinian populations in the
Middle East to see that people are being persecuted for exercising
their freedom of speech.
At the same time they were extremely and happily surprised that
justice could still be rendered and that the jury system is indeed a
system that shows the true meaning of democracy, where you have 12
ordinary people sitting and listening to the evidence and not being
prejudiced by the environment around them as well as by the
government's intimidation and voting to acquit, so that I think was
extremely positive in the minds of the people, and I think that that
made it easier for people to appreciate the true meaning of
democracy and involvement of every citizen. But at the same time you
look at what the government is doing and you know, so the pendulum
goes back and forth.
Look at what the government is doing and look what the people are
doing, so there is a keen understanding that the American people are
much more open, just and fair than the government.
R.B.: What do you think about the treatment of Sameeh Hammoudeh?
S.A.: It's unconscionable. I mean, it's unbelievable. It just shows
that even if somebody is acquitted, that they wouldn't let go. To
me, I am extremely surprised and disappointed. It doesn't make any
sense. But I think eventually he would leave, it's not going to go
on forever. It's just a matter of days, if not sooner. I cannot
imagine that this can go on without the judge making a
R.B.: What kind of an outcome are you looking for in your case?
S.A.: Fair treatment, and fairness said that there wasn't evidence.
The jurors have said that there was no evidence.
Automated Message: You have one minute left.
S.A.: The way to deal with this would be for the government to drop
its case and move on. We have been treated extremely unfairly and
unjustly, and that's got to stop. That's got to stop. Let's face it:
They had 90 counts over four defendants, not a single guilty verdict
they were able to get out of this jury, and in most cases, there was
total acquittal or (inaudible), and they had every single thing and
demand they asked the judge (granted); they gave them everything.
Nahla Al-Arian: You don't have enough time, that's it.
St. Petersburg Times
February 20, 2006
Rally calls for freeing Al-Arian
Protesters at the Orient Road Jail see no reason why the former
professor should remain in jail or be retried.
By Rick Gershman
TAMPA - Three years after his arrest, and more than two months after
a federal trial returned no convictions, Sami Al-Arian remains
Sunday, at least, he had plenty of visitors.
More than 100 people protested Al-Arian's continued confinement in
an afternoon rally outside Hillsborough County's Orient Road Jail.
The rally was convened to marshal support for Al-Arian's release,
said Ahmed Bedier of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Today is the third anniversary of Al-Arian's arrest.
Several civil rights advocates spoke to the assembly, and a few also
visited with Al-Arian in his cell, Bedier said.
In December, jurors acquitted the former University of South Florida
professor on eight of 17 charges related to financing and promoting
Middle East terrorism.
The jury hung on the remaining nine counts, with 10 jurors favoring
total acquittal on all but an immigration charge.
Prosecutors are weighing whether to retry Al-Arian and a co-
defendant, Hatem Fariz. The American Civil Liberties Union of
Florida recently urged the government not to retry Al-Arian.
On Sunday, supporters held signs with messages such as "McCarthyism
Is Alive And Well In Tampa, FL" and "If They Won't Free Him, What
Was The Trial For?"
Before speakers took to the microphone, folksingers performed songs
including Peace Train and We Shall Overcome , adding the lyric "We
shall free Sami someday" to the latter.
Civil rights advocate Eric Vickers told supporters Al-Arian's
situation "is the test of democracy right before us in the 21st
century. If this is the America that we know and love, this man must
be set free."
Hyde Park United Methodist Church Rev. Vicki Walker told the crowd
about her friendship with Al-Arian's wife, Nahla.
"I felt her pain, and I realized that as long as Sami is not free,
she is not free," Walker said. "And if my friend is not free, then I
am not free."
Vigil commemorates Al-Arian's struggle
by Ryan Blackburn
February 20, 2006
Dozens of local religious leaders, activists and well wishers prayed
and sang "We shall overcome" outside Orient Road Jail in Tampa on
They came to call for the release of former USF professor Sami Al-
Arian, who has been incarcerated for three years.
Al-Arian and three other co-defendants were charged with supporting
the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and put on trial by the U.S.
Attorney's office. In December, Al-Arian was found not guilty on
eight of 17 charges and acquitted on all others.
The government is seeking to retry Al-Arian on the remaining
"Ashcroft called this one of the major terrorism cases of the 21st
century," one woman said. "We are going to build this as the major
civil rights case of the 21st century."
Some of the speakers who were present at the vigil were from the
Citizens' Committee for Equal Justice (CCEJ), a newly formed
committee that is attempting to engage in negotiations with the U.S.
Attorney Generals office. Some of the members include linguistics
professor and U.S. foreign policy critic Noam Chomsky, former U.S.
Attorney General Ramsey Clarke and professor of religion and
international affairs at Georgetown University John Esposito, though
none of those three were present.
"We have sent a letter to the Attorney General's Office asking him
to let (Sami Al-Arian) go and to meet with us," chairman of the
American Muslim Taskforce and CCEJ member Agha Saeed said.
"Our message is twofold. We want the government to accept the
verdict and release him, and if not, then we shall have a good faith
According to Saeed, the committee is involved with fund raising and
is looking to set up a defense team for Al-Arian.
One man held a large papier-m�ch� statue of Lady Justice wearing a
blindfold. Some people held up signs saying, "Still in jail, what
was the trial for?"
As the event wore on, most of the group stayed and listened to Bob
Dylan and other folk songs while waiting to hear former Congressman
and CCEJ member Paul Findley, R-Ill., speak.
When he arrived, he marched directly over to the microphone and read
from his prepared speech.
"(Al-Arian's) confinement is wrong, legally, morally and
politically," Findley said. "If Attorney General Roberto Gonzales
will order the dismissal of Al-Arian he will quicken the spirit of
all of those in America who suffer from discrimination."
True to his state's namesake, Findley closed with a quote from
"Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes
liberty," Findley said. "Destroy that spirit, and you have planted
the seeds of despotism."