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American Muslim

AMP Report  - May 1, 2006

Al-Arian sentenced to more prison
 before he can be deported

Tampa, FL., May 1, 2006 - U.S. District Judge James S. Moody has sentenced former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian to another year and a half in prison before he will be deported in his terrorism conspiracy case.

Al-Arian, 48, was sentenced to four years and nine months, but he will get credit for the three years and three months he has already served while being held before and after his trial. His lawyer, Linda Moreno, asked the judge to release her client now, but the judge refused and called Al-Arian "a master manipulator."

The former computer science professor signed a plea agreement April 14 in which he admitted providing support to members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a State Department-designated terrorist group responsible for hundreds of deaths in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Al Arian took a plea deal despite a jury failing to convict him of any of the 17 charges against him after a six-month trial last year. His family said he took the deal to get out of jail and end their suffering.

Moody said he believed Al-Arian was "an active leader" in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad who raised money for suicide bombings in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and lied about his involvement.

Dismissing defense contentions that money raised by Al-Arian and his co-defendants went to support Palestinian charities, Moody said: "Your only connection to widows and orphans was that you create them."

Before the judge spoke, Al-Arian told the court that he takes responsibility for what he did and said he was grateful for the opportunities afforded him in the United States. "As I leave, I harbor no bitterness or resentment," he said.

He signed a plea agreement April 14 in which he admitted providing support to members of the PIJ, a State Department-designated terrorist group responsible for hundreds of deaths. He took the deal despite a jury failing to convict him of any of the 17 charges against him after a six-month trial last year.

After the sentencing, Moreno declined to comment on Moody's sharp statement but noted that the jury declined to convict Al-Arian. Jurors had said the government failed to directly link Al-Arian his co-defendants to any acts of violence. "(Federal prosecutors) essentially pulled the trigger and shot every bullet - and they missed Dr. Al-Arian," Moreno said. Taking the plea agreement instead of enduring a second trial, she said, was the best thing for Al-Arian and his family.

"The judge made a political statement," said Al-Arian's wife, Nahla.

Moody also blasted Al-Arian for celebrating deadly bombings by the PIJ and then using them to raise money for more bombings, which he and associates appeared to do in wiretapped phone calls introduced as evidence in the trial. "Your children attend the finest universities in this county, while you raise money to blow up the children of others," Moody said.

Moody gave Al-Arian the maximum prison sentence allowed under the plea agreement. Moreno said U.S. Bureau of Prisons guidelines will determine how much time he will have to serve, and the government has agreed to expedite deportation proceedings when he gets out.

It is not clear where Al-Arian will be sent then. Born in Kuwait to Palestinian refugee parents, he was reared mostly in Egypt before coming to the United States 30 years ago. He has been jailed since his arrest in February 2003 in harsh conditions. He spent two years in solitary confinement.

U.S. Attorney Paul Perez claimed victory, saying the pursuit of Al-Arian allowed federal agents to identify and disrupt a terrorist cell operating in this country. The plea vindicated the prosecution, which some had criticized as being political and an attack on free speech, he said.

"There's no doubt in my mind he was a member of the PIJ," Perez said. "There's no doubt in my mind he provided support to members of the PIJ. There's no doubt in my mind that he was, as the judge said, a master manipulator."

As part of the plea agreement, Al-Arian admitted to being associated with the PIJ from the late 1980s and providing "services" for the group, which included filing for immigration benefits for key members of the PIJ, hiding the identities of those men and lying about his involvement.

Al-Arian's attorneys argued during his trial that although he and his co-defendants were vocal advocates in the United States for the Palestinian cause, the government had no proof that they planned or knew about specific acts of violence. They said the money they raised was for legitimate charities.

Jury’s verdict

On December 3, 2005, Al-Arian was acquitted in December of eight of the 17 federal charges against him while the jury deadlocked on the rest.

They acquitted him on the most serious charges, that he conspired to maim and murder people overseas, and were deadlocked 10-2 on 9 of the 17 counts. When repeatedly pressed to explain what evidentiary basis the two jurors had to find al-Arian guilty on the 9 counts, they were unable to provide any. In fact, since, one of the two unreasonable jurors admitted the lack of evidence to convict: "For me, the absence of evidence didn't mean there was no evidence. For me, it suggested a coverup..."

Another juror said, "An awful lot trees went into this evidence. But for what purpose, I don't know." In the words of juror 112, a 40-year old truck driver, "The evidence wasn't there to put a guilty verdict on it... People assume. They assume guilt...People really need to think about things before they make a decision. You really need to get the facts first. I sat in that room for six months. Until you've sat through something like this . . . you cannot sit in your car or at your house and determine guilt."

On April 17, it was announced that al-Arian and the government reached a plea agreement: in exchange for pleading guilty to one count, making or receiving services to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the government would drop the remaining eight charges and expedite his deportation.

When at the plea agreement hearing, U.S. Magistrate Thomas B. McCoun said, "... if you're satisfied you're guilty or you believe it's in your best interest to plead guilty ... let me know that," al-Arian replied, "I believe it's in my best interest to enter a plea."

The failure to convict Al-Arian was a stinging rebuke for the federal government. His case was once hailed by authorities as a triumph of the anti-terrorism Patriot Act, which allowed secret wiretaps and other information gathered by intelligence agents to be used in criminal prosecutions.

Sami Al-Arian's comments

Here is a transcript of Sami Al-Arian's comments to Judge James S. Moody Jr. in U.S. District Court on May 1, 2006:

I thank my outstanding lawyer, Ms. Moreno, for eloquently expressing my sentiments to the court this morning. I also would like to thank her and my former attorney, Mr. Bill Moffitt, for their exceptional representation and their tireless efforts on my behalf for the past three years. I'd like as well to thank Mr. Lee Fugate, Mr. Jack Fernandez and Mr. Simon Gaugush for their excellent efforts on my behalf for the past few months. This process, your Honor,

independence of the judiciary, the integrity of the jury system, and the system of checks and balances are upheld, despite intense political and public pressures. Hence, I'd like to express my deep appreciation to the jury for their remarkable courage and efforts in the service of justice in this case.

It's also my belief that an impartial and conscientious jury, as well as principled judicial rulings that uphold the values of the Constitution, are the real vehicles that win the hearts and minds of people across the globe, especially in the Arab and Muslim world.

Your Honor: This May 21 will mark my 31st anniversary in the United States. The American chapter of my life has surely been the longest. But it's about to end, as I will soon leave and start a new chapter.

As I leave, I harbor no bitterness or resentment. Looking back at my three decades in America, I'm indeed grateful for the opportunities afforded to the son of stateless Palestinian refugees in a foreign country, while denied such opportunity in his country of origin and the countries where he was born or raised.

I'm grateful that my five wonderful children were born and raised in a society that provided them with freedom and equal opportunities in order to reach their potential. Had they been born anywhere else, they'd still be classified and treated as stateless Palestinian refugees.

During my many years in America, I have tried to uphold the great values of my faith and culture and the honored ideals and principles of this society. I'm very proud of my contributions to this society. And I'm very grateful to have been able to contribute positively in many endeavors.

I'd also like to thank my loving family, my beloved wife and children, whom I'm looking forward to join with soon. Their continuous love and unwavering support during this ordeal have been ceaseless and inspiring. During this entire time, my family never lost faith in the ideals of truth and justice that our society holds in esteem.

Finally, and most importantly, I want to thank the Almighty for bestowing on me deep faith and calming peace that have sustained me during these past few years. Thank you, your Honor.