On March 3, 2008, Kromberg ordered Al-Arian before still another March 19 grand jury, three weeks before his scheduled release and deportation. On the same day, Al-Arian began his third hunger strike against the government's continued harassment. For a man with diabetes, lack of food is life-threatening; he needs regular sustenance to avoid serious health problems. Al-Arian's January through March, 2007 hunger strike had depleted a quarter of his body weight. His family says it gravely harmed him, and ended only at their urging.
Twenty days into his latest fast, and having lost 30 pounds, Al-Arian was shuttled to various medical facilities. On March 18, he was returned to
George Washington University Law School Professor Jonathan Turley heads Al-Arian's legal team. On March 3, he released the following statement:
"On behalf of Mr. Olson and Mr. Meitl and the entire legal team, (we are greatly disappointed by) the Justice Department('s) continu(ing)....effort to mete out punishment that it could not secure from a jury. Having lost (its) case (it's) openly sought to extend (Al-Arian's) confinement by daisy-chaining grand juries."
He added: "As in other cases, the government has given Dr. Al-Arian the choice of an obvious perjury trap or a contempt sanction. (Either way assures his imprisonment. This) choice....is obnoxious to our legal system and contrary to any standard of decency. The mistreatment of Dr. Al-Arian remains an international symbol of how the Bush Administration has discarded fundamental principles of fairness in a blind pursuit of retribution against this political activist. We stand committed to fighting this great injustice and hopefully reuniting Dr. Al-Arian with his family and friends."
Because he refused to testify before a federal grand jury after the court held that he had no legal basis for refusing, in November 2006 he was held in civil contempt and imprisoned by a federal court judge in Virginia. He served 13 months on this charge until the court lifted its contempt order in December 2007. In June of 2008, at the behest of Kromberg, Al-Arian was indicted on two counts of criminal contempt for not testifying.
In September 2008, Al-Arian was released from detention on bond . He remains under house arrest as he awaits trial on criminal contempt charges. For the first time in over five years, he was reunited with his family, but his ordeal continues. On this occasion alone, he has been waiting for his day in court for more than three years.
The government claims IIIT gave money to a PIJ-related think tank in Tampa that Al-Arian once ran. During the mid 1990s, this think tank employed several PIJ members, the government said, including Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, who left
At the time, his attorney, Professor Jonathan Turley, called the Justice Department's ploy "a classic perjury trap used repeatedly by the government to punish those individuals who could not be convicted before an American jury."
Obama's prosecutors proved to be as ruthless as their predecessors. For example, the Justice Department asked the Court to deny a defense motion, filed 18 months earlier, to dismiss criminal contempt charges. Three previous DOJ motions were rejected.
This time, Holder prosecutors not only requested denying the defense's dismissal motion, but asked Judge Brinkema to reverse her earlier decision letting Al-Arian's attorneys present evidence in case of trial.
In March 2009, she backed the defense's request to file a motion to dismiss Al-Arian's charges, saying she'd rule later at further hearings, and expressing concern over government "bait and switch" tactics: "where Dr. Al-Arian and his counsel were assured that, if he agreed to plead guilty (to one minor charge), he would not be subject to any further involvement with the Justice Department beyond his deportation following the completion of his sentence." Bush prosecutors reneged on the agreement and Obama's lawyers followed suit. Judge Brinkema has never ruled on this request.
Al-Arian's former appeals attorney, Professor Peter Erlinder, a former president of the National Lawyers Guild, said:
"The prosecution of Dr. Sami Al-Arian was a blatant attempt to silence political speech and dissent in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy. The nature of the political persecution of this case has been demonstrated throughout all its aspects, not only during the trial and the never-ending right-wing media onslaught, but also after the stunning defeat of the government in 2005, and its ill-advised abuse of the grand jury system thereafter."
Others who have followed the Al-Arian case are equally critical. For example, Lawrence Davidson, professor of history at