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The Perpetual Trial of Sami Al-Arian

By       Message WILLIAM FISHER       (Page 4 of 7 pages) Become a premium member to see this article and all articles as one long page.     Permalink

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The total collapse of the government's case could only be seen as a devastating embarrassment for the Justice Department, which had spent an estimated $50-$80 million. Observers of the trial believe the DOJ won an expensive humiliation.


But the DOJ's intent to re-try Al-Arian led him to strike a secret plea bargain.   He was desperate to avoid both the emotional and financial cost of a new trial to himself and his family. The essence of the plea deal was that Al-Arian neither engaged in or had any knowledge of violent acts; that he would not be required to cooperate further with prosecutors; and that he would be released on time served and deported voluntarily to his country of choice.

In the meantime, Al-Arian remained in custody pending sentencing and deportation. He expected to be freed on May 1, 2006. But the presiding judge changed the deal. He sentenced Al-Arian to the maximum 57 months, gave him credit for time served, and ordered him held for the remaining 11 months, after which an April 2007 deportation would follow.

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In October 2006, assistant prosecutor Gordon Kromberg violated the plea bargain terms by subpoenaing Al-Arian before a grand jury. His defense attorneys tried to block it by citing his "no-grand jury cooperation" promise. But prosecutors gutted the cooperation clause from the agreement, which was made during plea negotiations (when to prevent the DOJ from springing a perjury-obstruction trap). The defense's motion was denied, and on November 16 Al-Arian again refused to testify and again was held in civil contempt.


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A month later, the grand jury expired, a new one was convened, and Al-Arian was again subpoenaed to testify. He continued to refuse, was held in contempt, and had his sentence increased by an additional year to April 7, 2008.


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 Warsaw, Virginia's Northern Neck Regional jail ahead of his third grand jury appearance. Again, he refused to testify.


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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."

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William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)

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