American Muslim civil rights groups have welcomed the release on bail of Dr. Sami Al-Arian, a Palestinian political activist and former professor of the University of South Florida.
Dr. Al-Arain had been in federal custody for more than five years and was released in Virginia today after Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agreed with his attorneys that to hold him was a violation of his constitutional rights. Al-Arian had been held by ICE for 130 days and the legal limit was 90 days.
In July, Federal judge Leonie Brinkema ordered him freed on bail to await trial for a criminal contempt charge for refusing to testify to a federal grand jury. Al-Arian had completed a 57-month sentence a year ago for a single charge (in plea bargain) of providing services to people associated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
But he was never freed from federal custody. Instead, he was held in prison on a civil contempt charge by federal prosecutors in Virginia and then by immigration after his sentence ended.
Welcoming the news of his release Dr. Agha Saeed, Chairman of American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT) said:"This is an important step toward restoration of due process and equal justice for all". The Muslim Public Affairs Council welcoming the release of Dr. Sami Al-Arian pointed out that since his arrest five years ago, his case has become an example of what many American Muslims perceived to be numerous post-9/11 political persecutions of individuals using tactics that amount to little more than guilt by association.
Dr. Al-Arian will be restricted to home detention while he awaits trial for contempt of court in December. Immigration authorities released Al-Arian hours before a federal judge had ordered the agency to explain his continued detention.
Dr. Al-Arian’s release came days after his attorneys filed a petition for habeas corpus to demand that the Department of Justice and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) release him on bail as ordered by a federal judge.
Dr. Al-Arian's original sentence - which the government had willfully extended for over a year beyond the original release date - ended on April 11 of this year, at which point Dr. Al-Arian was transferred to the jurisdiction of ICE for deportation. Shortly thereafter, the US Attorneys office indicted Dr. Al-Arian on two counts of criminal contempt for failing to testify in an unrelated case. Despite the fact that a federal judge ordered Dr. Al-Arian released on bail on July 10, and again reaffirmed this decision on August 8, ICE has brazenly ignored the judge's pronouncement.
The motion by Professor Jonathan Turley and attorneys William Olson and P.J. Meitl stated:
"Dr. Al-Arian has been held well past the ninety day period allowed under the statue [which allows ICE to hold immigrants up to ninety days while completing deportation procedures]. In fact, as of the date of this filing, Dr. Al-Arian has been held by ICE for 130 days. Dr. Al-Arian has not been removed and continues to languish in detention. Dr. Al-Arian's removal to Egypt is not significantly likely to occur in the reasonably foreseeable future, given the pending criminal charges against him and the pattern of behavior already demonstrated by ICE individuals. The Supreme Court held in Zadvydas and Clark v Martinez 543 US 371 (2005) that ICE's continued detention of someone like Dr. Al-Arian is unlawful."
The motion also stated that Dr. Al-Arian's attorneys have contacted immigration authorities in writing on seven different occasions, regarding Dr. Al-Arian's continued detention, receiving no responses whatsoever. On Friday, Judge Brinkema has given the government until Tuesday September 2 to submit a response.
Dr Al-Arian was arrested in 2003 on bloated charges of funding terrorism. In December 2005, after 10 years of federal investigation and a six-month trial, which cost the taxpayers 50 million dollars, a Florida jury refused to return a single guilty verdict against Dr. Al-Arian. The jury acquitted him of 8 of the 17 charges brought against him and was hung on the remaining charges. The trial "featured eighty government witnesses (including twenty-one from Israel) and 400 intercepted phone calls (the result of a decade of surveillance and half a million recorded calls). In April 2006, Dr. Al-Arian, in a plea bargain, pleaded guilty to a single non-terrorism related count of conspiracy and agreed to be deported.