Since March 3, 2008, Palestinian activist and a former professor of South Florida University, Dr. Sami Al-Arian, is on hunger strike again to protest continued government harassment. On that day he was informed that he would be called to testify before a third grand jury in Virginia on March 19, only three weeks before his scheduled release date of April 7, 2008. But his release is likely to be pushed back indefinitely when he appears before the grand jury.
As a matter of fact, Dr. Al-Arian is in a Catch-22 situation. Assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, Gordon Kromberg, is setting up for him a perjury/obstruction trap. If Dr. Al-Arian again refuses to testify because of the no-cooperation agreement, he will be charged with obstruction of justice and could receive several additional years in prison. If he testifies, he faces a 'perjury' trap based on past practice with other acquitted Palestinian defendants.
Kromberg has charged other acquitted Palestinian defendants with perjury, when they did testify before his grand jury. Other acquitted Palestinian defendants have been charged with "obstruction of justice," when they declined. The other acquitted Palestinian defendants facing the same "Hobson's choice" have been given "terrorism-enhanced" sentences of 5 to 10 years whether they answered grand jury questions or not after juries already acquitted them of the underlying charges.
In November 2007, Dr. Abdelhaleem Ashqar, a Palestinian-American former professor at Washington's Howard University, was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for refusing to testify in 2003 before a grand jury investigating the Palestinian militant movement Hamas. Dr. Ashqar was convicted of criminal contempt and obstruction of justice. Tellingly, in February 2007 a jury had acquitted Dr. Ashqar of all terror-related charges.
“A great nation is ultimately defined and judged by its system of justice,” Al-Arian said in a statement released through his family. “When the system is manipulated by the powerful and tolerates abuses against the minorities or the weak members of society, the government not only loses its moral authority and betrays future generations, but will also be condemned by history.”
On the third testimony call Dr. Al-Arian’s lead Counsel, Professor Jonathen Turley, said: “Having lost the case in Florida, the Justice Department has openly sought to extend his confinement by daisy-chaining grand juries. As in other cases, the government has given Dr. Al-Arian the choice of an obvious perjury trap or a contempt sanction. It is a choice that 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, he stressed.
When Dr. Sami Al-Arian was arrested in 2003, the then Attorney General John Ashcroft declared a major victory in the “war against terrorism.” Two years later in December 2005, after the Justice Department had spent an estimated $50 million prosecuting him, a Florida jury rejected charges that Al-Arian and three co-defendants had financed and promoted Middle East terrorism.