Palestinian activist and a former professor of South Florida University, Dr. Sami al-Arian, has been indicted on June 25, 2008, in Alexandria, Virginia on two counts of criminal contempt for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury.
The indictment alleges that al-Arian knowingly disobeyed a judge's order to testify before the grand jury. Al-Arian has said that terms of his plea agreement of May 2006 exempt him from testifying, but two judges have rejected his plea.
Dr. al-Arian has completed his nearly five-year prison term but remains in custody because he has refused to testify before a grand jury investigating Muslim charities and businesses. Only three weeks before his scheduled release date of April 7, 2008 he was informed on March 19 that he would be called to testify before a third grand jury in Virginia.
"After failing to convict Dr. al-Arian before a Florida jury, the government has continued to use any and all means to prolong his confinement," said al-Arian's attorney, Jonathan Turley.
He said this is only the latest case where the government has manufactured a charge against someone who was acquitted before a jury. The government has used similar tactics to confine others acquitted of terrorism-related charges. For example, former Howard University professor Abdelhaleem Ashqar was sentenced to 11 years in prison for refusing to testify before a grand jury in Chicago after he was acquitted on charges of aiding the Palestinian terrorist network Hamas.
Turley said al-Arian has given two sworn statements to the government and volunteered to take a polygraph test to demonstrate he's told everything he knows about the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Herndon, Va., which funded his Palestinian think tank in Tampa. "This confirms that the government always intended to indict Dr. al-Arian regardless of his cooperation," Turley said.
Calling the indictment as an outrageous abuse of the grand jury system, he said that the indictment of Dr. Sami al-Arian is a continuation of a long campaign of abuse that has drawn international criticism.
When Dr. Sami al-Arian was arrested in 2003, the then Attorney General John Ashcroft declared a major victory in the "war against terrorism." At the time of al-Arian's 120-page indictment, John Ashcroft, said Al-Arian has been actively funding terrorist attacks in Israel. Ashcroft described al-Arian as the US leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
A federal jury, on December 6, 2005, acquitted Dr. Sami al-Arian, of conspiring to aid a Palestinian group in killing Israelis through suicide bombings. Al-Arian was found not guilty on eight of 17 counts, including conspiracy to maim or murder. Jurors deadlocked on the rest of the charges, including ones that he aided terrorists.
The Tampa jury deliberated 13 days before rejecting arguments laid out over five months by prosecutors that al-Arian and three co-defendants conspired with leaders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad -- which the United States has designated a terrorist group -- providing it money, strategy and advice. The accusations were based on 20,000 hours of phone conversations and hundreds of faxes secretly monitored beginning in 1993.
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. The final outcome of the this three-year long trial was summed up by the Washington Post: "Stung by the defeat in the high- profile case, prosecutors pondered whether to retry him on the remaining charges, including three conspiracy counts, or deport him."
In April 2006, on the advice of his attorneys, Dr Al-Arian agreed to a plea agreement to finally put an end to this ordeal, especially to end the suffering of his family. Central to the plea negotiations was Dr Al-Arian's insistence that he would not be subject to any further prosecution or called to cooperate with the government on any matter. In May 2006, Judge Moody ignored the government's recommendation that he be given the lowest possible sentence, and sentenced Dr Al-Arian to the maximum.
A few months before his scheduled release, Gordon Kromberg, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, subpoenaed al-Arian to testify before a grand jury or face civil contempt charges.
Court transcripts from the original case show that al-Arian's lawyers made his refusal to testify in any further cases a condition of his plea. The agreement was apparently not put in writing and Judge Moody ruled that the exemption "was not memorialized in writing'' and was not binding."
Kromberg has subpoenaed al-Arian three times to testify before a Virginia grand jury, which has been convened to look at the activities of an Islamic think tank in Virginia. Twice, al-Arian was charged with civil contempt for refusing to testify, which extended his time in prison a year beyond his sentence.
In December, 2007, a federal judge in Virginia lifted al-Arian's contempt charge and he was scheduled to be released in early April, 2008. But on March 3, Kromberg issued a third subpoena which, if al-Arian refuses to testify, could keep him in prison for another 18 months.