Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Anti-Muslim racism leveled at Sami Al-Arian

August 13, 2008 by sudhan

Nicole Colson looks the government’s latest outrage against Dr. Sami Al-Arian, who has spent over five years in prison despite never having been convicted of a crime.

AN OVERZEALOUS federal prosecutor is proving that anti-Muslim racism is at the heart of the ongoing prosecution of Dr. Sami Al-Arian.

What you can do

On August 13, activists in Los Angeles are planning a “Free Dr. Sami Al-Arian” protest and vigil at 5 p.m. at the downtown Federal Building, 300 North Los Angeles St. Sponsors include Al-Awda, the American Friends Service Committee, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the International Socialist Organization and many others. Call 323-691-5283 for information.

Visit the Free Sami Al-Arian Web site to get regular updates about his case and learn more about what you can do to protest his continued imprisonment.

You can send donations to help the Al-Arian family defray the costs of more than five years of legal defense to: Liberty Defense Fund, P.O. Box 1211, 24525 E. Welches Road, Welches, OR 97067.

The documentary film USA v. Al-Arian can be viewed on the Internet at the LinkTV Web site.

Al-Arian is a former University of South Florida professor who has been imprisoned for the past five and a half years–despite never being convicted of a single crime–after the government accused him of using an Islamic think tank and a Muslim school and charity as a cover for raising funds to finance “terrorism.”

Though the Bush administration claimed that prosecuting Al-Arian was an essential part of the “war on terror” here at home, after a six-month trial that the government spent more than $50 million on, a Florida jury in 2006 refused to find Al-Arian guilty of a single count.

Facing the prospect of a lengthy retrial and further separation from his family, however, Al-Arian agreed to plead guilty to a single count of the least-serious charge against him in exchange for what was supposed to be a minor additional sentence and voluntary deportation.

Instead, Gordon Kromberg, the assistant U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia, had Al-Arian moved to that state to try to force his testimony in an investigation of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT)–in defiance of an agreement with Florida prosecutors, recorded in court transcripts, that Al-Arian would be exempt from future testimony.

Sami Al-Arian continues to languish in prison after more than five years (usavsalarian.com)Sami Al-Arian continues to languish in prison after more than five years (usavsalarian.com)

Kromberg’s demand for Al-Arian’s testimony is a legal Catch 22. If he refuses to testify, say his lawyers and family, he faces continued contempt charges–but if he were to testify, it is likely that prosecutors would simply charge him with “perjury” and continue his imprisonment.

Al-Arian has so far continued to refuse to testify, leading Kromberg to file first civil, and now criminal, contempt charges against him—and extending his prison sentence well beyond his original release date. Criminal contempt is one of the few crimes that does not carry a set maximum sentence, meaning that if he is brought to trial and found guilty, and continues to refuse to testify, Al-Arian could conceivably be kept in prison indefinitely.

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KROMBERG’S BEHAVIOR during his involvement in the Al-Arian case has been reprehensible. At one point, he objected to defense attorney requests not to have Dr. Al-Arian moved during the Muslim religious holidays of Ramadan, reportedly saying that “If [Muslims] can kill each other during Ramadan, they can appear before the grand jury, all they can’t do is eat before sunset. I believe Mr. Al-Arian’s request is part of the attempted Islamization of the American Justice System.”

On August 8, at the most recent pre-trial hearing in the criminal contempt case, Judge Leonie Brinkema postponed the upcoming trial until a separate appeal by Al-Arian’s lawyers could be ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court. In her ruling, Brinkema questioned whether prosecutors have been overzealous in filing additional charges against Al-Arian.

At the hearing Kromberg again showed off a vicious streak of anti-Muslim racism and sexism. As the Tampa Bay Coalition for Peace and Justice, which has mobilized support for Dr. Al-Arian, noted in a statement:

After Judge Brinkema ordered that Dr. Al-Arian be released on bail under the custodianship of his eldest daughter, Kromberg abruptly objected, claiming that, as an Muslim woman, Dr. Al-Arian’s daughter would be too weak and submissive to oppose any potential attempt by Dr. Al-Arian to flee, saying that “in this particular [Arab-Islamic] culture, she would not be able to stop him from leaving.”

Though Judge Brinkema struck down Kromberg’s objection, noting that it was “insulting,” Dr. Al-Arian still may not be released on bail–since the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has, in the past, taken custody of Al-Arian pursuant to a deportation order. Rather than actually deport Al-Arian, however, ICE seems willing to hold him in custody until federal prosecutors can drag him back into court.

Incredibly, Kromberg also attempted to play the victim during the latest hearing, complaining in court that Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) has called for activists to picket him in order to put pressure on him to free Dr. Al-Arian.

“Call him a racist in signs if you see him,” Gravel reportedly told a crowd in Washington, D.C., regarding Kromberg. “Call him an injustice. Call him whatever you want to call him, but in his face all the time.”

While Al-Arian’s lawyers and family have made it clear that they do not encourage people to target Kromberg or his family–and have publicly repudiated Gravel’s comments—it should be noted that that, due to being painted as a “terrorist,” Dr. Al-Arian and his family have faced continuous harassment by extremist Web sites, not to mention conservative media pundits like Bill O’Reilly. In addition, during his more than five years in prison, Dr. Al-Arian has been the victim of a campaign of abuse: from racist verbal and physical assaults, to punishing restrictions on visits with his family and phone calls, even to his attorneys.

As daughter Laila Al-Arian said in an interview in April,

After spending more than five years in 10 different prisons across the United States, and despite a six-month trial with 80 witnesses, including 21 from Israel, 12 average Americans stood firm and refused to convict innocent people of any count of over 100 charges leveled at them by the most powerful government in history.

No wonder people have been asking, “Where is justice?” Justice can’t be served when people are targeted because of their beliefs and politics…Justice can’t be served when those who are supposed to administer it abuse it in order to exact revenge. Justice can’t be served when employing fear mongering and fear tactics by exploiting a national tragedy to silence the voices of a vulnerable and weak minority in our society.

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