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Feds drop charges, South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian free at last

By Tom Burke

Tampa, FL — University of South Florida computer engineering professor Sami Al-Arian was set free today in Virginia. Federal prosecutors decided to finally drop his case today after his family waited in legal limbo for five years. The judge who delayed the ruling presides over a court nicknamed the “rocket docket” for its speed of settling cases.

Jared Hamil of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression in Tampa Bay said, “It is great news and people are saying this should have happened years ago. The government never had a case. It was just political repression and the stifling of free speech. It is big news here in Tampa.”

Professor Al-Arian is a Palestinian American civil rights and Palestine solidarity activist arrested and put on trial for aiding the Palestinian resistance organization Islamic Jihad in 2003. At the time of his arrest U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft held a press conference announcing the professors arrest to the nation. In the U.S. war on terror, Sami Al-Arian was the big test case.

The U.S. government spent more than ten years spying on Al-Arian and intercepting more than 400,000 phone calls. However the U.S. prosecutors could not get a guilty verdict from jurors on any of the 17 charges.

After spending two years in jail while on trial and faced with another trial and more years away from his family, Al-Arian made a plea deal, agreeing to leave the country and going into political exile. Then things turned ugly and the U.S. prosecutors tried to use their power to punish Al-Arian. Instead of letting professor Al-Arian serve time and leave the country as agreed in negotiations, U.S. prosecutors demanded Al-Arian testify at a federal grand jury in Virginia, which he refused to do based on his agreement with the government. He then was charged with contempt and jailed. Since 2008 he has lived under house arrest.

Hatem Abudayyeh, one of the Antiwar 23 with the Committee to Stop FBI Repression said, “We are extremely pleased that this chapter in the repression of Professor Al-Arian and his family is over. What the U.S. government did to him is a travesty. Palestinians, Arab Americans, and Muslims in this country have been the target of political repression since the 911 attacks. My friends and myself are still part of an unending investigation by Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas here in Chicago. Just like Al-Arian’s case, there is no crime or wrongdoing and we demand Jonas end the assault on us as well.”

In a related case, the U.S. government is putting a 67-year-old Palestinian woman and survivor of torture on trial in Detroit, September 8. Arab American women’s leader Rasmea Odeh is was physically tortured and sexually assaulted by Israeli military personnel and then convicted and imprisoned in 1969. The U.S. prosecutors are claiming she lied on a 20-year-old immigration application by not detailing her torture and imprisonment by the Israeli occupation. Anti-war activists across the country see this as further political repression by Justice Department officials and are planning a large rally and to pack the Detroit courtroom with supporters.

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