All criminal charges were dropped against Palestinian leader, Dr. Sami Al-Arian on June 27, a ruling greeted by those who have fought for nearly two decades to free him.
While hailing the victory, those who have defended the college professor assailed the Federal prosecutors for pushing for his instant deportation. Dr. Al-Arian was facing criminal contempt charges for refusing to testify before a grand jury in a case unrelated to his own. Forcing him to testify violated the terms of his plea agreement.
John Streater, a retired Tampa school teacher, who worked in defense of Al-Arian told the World, "This is a huge victory but it is also a mixed thing. The future is undecided." Deporting Al-Arian is a vicious act of revenge that runs counter to the decision to drop all charges, Streater said.
"Think of the ordeal this family went through. Al-Arian spent months and months in solitary confinement. He was bumped around from Florida to Virginia." He almost died from a 62-day hunger strike.
He pointed out that Al-Arian had been a highly respected university professor and community activist. Suddenly he was stripped of his job and thrown in prison under the U.S.A. Patriot Act with smear attacks that he was a "terrorist" sympathizer. The Al-Arian case became the centerpiece of President George W. Bush's "war on terrorism."
Added Streater, "Al-Arian and his family stood strong. He did not cave when Ashcroft leveled those charges at him."
Streater and his wife, Priss, are personal friends of the Al-Arian family. While visiting Washington, D.C. in March 2013, they met with Sami and Nahla over coffee. "He was in much better condition than he had been since his arrest," Streater said. "He was living at his daughter's apartment in Washington, free to move around although he was wearing an ankle bracelet. But the charges were still pending against him. Now those charges have been dropped."
In Dec. 2005, a 12-member jury in Tampa, refused to convict Al-Arian of any of the 51 charges filed against him. The jury found him innocent of eight criminal charges including that he belonged to a "front group" that funneled contributions to "terrorists" in Palestine.
But the jury deadlocked when two of the jurors refused to go along with the majority in acquitting Al Arian and three co-defendants on lesser charges. The Justice Department used that loophole to continue the ruthless persecution in flagrant violation of the spirit of the Tampa jury's verdict.
Al-Arian endured five years in which his case fell into legal limbo over his refusal to testify before the grand jury. Then came the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge, Anthony Trenga. He signed an order to accept the government's motion, ending close to two decades of repression against Al-Arian.
"This ruling was a bolt from the blue," said Mel Underbakke, Director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms. She added, "His arrest and trial was a great injustice in the first place so they should have dropped the charges long ago." Underbakke, based on Tampa, Florida, played a major role in promoting the mass viewing of a Norwegian film, "The U.S.A. vs. Al-Arian."
Streater remembered the premier showing of that film in Tampa. "We packed the theater and had an excellent panel discussion. There was a strong feeling in the grassroots of Tampa that this treatment of Sami Al-Arian was wrong."
The U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) also hailed the victory and congratulated Al-Arian, his family and his legal defense team "for this huge victory."
The Palestinian group added, "The case of Dr. Sami Al-Arian is one of the most egregious examples of the U.S. government's criminal post-911 policy against our community and its leaders and we stand in support and solidarity with Dr. Abdelhaleem Ashgar and all other political prisoners across the country."
Leila Taha leader of the Chicago chapter of USPCN said victory was won "not only with a great legal team but also with strong community organizing and consistent pressure on the government."
Photo: Still from film USA vs. Al-Aria, Nahla Al-Arian speaking to reporters.