Sami Al-Arian who has spent five and a half years in prison even though a Tampa jury refused to convict him of trumped up “terrorism” charges was released on bail Sept. 2, a partial victory cheered by his supporters across the nation.
“We are celebrating,” said Melva Underbakke, a leader of Friends of Human Rights in Tampa. “It has been a long struggle. Here in Tampa, we are overjoyed. Sami is out of solitary confinement. He is out on bail and has been reunited with his family.”

He was released from a federal prison in Virginia. His wife, Nahla, flew back from Egypt to join him and his children in the Washington D.C. area, their first reunion outside prison since he was jailed in 2003. On Dec. 8, 2005, a jury in Tampa acquitted Al-Arian of eight charges that he had aided a Palestinian group that the Justice Department claims supports terrorism. The jury deadlocked on the nine remaining charges against Al-Arian.

Still facing a possible new trial on the remaining charges, Al-Arian, agreed to plead guilty to one count of assisting a Palestinian on an immigration issue. In exchange the Justice Department would drop all other charges, and release Al-Arian from prison. He also agreed to immediate deportation from the U.S.

But instead of delivering on the agreement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg transferred Al-Arian from Florida to a federal prison in Virginia and demanded that he testify in an unrelated investigation of an Islamic think tank.

Al-Arian cites court transcripts proving that the plea included a promise that he would not be compelled to testify in any future legal proceedings. But Kromberg said that promise applies only in Florida, not in Virginia.

His daughter, Laila, charges that this double cross proves that Kromberg—and the Bush Administration—is still determined to keep her father in prison no matter what a jury’s verdict.
Then Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Sami Al-Arian’s indictment at a Washington news conference. It was the “centerpiece” of Bush administration claims that they were “winning the war on terrorism.” The six month trial cost $50 million and ended in a debacle. Al-Arian’s career as a respected professor of computer science at the University of South Florida was destroyed—at least for now.

Underbakke stressed that the struggle continues. Al-Arian is still facing trial on the “contempt” charges.

“We’re hoping to build momentum to win his full freedom,” Underbakke said. “We’d like to see him totally acquitted. We’d love to see him win his right to stay in the U.S. There is no reason at all to deport him. He was a very good neighbor and friend.”