Monday, March 14, 2005


Oppose Israel? Get arrested. Be an Arab? You're guilty.

Sami al-Arian is the computer science professor formerly tenured at the University of South Florida (Tampa) who was arrested in February of 2003 on the charge of raising money for groups associated with terrorism, which would include the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He has been in federal custody ever since and faces life imprisonment.

It seems that Al-Arian is quite indiscriminate in his support for terrorist organizations, since he was a Bush supporter in 2000 and is said to have delivered up the Muslim vote in Florida. His photo along with George and Laura appeared in a July 2001 issue of Newsweek. According to the Boston Globe, Newsweek wrote of al-Arian's son,

It was one of the coolest moments of his life. Abdullah al-Arian was finally old enough to vote for president, and George W. Bush singled him out in the crowd. Bush called the college student 'Big Dude' and posed for pictures with his Arab-American family - an ethnic group politicians have long ignored.

The Globe fleshed out the picture with the further weirdness that Abdullah had been previously expelled from the White House. As an intern for Dem. Rep. David Bonior, his association with known Democrats may as readily explain his expulsion as any presumed connection to Arab terrorism—

The month before the photo was published, Abdullah Arian was removed from the White House, despite having been invited to a meeting related to Bush's faith-based initiative. A Secret Service agent removed Abdullah Arian, then a Duke University student and intern for Representative David Bonior, Democrat of Michigan, based on a tip that he had terrorist ties.

The ejection was widely seen at the time by many Arab-American leaders as an example of ethnic profiling. The Secret Service quickly issued an apology, and Bush wrote Abdullah Arian a letter of apology.

"The president is very concerned that an action was taken that was wrong, inappropriate, and the president apologizes for it on behalf of the White House," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said at the time.

Al-Arian also played a reverse role in the 2004 Florida Senate campaign. Here's how the debate between Democrat Betty Castor (formerly President of USF where al-Arian taught) and Republican Mel Martinez, moderated by Tim Russert, began

Russert: Ms. Castor receives the first question.

One person who has played a dominant role in this campaign is not here tonight. His name is Sami Al-Arian.

I'd like to try to put this issue into some context by first playing an ad that Mr. Martinez is running about you and your campaign. Let's watch.


What is Islamic Jihad?

A murderous band of terrorists who hate America.

Incredibly, under Betty Castor's weak leadership, Islamic Jihad used her university as cover. It wasn't one terrorist. It was a cell.

Betty Castor was warned but refused to fire a single one.

And defended them under academic freedom.

Freedom to plot terrorism.

That's the same Betty Castor who called America the bully of the world.

I'm Mel Martinez and I approve this message.

That is now Senator Mel Martinez to you, boys and girls.

Well, I just mention some of the fun stuff to offset the really appalling news in this case. Al-Arian's trial is currently scheduled to begin May 16. It was originally to begin April 4 but the defense convinced U.S. District Judge James Moody to postpone it. The motion for postponement notes that "The amount of documents, audio casettes, DVDs and other items introduced as evidence has grown so mountainous that the index alone now runs nearly 900 pages. [emphasis added]"

But the judge has insisted that jury selection begin on April 4. Five hundred questionnaires were sent to prospective jurors, and 322 were returned. After reviewing them, the defense filed a motion to move the trial from Tampa. According to the St. Pete Times,

Specifically, the motion said the questionnaires showed that nearly all the potential jurors who completed them "believed Dr. Al-Arian was guilty and they could not set aside their feelings in order to consider the evidence fairly."

The filing said many respondents displayed "an attitude of virulent racism, commenting on the color and hygiene of 'Arabs.'"

"One potential juror wanted to give sodium pentothal to Dr. Al-Arian to 'get the whole truth out,'" the filing said.

A follow-up article in the St. Pete Times adds further detail—

Some potential jurors said they think Muslims, Arabs and Palestinians are more violent than others and commit disproportionately more crimes. Some thought Palestinians were responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, although most of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Some feel Al-Arian is, at least, "sympathetic" to terrorists.

"I don't like the man," one wrote on the questionnaire.

Another potential juror said he couldn't serve because his father once worked with the lead FBI agent in the case. And others called former USF president Betty Castor an "idiot" for allowing Al-Arian to remain in his post while he was under investigation.

But one juror did a big No-No and is in hot water with the judge—

Some attacked the U.S. government, which one prospective panelist blamed for the terrorist attacks. Defense attorney Kevin Beck read from the questionnaire: "This case is a waste of taxpayer money stolen from me." In that instance, Judge Moody denied Beck's challenge and allowed the prospective juror to remain in the pool. "I'm going to let him come in and tell us in person," Moody said.
Since there is no indication that the judge intends to grant a motion for change of venue, the trial will proceed with the Tampa jury pool. It should be truly medieval.

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