Muslim group welcomes Al-Arian’s acquittal
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: The American Muslim Taskforce for Civil Rights and Elections (AMT), a coalition of 11 major Muslim organisations, has welcomed Tuesday’s verdict in the case of Florida professor Sami Al-Arian and three co-defendants who were found not guilty on a number of counts related to supporting terrorism, perjury and immigration violations.
“The verdict in this case could have a global impact on winning the hearts and minds of Muslims by demonstrating that America is a nation in which the judiciary can be independent of political pressures, and citizens serving on juries can reach a verdict based on the evidence, not on fear or prejudice,” AMT Chairman Dr Agha Saeed, who was a character witness for Al-Arian, said in a statement. “This is a victory for all those who support due process and a vindication of America’s finest ideals and principles.”
Saeed thanked the academics, journalists, lawyers, religious leaders, activists and other concerned citizens who stood by Al-Arian and supported his legal rights. “This verdict has created a reservoir of goodwill for the United States. Our government should use this moment to team up with American Muslims in building bridges with the Islamic world,” he suggested, while urging President George Bush to respect the verdict and to let Al-Arian become a “living symbol of America’s open, pluralistic and justice-based society”. Such a gesture would allow America to credibly advocate the right to free speech in countries around the world that lack such freedoms.
“This restores our faith in the American justice system,” Ahmad Bedier, Florida representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said. “It sends an important message that in post 9/11 America, Muslims can get a fair trial.”
Some conservative Americans, however, see it as a defeat. “This is a big victory for the enemies of America,” according to Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of ‘Funding Evil,’ a book about efforts to halt the flow of money to terror groups. “This is a wake-up call,” she warned.
According to an analysis in the Christian Science Monitor, the trial of Al-Arian was billed as a showcase of how beefed-up investigative powers authorised under the Patriot Act were helping protect the nation from a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. While a federal jury in Tampa acquitted the Arab professor on a number of charges of supporting terror and being involved in a murder conspiracy, it was deadlocked on others. Consequently, the beleaguered academic stays in jail. When he was indicted two years ago, John Ashcroft, then US attorney general, said that the Muslim academic was in fact the US leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The group, said to be responsible for hundreds of deaths in suicide bombings in Israel, was designated a terrorist organisation by the State Department in 1995.
The prosecution presented 70 witnesses and thousands of hours of wiretapped telephone conversations during the proceedings. The evidence, covering some 400,000 intercepted calls, was gathered during nine years of surveillance of Al-Arian by US intelligence agents. According to the Monitor report, “The most significant break in the investigation came following the 9/11 terror attacks when Congress passed the Patriot Act. The new law dismantled a wall that had been erected between foreign counterintelligence agents spying on individuals in the US and federal prosecutors. Prior to the Patriot Act, evidence discovered during such domestic surveillance operations could not be used in a criminal prosecution. The new law changed that.
“The trial itself revolved around a more fundamental issue. Defence lawyers argued that the case against Arian was political, that he was being punished for having a different - and unpopular - perspective on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”