This story has been corrected to reflect an error in the original version. In fact, Sami Al-Arian was not found guilty of any charge, but subsequently signed a plea agreement in which he plead guilty to one charge of providing nonviolent services to people associated with a designated terrorist organization.
There are few prospects in the justice system so grimly awful as when the feds decide never to let go. Rebuffed in their persecutions of some target by juries, or by contrary judges, they shift ground, betray solemn agreements, dream up new stratagems to exhaust their victims, drive them into bankruptcy, despair and even to suicide. They have all the money and all the time in the world. Sixteen months ago I wrote here about the appalling vendetta conducted by the Justice Department against Sami Al-Arian, a professor from Florida who had the book thrown at him in 2003 by Attorney General John Ashcroft. As I described it then, Dr. Al-Arian was charged in a bloated terrorism and conspiracy case and spent two and a half years in prison, in solitary confinement.
In December 2005, despite the efforts of a blatantly biased judge, a jury acquitted Dr. Al-Arian of the most serious charges. Dr. Al-Arian’s lawyers urged him to plead guilty to a watered-down version of one relatively minor offense to put an end to his ordeal and the suffering of his family. A central aspect of the plea agreement was an understanding that Dr. Al-Arian would not be subject to further prosecution or called to cooperate with the government on any matter. The plea agreement signed with Florida prosecutors explicitly protected him from cooperating in any additional cases. The government recommended the shortest possible sentence, no more than time served.
But then, almost certainly after a visit to the local federal prosecutors in Tampa by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the feds double-crossed him on the plea agreement, and he was thrown back into prison. The biased judge handed down the maximum sentence, which meant a further eleven months of incarceration before release and deportation slated for April 2007. Then Dr. Al-Arian passed into the malign orbit of prosecutors in Virginia, notably assistant federal prosecutor Gordon Kromberg. The Justice Department’s plan was to set up Dr. Al-Arian in a perjury trap, compelling him to testify before a grand jury investigating an Islamic think tank called the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in a case completely unrelated to his. The institute has been the target of a six-year witch hunt by Kromberg.
On November 16, 2006, dragged up to Virginia, Dr. Al-Arian was brought before a grand jury and placed in civil contempt for refusing to testify–because the actual intent of the subpoena was the attempt to trap him. When the grand jury’s term expired, Kromberg promptly empaneled a new one. Dr. Al-Arian was again subpoenaed and again refused to testify. Shunted among prisons in Atlanta and Petersburg and Alexandria, Virginia, Dr. Al-Arian endured hunger strikes and maltreatment from guards.