The Justice Department’s decision to indict a Palestinian Arab activist, Sami Al-Arian, on criminal contempt charges may have the perverse effect of giving the former college professor the best chance he has had in years to get out of jail, at least for a while.

At an arraignment before Judge Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria, Va., yesterday, a lawyer for Al-Arian, Jonathan Turley, asked that his client be released into the custody of a family member in what would be a sort of home confinement, Mr. Turley said in an interview last night. The judge agreed to consider the possibility at a bail hearing that will be set in the near future, court records show.

Al-Arian, 50, was charged last week with refusing to testify before two grand juries investigating a web of nonprofit Muslim groups connected to a Herndon, Va.-based think tank, the International Institute for Islamic Thought. Judge Brinkema entered a plea of not guilty, after Mr. Turley declined to offer a plea, citing inadequate time to consult with his client.

Al-Arian’s allies claim the government’s persistence in seeking his testimony is retribution for the outcome of an earlier criminal trial in 2005 on charges that he aided Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He was acquitted on eight counts, while jurors could not reach a verdict on nine others. Al-Arian ultimately entered a guilty plea to a single count of providing aid to the terrorist group.

The Palestinian activist, who maintained close ties with American political figures until 2001, has insisted that his plea agreement bars the government from calling him before other grand juries, but several courts have rejected that argument.

“The government’s long pattern of retaliation against Dr. Al-Arian has now degraded further into raw thuggery,” Mr. Turley wrote on his Web log yesterday. He said that before being indicted for contempt Al-Arian had offered two affidavits answering questions from the government and even agreed that he would submit to a polygraph. (MORE)


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