WHY IS DR. SAMI AL-ARIAN STILL IN PRISON?
[NOTE: this letter ran as a quarter-page ad in yesterday’s Washington Post.]
An Open Letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
Dear Attorney General Gonzales,
We the undersigned Americans – individuals and organizations – respectfully request that you support the immediate release of former Florida professor Dr. Sami Al-Arian so that he and his family may resume their lives in another country. Here are our reasons for seeking Prof. Al-Arian’s release:
In December 2005, after 10 years of federal investigation and a six-month trial, a Florida jury refused to return a single guilty verdict against Dr. Al-Arian, rejecting the government’s argument that he operated a cell for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
On May 1, 2006, the Justice Department agreed that Dr. Al Arian should be released within 30 days, and further agreed to assist in his voluntary departure from the country without other conditions, in exchange for a guilty plea to one non-violent offense.
In violation of their agreement, the Justice Department changed its position by attempting to force Dr. Al Arian to testify before a grand jury. Despite the plea agreement that freed him from further cooperation with the government, Dr. Al-Arian was recently given a sentence of up to 18 months in prison for refusing to testify before a grand jury in Virginia.
On January 21, Dr. Al-Arian began a hunger strike to protest the government’s actions and the conditions of his imprisonment. Family members report that he collapsed after the 23rd day and has been moved from Virginia to a medical facility in North Carolina, where he is kept in solitary confinement, in effect under twenty-four hour lockdown.
Recently the respected human rights monitor Amnesty International sent you a letter expressing “concern about the treatment while in federal custody of Dr. Sami Al-Arian.” Amnesty International communicated to you that his treatment in prison “is in breach of the USA’s obligations under international standards and treaties, including Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which states that ‘all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.'”
In criticizing the unacceptably punitive conditions of solitary confinement of Dr. Al-Arian, Amnesty International went on to express concern over the reports of the prosecutor leading the grand jury case in Virginia who has expressed anti-Islamic sentiments in discussions with counsel for Dr. Al-Arian. This raises the obvious question whether these proceedings are being used to punish him for his political profile rather than for constitutionally legitimate purposes.
In May 2006, your department had promised to end the case by ending all further business with Dr. Al-Arian and to assist in his immediate deportation. Now your department is responsible for locking him up potentially indefinitely.
You have not kept your promise. Today, people all over the world are urging you to keep your promise and release Dr. Sami Al-Arian as scheduled so that he and his family can build their lives elsewhere.
American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections
Citizen’s Committee for Equal Justice
California Civil Rights Alliance
Friends of Human Rights
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA