By Paul Findley
A few days ago in Tampa, Florida,
I spoke at a vigil seeking the release of Prof.
Sami Al-Arian, still incarcerated after three years
confinement for allegedly supporting terrorism.
He is not the only person wrongly imprisoned these
days in America, but he is one I have known and
respected for more than a decade.
Until charged, he was a popular tenured professor
in computer science in Florida South University.
In 2000, although an immigrant hoping someday to
regain citizenship in an independent Palestine and
therefore not qualified to vote himself, he led
a campaign that prompted 90 percent of Muslim voters
in Florida to support George W. Bush for president.
The margin proved to be Bush’s key to the
White House, but for Al-Arian the outcome became
a personal irony. He was caught in the frenzy that
followed the 9/11 horror. The unpatriotic Patriot
Act was enacted by a panicky Congress, and Al-Arian,
an enthusiastic supporter of Palestinian causes,
was among hundreds of innocent people caught in
a net spread by a new army of federal investigators
hunting for terrorists among the Arab Muslims in
He languishes in jail even though a jury of his
peers in a six-month trial failed to pin any guilt
on him. The jury found him not guilty on eight of
15 counts that charged support for terrorism, and,
although unable to agree on the remaining seven
counts, in each instance ten of the twelve jurors
favored acquittal. All charges date back at least
He remains in what amounts to solitary confinement,
treated as an inmate too dangerous to release. Another
costly, lengthy trial on the seven unsettled counts
In its December 19, 2005, issue, Time magazine reported
that years of FBI investigation established “no
real links between Al-Arian and terrorist acts.
Nevertheless, says a former FBI supervisor involved
in the case, in late 2002 word came down from [then
Attorney General John] Ashcroft to build an Al-Arian
indictment. ‘We were in shock, but those were
our marching orders,’ says the supervisor
who felt that the Justice Department was rushing
to indict before it had really appraised the evidence.”
The evidence actually suggests strongly that Ashcroft
decided, regardless of evidence, to make Al-Arian
a terrorist trophy.
These are days of sacrifice and dislocation for
all Americans —not just for Al –Arian.
This great nation is in the grip of divisive, misdirected
patriotism at home and costly war-making abroad.
Once renowned as a safe haven for dispossessed and
storm-tossed humankind from any corner of the earth
and revered as the world champion of human rights
through the rule of law, America is now sidetracked
on a futile quest for security through the lethal
force of arms abroad. At home,
our government pursues a double standard that harms
severely the well-being of law-abiding residents
like Al-Arian who seek nothing more than the protection
of the civil liberties that are enshrined in the
Declaration of Independence and the Constitution
of the United States.
Al-Arian is, I believe, a victim of discrimination
based on race and country of origin that one day
will puzzle historians who attempt to examine and
explain this errant period in our history.
It may be small comfort to his suffering family
to know that the professor joins a long line of
great people who, while incarcerated, composed some
of their most moving statements. While in jail,
Al-Arian has set on paper some of his finest compositions
about liberty and justice.
His exoneration in the jury trial is source of great
joy and perhaps surprise to many people who had
despaired of a favorable outcome in any proceedings
that are cast in today’s dark shadows. The
opportunity for a still greater advance lies on
the desk of Ashcroft’s successor as US attorney-general,
Alberto Gonzalez, who knows from the experience
of his parents the challenges, opportunities and
joys of immigration.
Al-Arian has never been the slightest threat to
our liberties. To the contrary, he is a bulwark
to our precious traditions, and his release by Gonzalez
would bring credit and worldwide praise to President
Bush and all who serve his administration. If the
attorney-general orders the dismissal of the charges
left unsettled by the jury, he will quicken the
spirit of all those who suffer discrimination. They
will have reason to hope it heralds a new day of
equal justice in this land.
The decision will help guide this troubled nation
back on the high road it once proudly traveled —where
America can demonstrate that true security lies
in protecting liberty, not starting wars.
(Paul Findley was a Member of Congress, 1961-83,
and is the author of five books, the latest being
Silent No More: Confronting America’s False
Images of Islam. He resides in Jacksonville, Illinois.)