The Naked Ugliness of Grand Jury Abuse: Ashqar Gets Eleven Years for Refusing to Spy for Israel

On the day before Thanksgiving, Judge Amy St. Eve issued a sentence in the case of Abelhaleem Ashqar. To the shame of the America, the judge sided with government in its claim that an unprecedentedly harsh sentence was required because of an unproven connection between Ashqar’s refusal to speak to a grand jury and terrorism (Mike Robinson, “Terror Trial Defendant Gets Eleven Years,” Associated Press). In fact a jury had acquitted Ashqar of all charges all charges of any sort except the uncontested fact that Ashqar will not talk to the grand jury. In Ashqar’s eyes this refusal was part and parcel of a general refusal to be coerced into becoming a spy for Israel against the Palestinian resistance to the illegal occupation of his homeland. Ashqar’s defense team argued that if any sentence were given, it should be one normally associated with such acts of civil disobedience. The government asked for a life sentence. The actual sentence of eleven years is not as cruel as the life sentence requested by the government, but it demonstrates that the judge bought into the government’s unproven claims that Ashqar was motivated by a desire to “promote terrorism.”

How, in the face of the fact that a jury had acquitted Ashqar of all charges of supporting terrorism one could attribute this, rather than his obvious desire not to be turned into a spy against his countrymen is a chilling question. Perhaps a clue to understanding the reality behind this sacrifice of American justice to political agenda might be found in the Swedish documentary on Sami Alarian, who is also undergoing a similar abuse of the grand jury system. The film, called “USA vs Al-Arian” which will have its Washington, DC premiere on Dec. 5 (one night only!) with a panel discussion moderated by Amy Goodman after the film.

“USA vs Al-Arian” is a disturbing film on freedom of speech in post 9/11 America and political persecution. The film follows the arrest and trial of Sami Al-Arian, an Arab-American university professor accused of supporting a terrorist organization abroad. For two and a half years Dr. Al-Arian was held in solitary confinement, denied basic privileges and given limited access to his attorneys. The film is an intimate family portrait documenting how a tight-knit family unravels before our very eyes as trial preparations, strategy and media spin consume their lives. Norwegian director Line Halvorsen has made a damning portrait of the case focusing on the trial’s emotional toll. This is a nightmare come to life, as a man is prosecuted for his beliefs rather than his actions.

Tickets may be purchased online at or call 813-514-1414.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad

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