Sami al-Arian Brown Bag Lunch

The case of Sami al-Arian touches on many of the aspects of  liberty we at the Minaret of Freedom Institute seek to defend. Ashraf W. Nubani is an attorney and although he is not working on the al-Arian case, he follows it closely. At our most recent brown bag lunch  updated us on the status of his case.

By rights, al-Arian’s struggles with the US government should be over. The former professor at the University of South Florida was initially charged in 2003 and spent almost three years defending his innocence. Al-Arian endured grueling conditions in the maximum security prison where he awaited trial in Florida. Access to phone calls, visits from family members and lawyers were  severely limited as al-Arian struggled to gain access to government evidence in preparation of his defense.

When his circus of a trial was finally over, al-Arian was acquitted of the most serious terrorism charges and the jury deadlocked (two jurors failing to support acquittal) on all the other charges. The mistrial meant more time in prison awaiting a second trial and al- Arian decided to cut a deal. Pleading guilty to three counts to “providing services to individuals the government claims were associated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad” and the prosecution agreed to a sentencing of time served and a quick deportation. However, Judge James S. Moody, Jr. decided to ignore these recommendations and imposed the maximum sentence allowed on al-Arian. Still, al-Arian was schedule to be released in April 2007.

The current controversy revolves around details of his plea agreement, specifically protection from having to further testify. Gordon Kromberg, a prosecutor for Eastern District of Virginia with a record of Islamophobic public comments, subpoenaed al-Arian to testify before a grand jury. Attorneys for al-Arian contend that since the clause mandating compliance was removed from the plea-bargain, al-Arian is legally protected from having to testify.

The plea bargain called for his speedy deportation after he finished serving time on the charges to which he plead guilty, but  Kromberg’s prosecution extends his detention. Ironically, Kromberg’s decision to charge Al-Arian with criminal contempt after repeated incarceration under civil contempt works in favor of al-Arian as he is now entitled to the protections given the criminally accused. Having spent a total of 2020 days in jail, al-Arian was recently moved from punitively harsh prison conditions he endured by Judge Leona Brinkema to house arrest. Although the defense has unable to get the criminal contempt charges dismissed, al-Arian would be allowed use the defense he relying on the advice of his attorneys that signing the plea bargain would immunize him from having to testify before a grand jury.

Since Nubani’s presentation, Judge Brinkema has drawn the line at the prosecutions repeated refusal to provide documentation regarding the government’s records regarding the meaning of the plea bargain and offered the defense ten days to file for dismissal on the grounds that prosecutors have not held to the promises of the original plea agreement, and that motion was filed earlier this week. Judge Brinkema correctly stated there is “something more important here, and that’s the integrity of the Justice Department.”

Among the many topics discussed during the brown bag lunch, the idea of creating a Muslim attorney association was the most practical. Why don’t Muslim lawyers band together, create legal resources for Muslims across this country? It seems the easiest way to combat ignorance in the legal system is to fight from within.

Imran Malik
Minaret of Freedom Institute


Minaret of Freedom Institute Program Assistant

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