Don’t you think that it’s high time that the American state’s investigators and law-enforcement officers, its judges and its prosecutors and its jailers, and above all its lawmakers, beginning at the very top on down, start being investigated, rounded-up and arrested, and prosecuted for their crimes against the people, including their subversion of the U.S. Constitution?
After all, the United States of America sure has ample space to hold them all, after its prodigious prison construction boom of the last 30 years.
Particularly once we empty the prisons of everyone who doesn’t belong there.
Free Sami Al-Arian. And arrest his persecutors instead.
“USA: 800 secret CIA flights into and out of Europe,” News Release, Amnesty International, December 5, 2005
“Human Rights Commissioner Says Fight Against Terrorism Can Only Be Won If International Human Rights Norms Are Fully Respected,” Press Release, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, December 7, 2005
“UN Commissioner for Human Rights Says Total Ban on Torture Under Attack in ‘War on Terror’,” Press Release, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, December 7, 2005
Human Rights Day: Independent Experts Reaffirm Prohibition of Torture Is Absolute, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, December 9, 2005
“Jury rejects U.S. case in terror trial,” Pedro Ruz Gutierrez, Chicago Tribune, December 7, 2005
“Accused terror leaders acquitted,” Chris Hack, Daily Southtown, December 7, 2005
“US court clears professor of terrorism,” Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, December 7, 2005
“Ex-Professor Acquitted in Patriot Act Test Case,” John-Thor Dahlburg, Los Angeles Times, December 7, 2005
“Jury clears former Florida professor of terrorism-related charge,” Phil Long and Martin Merzer, Miami Herald, December 7, 2005
“Not Guilty Verdicts in Florida Terror Trial Are Setback for U.S.,” Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, December 7, 2005
“8 Times, Al-Arian Hears ‘Not Guilty’,” Meg Laughlin et al., St. Petersburg Times, December 7, 2005
“Verdicts elicit mixed reactions on USF campus,” Kevin Graham and Melanie Ave, St. Petersburg Times, December 7, 2005
“For family, affirmation has a cost,” Vanessa Gezari, St. Petersburg Times, December 7, 2005
“No Guilty Verdicts In Al-Arian Trial,” Michael Fechter et al., Tampa Tribune, December 7, 2005
“Al-Arian Jurors Agree On 2 Verdicts,” Michael Fechter, Tampa Tribune, December 7, 2005
“Fla. Professor Is Acquitted in Case Seen as Patriot Act Test,” Spencer S. Hsu and Dan Eggen, Washington Post, December 7, 2005
“Failed case seen as blow to terror war,” Warren Richey, Christian Science Monitor, December 8, 2005
“The Patriot Act Can’t Make Up for a Weak Case,” Richard B. Schmitt, Los Angeles Times, December 8, 2005
“Professor in Terror Case May Face Deportation,” Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, December 8, 2005
“Al-Arian Case Seen As A Win For Justice,” Elaine Silvestrini and Michael Fechter, Tampa Tribune, September 8, 2005
FYA (“For your archives”): One from the local news media.
* Letters to the Daily Southtown: [email protected]
December 7, 2005
Accused terror leaders acquitted
Southland men involved in trial marking first major use of powers from Patriot Act
In a rebuke of one of the federal government’s most significant prosecutions since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a Tinley Park man and a former Bridgeview resident were among the four defendants not convicted Tuesday on any charges alleging they supported the militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Ghassan Ballut, who lives in Tinley Park and owned a dry-cleaning shop in Ford City Mall, was acquitted on all charges following a five-month trial in Tampa, Fla. Longtime south suburban resident Hatem Fariz — who moved to Florida from Bridgeview in 2002 — was acquitted on 25 counts, and the jury deadlocked on the remaining eight counts against him.
The two men were accused of running the Chicago cell of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization and linked to the deaths of hundreds during more than a decade’s worth of suicide bombings in Israel. Ballut and Fariz allegedly helped funnel money raised here to Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders in Florida and ultimately to operatives abroad.
The group’s alleged ringleader in the U.S. was Sami Al-Arian, an outspoken Palestinian activist and former University of South Florida professor. Prosecutors said Al-Arian and other members of the terrorist organization used the university to give them cover as teachers and students, and held meetings under the guise of academic conferences.
Al-Arian, who has remained jailed since the indictment was handed up nearly three years ago, was acquitted on eight counts, including a key charge of conspiring to maim and murder people overseas — and the jury deadlocked on nine other charges. A fourth defendant, Sameeh Hammoudeh of Florida, was acquitted on all charges.
The Al-Arian case marked the first big prosecution using new powers granted by the Patriot Act, which was passed in the weeks after 9-11. Under the new law, prosecutors were able to use in court years worth of material collected by intelligence agents investigating Al-Arian — material that had previously been off-limits.
The charges against Al-Arian — as well as several other high-profile terrorism cases with ties to the south suburbs — were trumpeted by then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft as crucial to the Bush administration’s war on terror. The new breed of cases targeted alleged financiers of terrorism regardless of whether the suspects were directly involved in violent acts.
“While we respect the jury’s verdict, we stand by the evidence we presented in court,” U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said of the Al-Arian verdicts Tuesday.
Al-Arian will remain behind bars pending a decision by prosecutors on whether he’ll be retried on the charges that left the jury deadlocked. Defense attorney Linda Moreno said she hoped prosecutors would take into account the “overwhelming number of not-guilty verdicts” against the defendants in deciding whether to try Al-Arian again.
Fariz could also be put on trial again in Florida on some charges, and he also faces unrelated federal charges in Chicago alleging he collected $1.6 million in bogus food-stamp reimbursements for a grocery store he once operated in the city’s Humbolt Park community. Assistant U.S. Attorney James Barz said Tuesday a date has not yet been set for the local trial against Fariz, although that may happen at a hearing here next week.
According to the 121-page indictment of the Al-Arian group, Ballut met in 1991 in Chicago with the so-called “Blind Sheik,” Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was later convicted of conspiring to bomb New York City landmarks. And as recently as 2001, Ballut and Fariz were heard in tape-recorded phone calls lauding the “martyrs” who had carried out a dual-suicide bombing in Haifa that killed 20 and left 50 injured.
Fariz, a Puerto Rico-born American citizen of Palestinian decent who lived in the south suburbs for more than a decade, was accused of working with Ballut to raise money and of discussing terrorist operations with high-ranking Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders.
While both Ballut and Fariz were living in the south suburbs, they were elected to the board of the Chicago Islamic Center, also known as the Mosque of the Martyr Izzedine Al-Qassam, at 3358 W. 63th Street. According to the indictment, Ballut and Fariz in 2000 were able to rewrite the constitution of the mosque to name themselves permanent members — and quickly called Al-Arian in Tampa to tell him “that they were in control.”
A third leader of the same mosque, former treasurer Tariq Isa, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty this summer to federal charges he tried to distribute massive quantities of a chemical used to make methamphetamine. Although those charges don’t mention terrorism, federal prosecutors have noted his relationship with Ballut and Fariz and said Isa was photographed with the international leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The defendants in the Al-Arian case said that although they were vocal advocates in the United States for the Palestinian cause and may have celebrated news of the terrorist group’s attacks, the government had no proof that they planned or knew about any violence.
In fact, prosecutors never alleged a direct connection to the Middle East violence: The racketeering charges against the group alleged they broke a variety of federal laws by moving money around the world to benefit a terrorist organization. The defendants countered that the money they raised and sent to the Palestinian territories was for legitimate charities.
Another Al-Arian attorney, William Moffit, said the professor was being persecuted for espousing unpopular opinions that should be protected under the First Amendment.
“Any discussion of Sami Al-Arian being the most powerful man in the (Palestinian Islamic Jihad) is fantasy,” Moffitt said in his closing argument. “He never had control of the money, he never made any decisions.”
Because Al-Arian — who once visited the White House while Bush was in office — was such an outspoken Palestinian activist, his indictment became cause celebre for Palestinian activists accusing the U.S. government of unfairly picking sides in the bloody, long-running battle in the Middle East after the 9/11 attacks in this country.
“This shows we have faith in the American justice system,” said Ahmed Bedier, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which had supported Al-Arian. “This has shown that America is not only the best country in the world, but the jurors proved that we also have the best justice system.”
A male juror in the case, whose name was being kept secret by the court, said he did not see the case as a First Amendment issue, as defense attorneys had claimed, explaining that the decision came down to lack of proof. “I didn’t see the evidence,” he said.
In a case that closely mirrors the Al-Arian prosecution, Bridgeview resident Mohammed Salah and a Palestinian activist from Virginia are facing pending federal charges in Chicago alleging they supported the militant group Hamas. Like the Al-Arian defendants, Salah and Ashqar are accused of operating the communications arm for Hamas and collecting American money for the group, which has been deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
It’s another prosecution made possible at least in part by the Patriot Act, and federal prosecutors and defense attorneys for the two men remain locked in a court fight over the admissibility of the evidence in the case.