Sami Al Arian admits terrorism involvement - will be deported
April 16, 2006
Apr 15, 2006
Al-Arian To Be DeportedBy ELAINE SILVESTRINI
TAMPA - Capping an ordeal that spanned more than a decade, former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian has reached a deal with prosecutors, agreeing to be deported after admitting involvement with a terrorist organization, an attorney involved in the negotiations said.
"My understanding was that he was to plead guilty" to conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization, said William Moffitt, who represented Al-Arian until a judge allowed him to withdraw from the case last month. The deal calls for Al-Arian to receive a sentence roughly equal to the time he has served behind bars since he was arrested in February 2003, Moffitt said.
The remaining charges are to be dismissed. Moffitt said he and attorney Linda Moreno wrote the bulk of the agreement. "The vast majority of that deal was written on my desk," he said.
Ahmed Bedier, Tampa spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, said Moffitt was wrong about the Al-Arian plea. Al-Arian did not agree to admit to any charges associated with terrorism, Bedier said.
"He stayed true to his convictions - he stayed true he wasn't going to plead to those issues," Bedier said. "There is no conspiracy to support terrorism."
Bedier said he could not reveal what charge Al-Arian agreed to, and he refused to reveal the source of his information.
Bedier convened a 7 p.m. news conference, saying he hoped to have Al-Arian's family there. They did not appear.
"Their lawyer would not allow them," Bedier said. He later said Al-Arian's family learned of the plea agreement Friday from a news report.
Behind The Deal
In explaining why Al-Arian agreed to the deal, Moffitt said his legal team had to consider, "Was it worth it, from our standpoint, for Sami to go to trial again? The government was never going to agree to not deporting Sami. There was much going on the Middle East. Sami going home is where Sami should be now."
It was not clear to where the government would deport Al-Arian, who was born in Kuwait and grew up in Egypt. Al-Arian's bid to become a U.S. citizen was denied in 1996.
"The government has spent 10 years trying to convict" Al-Arian, Moffitt said. "I have no reason to believe they were not going to try Sami again. Why take the risk? It's a guy with five children. ... If he wins again, don't you think these fools will try him again? It was time for it to be over."
Describing the deal, Moffitt said the government is to agree that there were no victims and no violence in Al-Arian's crimes.
Government officials would not confirm the deal. Steve Cole, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Tampa, said, "My comment is I have no comment on the Sami Al-Arian case, period."
Steven Emerson, whose 1994 PBS documentary "Jihad in America" first linked Al-Arian to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, said Friday, "In the context of a difficult case and history, it's a good result, with the most important conclusion being he admits to being supportive and involved with a terrorist group - something he has long denied and that his defenders have long denied."
Bedier sees the government's decision not to retry the case as proof a jury was right in not finding Al-Arian guilty. "I think he did this for his family," he said. Bedier said deportation is "too severe for years of suffering."
Moffitt, who spoke by telephone from a Washington hospital where he had undergone knee surgery, said he understood the deal was to be presented in U.S. District Court in Tampa on Friday. The court docket for the case showed entries for eight sealed documents Friday and another three sealed documents earlier in the week. There were no publicly available entries on the docket Friday.
Case Dates To 1993
The deal, which Moffitt said has been under discussion "for a number of months," is the culmination of an investigation that dates to 1993, when the government began to secretly wiretap telephone calls and faxes from the charismatic computer science professor.
During a five-month trial, prosecutors cast Al-Arian as the North American leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an organization that has claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in Israel and its occupied territories. The government presented evidence that Al-Arian was, at one time, a member of the group's governing body.
Although Al-Arian was never accused of direct involvement in violence, the prosecution said he led a cell that helped fund and operate the Islamic Jihad.
Moffitt conceded during the trial that the evidence showed Al-Arian was part of the organization in the early 1990s, before support for the group became illegal. He said any involvement Al-Arian might have had in the group was political and separate from its campaign of violence.
The case has galvanized supporters who cast Al-Arian as a victim of an overzealous U.S. Justice Department and of anti-Muslim prejudice stemming from the Sept. 11 attacks. Al-Arian, who had emerged as a prominent spokesman for human rights and the Palestinian cause, said he was being prosecuted because he spoke out.
"This is a case that never should have been brought," Moffitt said. "A lot of hate and ugliness was generated to not very much end. To sort of die like a whimper. We need to remember as a society that revenge is not always an answer."
Blow To Justice Department
After a five-month trial, jurors on Dec. 5 acquitted Al-Arian on eight counts and deadlocked on nine counts. The verdict was seen as a blow to the Justice Department's antiterrorism efforts.
Two co-defendants, Sameeh Hammoudeh and Ghassan Ballut, were cleared of all charges. The case against one defendant, Hatim Fariz, remains unresolved. The jury acquitted Fariz of eight counts and deadlocked on 25 others. Moffitt said Fariz was not involved in Al-Arian's deal.
USF President Judy Genshaft declined to comment Friday. University spokeswoman Lara Wade said Al-Arian "isn't an employee at USF and hasn't been in three years."
"This was a decision made by federal authorities, and we have nothing else to add."
Genshaft suspended Al-Arian with pay in September 2001, two days after his television appearance on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor." Genshaft said she suspended Al-Arian because of threats the school received and out of concern for his safety. She fired him in February 2003, after he was indicted.
Al-Arian's labor attorney, Robert McKee, filed a grievance, but he and USF agreed to put the matter on hold pending the criminal case.
On Friday, McKee said, "I'm happy for him. Win or lose, he was going to be deported. Why go through all this?
"He's been away from his family all this time. He'll find a place to prosper."
This story can be found at: http://www.tampatrib.com/MGB4QU3F1ME.html
MIM: Al Arian's attorney William (Bill) Moffitt never met a Jihadi he didn't like. In an article on the Hayat case of the Imam and son in Lodi, he dismissed the terrorist prosecutions as the result of " a system gone mad".
Article published Apr 15, 2006
SACRAMENTO - Federal prosecutors said videotaped confessions were the heart of their cases against a Lodi father and son accused of ties to terrorism, and their separate juries seem to agree.
Jurors deliberating the fate of Umer Hayat, a 48-year-old ice cream vendor accused of lying to the FBI about his knowledge of terrorist camps in Pakistan, asked U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. on Friday to view the recording of Hayat's June 4 and 5 interviews with FBI agents.
They spent an hour and a half watching the interviews Friday afternoon. No verdict was reached.
Jurors in each case will be allowed to watch the interview only once.
Burrell told prosecutors and defense attorneys that federal appellate courts have ruled jurors could give too much weight to a videotape if allowed to watch it repeatedly.
Umer Hayat faces two counts of lying and a maximum sentence of 16 years, eight months on each count. Hamid Hayat faces a maximum of 39 years if convicted - 15 for the terrorism charge and eight years each for the three lying charges.
Legal experts contacted Friday said the government is putting unlimited resources, including agents' time and public money, into obtaining terrorism convictions, even where no terror attacks are planned.
"There's a lot of pressure because of the concern there might be another terrorist strike in the United States," said Carl W. Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, Virginia, who follows terrorism prosecutions around the country.
"Sometimes the evidence is pretty strong, but the record is pretty checkered," he said. "The government seems to be overstating some of the cases."
Flawed prosecutions include:
» The Detroit "sleeper cell" case, in which convictions of two men accused of terrorism-related charges shortly after 9/11 were tossed out when it came to light that the prosecution had hid experts' conclusions that there was no evidence the men had any interest in blowing up a hospital. A prosecutor in the case was indicted last month for concealing evidence in the case and lying under oath.
» The December not-guilty verdict of former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, who along with three co-defendants was charged with 51 counts of using Islamic charities as a front for financing terrrorist acts. Two co-defendents were acquitted, while the jury could not reach verdicts on some of the charges against Al-Arian and a co-defendant.
» The June 2004 acquittal of University of Idaho graduate student Sami Al-Hussayen, who was charged with raising money for terror groups in Chechnya and the Palestinian territories through Web sites. That case was argued in part by Assistant U.S. Attorney David Deitch, one of the prosecutors in the Hayats' cases.
Among the successful cases are the convictions of:
» Zacarias Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty to being part of the 9/11 conspiracy.
» Ali Al-Timimi last April. Al-Timimi, a Muslim spiritual leader in Virginia, was found guilty of inciting his followers to train in Afghanistan for violent jihad against the United States.
» Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, who received a 30-year prison term after his November conviction on nine counts of conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, including plotting with members of al-Qaida to assassinate President Bush.
Bill Moffitt, a Washington, D.C., attorney who successfully defended Al-Arian without calling a single witness on his behalf, said the limited evidence in many prosecutions is evidence of "a system gone mad."
"You take a guy like Moussaoui, lock him in isolation for three years, watch him go crazy and exploit his craziness. It's unbelievable to sit here and watch this stuff.
Although local federal authorities will not talk about the Hayats' cases until verdicts are reached, U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said shortly after their arrests on June 5 that their case was "vetted by the highest levels of the Justice Department" to ensure they were not improperly accused.
Both juries will return to court at 9 a.m. Monday to watch videotaped interviews of the Hayats.
Contact Lodi Bureau Chief Jeff Hood at (209) 367-7427 or e-mail [email protected]