Professor Sami Al-Arian, whose persecution and show trial are parts of a long string of egregious acts of injustice perpetrated by the Bush administration, has been on a hunger strike since Jan. 22 to protest the prolongation of his imprisonment.
Al-Arian’s travels through the halls of American justice, and now the subterranean corridors of the nation’s Stygian prison system, reads like a bad rip-off of Kafka. Al-Arian was acquitted on eight of the 17 counts against him by a Florida jury, which deadlocked on the rest. He agreed to plead guilty to one of the remaining charges four months later in exchange for being released and deported. The judge gave Al-Arian as much prison time as possible under a plea deal—57 months at his sentencing. He was set to be released this April, something that now appears unlikely.
The trial was a stinging rebuke to the Bush administration’s drive to turn the American judicial system into kangaroo courts. Over the six-month trial a parade of 80 witnesses, including 21 from Israel, attempted to brand the Florida professor as a terrorist. The government submitted thousands of documents, phone interceptions and physical surveillance culled from 12 years of investigations. The trial cost taxpayers an estimated $80 million. The 94 charges against Al-Arian and his co-defendants resulted in no convictions. But because Al-Arian has twice refused to testify before a grand jury in Virginia in a case involving a Muslim think tank, he has now been charged with contempt of court. The date of his release could be extended by as much as 18 months.
Al-Arian, who is a diabetic, began a hunger strike in response.
“I believe that freedom and human dignity are more precious than life itself,” he said in a telephone interview from Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Va. “In, essence I am taking a principled stand that I am willing to endure whatever it takes to win my freedom.