Al-Arian arrest creates precedent for future trials

I have met Sami Al-Arian numerous times in the years I have been working for The Oracle. My wife has repeatedly asked me if the accusations against him had any truth to them. I have always said I do not believe he has terrorist ties because an FBI investigation did not bring up any evidence suggesting he is a terrorist. He knows some people who could be described as shady characters, but I never believed he was one of “them.”

Then, on Thursday morning, I saw John Ashcroft on CNN declaring him leader of “one of the most violent terrorist organizations in the world” and the most important man among the eight arrested. Later that day, I wrote an e-mail to a friend studying in England to tell him about it, but he responded that he had already seen it on the BBC Web site.

This case is very important not only for USF. It was the first time an arrest was immediately followed by an indictment that was publicly accessible (120 pages and quite an interesting read, actually). It will be a case closely watched throughout the nation, as it will set a precedent for all future investigations of terrorist suspects.

For now, we should bear in mind that the man has been charged with a crime. In this country you are innocent until proven guilty, and not until your face appears on The O’Reilly Factor. Let’s keep this in mind and not get ahead of ourselves . The trial will have to show if the accusations, many of them circumstantial, can be upheld.

Some of the things he is being accused of are actions so stupid, I quite honestly find it hard to believe that a man with a degree in engineering and computer science would commit them, such as wiring money from the USF Credit Union to declared terrorist organizations with only one transfer in between. This is the same credit union that every time I receive a check from my parents in Europe questions the authenticity of the check as it is drawing from a foreign bank. The money I receive is nowhere near the huge amount that Al-Arian supposedly wired to United Arabian Emirates and from there to Israel.

Only time will tell if they can be upheld and a fair trial, preferably not based on secret evidence, will show if this is the case.

The arrest and Ashcroft’s news briefing also changed what I thought of Judy Genshaft and the “no comment” policy she has with The Oracle. Questions about Al-Arian have always been asked when reporters had the rare chance to pose questions to her. The 120-page indictment must have taken quite some time to put together and confirm. Could it be possible that somebody in the United States government told her to keep it quiet while they investigate the matter? If so, it was no wonder that she did not want to talk to us.

Of course, it does not exactly explain why she did not comment on anything, no matter if it had something to do with Al-Arian or not, but let’s give her the benefit of the doubt.

For the future, Genshaft has said in an e-mail that went out to all USF student and faculty addresses she “will update (us) as (she) has more information about the situation.” Let’s hope that this includes talking to The Oracle, as it is the source of news on campus and is read by students and all faculty members, especially on an issue that is followed throughout the United States, as well as overseas.

Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in environmental