Al-Arian’s day in court may be the best thing

Sami Al-Arian was finally arrested last week. The arrest has triggered a lot of emotions around campus among both his supporters and detractors.

At the risk of sounding inappropriate, I would think Al-Arian would welcome his day in court. It will finally give him the chance to dispel accusations in public. Every time I’ve seen him asked about his connections to terrorism, he’s dismissed them nonchalantly. Even when he was being led out of his apartment, he cavalierly insisted that it was just politics. Now he will get a chance to prove it. If he testifies, he can always invoke the Fifth Amendment another 99 times.

It’s true that without the Patriot Act, this indictment wouldn’t have been possible. However, because the barrier between law enforcement and intelligence was erased, certain material became fair game for the feds to use. The defense will probably spend most of its time trying to prove the Patriot Act unconstitutional and get the evidence collected using the act thrown out.

I don’t see how the collection invalidates what was said. Assuming the wiretap evidence is allowed in, the defense will probably have a tough time explaining them away. Nahla Al-Arian says, “If it weren’t for the Patriot Act, he would not be here.” To me, that says we wouldn’t know about his wrongdoings, if not for the Patriot Act. She seems more upset that the misdeeds were brought to light, than that they were carried out.

Because the indictment is pretty detailed, including names, dates and summaries of conversations, it’s going to be harder for Al-Arian supporters to simply cry “racism” and try to play off the charges as such. Questions will have to be answered for a change. People can say Bill O’Reilly is a bigot until they’re blue in the face, but the fact is that Al-Arian was indicted by a federal grand jury. The charges are real and saying that the government is on a witch-hunt is no longer sufficient to stop the questions.

Al-Arian, as I said before, dismissed his arrest as “just politics.” I don’t believe that. I do believe that if the indictment is fiction, as Nicholas Matassini angrily put it, that a jury will see through it. Maybe I’m naive enough to believe somebody who’s innocent can get a fair trial. Personally, I don’t care what his politics are or whether he is truly innocent. I have no desire to see him convicted.

There are things in Al-Arian’s past that make me suspicious. He voted illegally in 1994 and was unable to become a citizen because of this. The INS said he lacked moral character. Ouch. I’m concerned about the fact that Al-Arian’s organizations, WISE and ICP, both had connections to people who are unsavory. The expatriated Mazen Al-Najjar and Jihad bigwig Ramadan Abdullah Shallah are two of them.

If we open our indictments to page five, we will see the accusation that Al-Arian and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad used USF as a place where members could gain cover as students and teachers as well as import members for “academic” purposes. If this is true, this is really infuriating. Given all of Al-Arian’s talk about academic freedom, the notion that our school may have been used as a tool for terrorist fundraising just angers me. If he were ultimately convicted, I’d say he owes the school and its students an apology for using us that way.

The Al-Arian saga is nowhere near an end. It will be a while before the trial starts, and that could last as long as a year. Hopefully, the outcome will settle once and for all whether Sami Al-Arian is a terrorist or a wrongly accused college professor.

Chris Ricketts is a junior majoring in