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Al-Arian’s new defense vows to fight civil rights battle

Prominent Washington-based attorney William B. Moffitt and Tampa criminal defense attorney Linda Moreno took on the defense of Sami Al-Arian last week after filing a notice of appearance.

Moffitt said in a news conference Friday after visiting Al-Arian that his first challenge to the government is to justify the conditions under which Al-Arian is being held.

In order to see his lawyers, Al-Arian must be handcuffed behind his back, then bent over so any court documents that need to be read can be placed on his back, Moffitt told reporters.

The former USF engineering professor also has to write with pencils no longer than what golf players use to keep track of their score.

Before Moffitt spoke a word Friday, he dumped a bag of the pencils — some whittled down, others without erasers — on a table in front of reporters.

“This is an unfair way to treat a person. It is abuse and inhumane treatment,” Moffitt said.

Moffitt added that he doesn’t understand why the U.S. Justice Department insists on holding Al-Arian in a Special Housing Unit when he is a pre-trial detainee. Al-Arian is being held without bail at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Sumter County until his trial in January 2005. Moffitt said being confined there with no family contact and no phone calls is violating his right to assist his own defense.

“Why is a pre-trial detainee, who is presumed innocent being detained in such a manner?” Moffitt asked. “(He’s) detained in a manner where he can’t even have soup … detained in such a manner that during Ramadan his meals come to him after sun up in the morning when he can’t eat it and late in afternoon after the sun is going down.”

A hearing is set for Friday in the U.S. District Court in Tampa to see if the conditions for Al-Arian can be changed.

Al-Arian was arrested with a 50-count indictment on charges of conspiracy to murder and racketeering in February. Moffitt, however, said Al-Arian is being treated as if he is guilty. Moffitt added that the unit Al-Arian is in is intended for inmates who have assaulted corrections officers or other prisoners and are considered dangerous to be held anywhere else.

Moffitt said he intends to argue that Al-Arian should not be held in any different manner than any other person accused of a crime or a pre-trial detainee.

“Is this community so prejudiced and biased against Sami Al-Arian that they think that is appropriate?” Moffitt asked. “Is this community willing to give him that presumption? I believe people have decided that guilt is inevitable in this case, so the punishment must start now.”

Moffitt and Moreno joined the case after Al-Arian’s family and supporters were able to raise enough money, but Moffitt declined to discuss the finances.

“It’s none of your business,” he said. “I don’t care if the FBI looks into my fee because it is no one’s business but mine.”

According to reports in The Associated Press, Al-Arian was said to need at least $1.2 million for Moffitt’s services.

On July 9, Jeffery Brown and Frank Louderback were dismissed from the case at Al-Arian’s request. According to federal court documents, Al-Arian owes about $32,000 to the court-appointed attorneys for court services. Brown and Louderback were assigned to the case in April, when Al-Arian lost his first attorney Nicholas Mattasini because he could no longer afford his $2-million fee.

Moffitt added that he and Moreno took the case to fight the battle against the U.S. government.

“All we want in this battle is the same opportunity that any pre-trail detainee should have,” Moffitt said. “The opportunity to see our client, the opportunity to operate with our client, the opportunity for our client to participate in a meaningful manner in his defense. That is all I am asking for.”