The issue of secret evidence is a widely discussed topic regarding government tactics to detain suspected criminals on the basis of evidence hidden from the public eye. This topic, along with the case of former USF professor Sami Al-Arian, was discussed Monday during the lecture “Civil Rights in the Second Bush Term: Two Years Since The Political Arrest of Dr. Sami Al-Arian.”
The former president of the National Lawyer’s Guild, Peter Erlinder, led the event, sponsored by the Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace and the Organization of Arab Students in Solidarity.
Erlinder had choice words about the government’s use of secret evidence and of Al-Arian’s participation in the effort to release secret evidence.
“Sami Al-Arian was one of the most effective organizers and lobbyists I’ve ever seen in peacefully and legally insuring that civil liberties were protected in the United States and that secret evidence would be eventually revealed,” Erlinder said. “George Bush promised that secret evidence would be revealed. It was part of his campaign. As a result, Sami and others supported him because he had promised that secret evidence would not be used.”
Al-Arian has been detained for more than two years following an early morning raid in February 2003. According to the criminal docket from the U.S. District Court, Al-Arian is being charged with racketeering, money laundering and providing material support to terrorist organizations.
According to Erlinder, he has had a working relationship with Al-Arian since the mid-’90s, when Al-Arian was working with the Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace. According to freesamialarian.com, one of the organization’s main focuses was “the unconstitutional use of secret evidence and other civil rights violations, as well as ongoing media attacks against Arabs and Muslims.”
Erlinder and his attorney Linda Moreno believe that Al-Arian is being held for unwarranted reasons.
“Information that was illegal to use in a federal court — that was taken prior to it being admissible in a federal court — is now being submitted because the Patriot Act says so,” said Erlinder.
Erlinder also criticized the secretary of state’s definition of a terrorist.
“The only way a foreign organization can become a terrorist organization is if it uses the same tactics a government uses but it is not a government,” Erlinder said.
“And, by using those tactics in a way that the secretary of state deems contrary to U.S. foreign policy. If it’s supportive of U.S. foreign policy, by definition it cannot be a terrorist organization.”
Erlinder and Moreno stated that Al-Arian is being used as an example and that his case is one of the most important cases regarding civil rights in the 21st century.
“We have a history in our country of finding out who it is that is politically vulnerable at a time that it’s useful for there to be an enemy, when it is useful for those in power to claim more power by suggesting that they need that power to deal with a threat,” Erlinder said.
Al-Arian remains imprisoned in the Coleman Correctional Facility until his trial date which is set for early April.