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ACLU urges government not to retry Al-Arian

Taking its first public stance on the terror-conspiracy trial of Sami Al-Arian, the American Civil Liberties Union on Monday urged the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida to dismiss the nine charges remaining against the former USF professor.

In a 396-word letter addressed to Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher and Tampa-based U.S. Attorney Paul Perez, the ACLU said an attempt to retry would be “pointless and vindictive.””Although the prosecution had unlimited resources, called innumerable witnesses, presented hundreds of thousands of pages of exhibits and over 450,000 recorded phone calls, it could not convince the jury that Al-Arian had committed any of the charged criminal activities,” the letter stated.

After a six-month trial, Al-Arian was acquitted on eight of 17 counts in early December.The ACLU has followed the case closely since it began, sending its chief attorney in Tampa to sit in on parts of the trial. Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said the time was right to speak out.

“The case is at a very crucial time,” Simon said Tuesday. “The government has the complete discretion whether to retry him or drop the charges. So this is the most appropriate time to communicate with the government about that subject.”

On Tuesday, a spokesman for Perez said the U.S. Attorney’s Office hasn’t decided whether it will retry Al-Arian, adding that his office had no comment on the ACLU letter.

“We are probably within a couple weeks of making a decision,” Public Affairs Specialist Steve Cole said. “It’s probably a matter of weeks, not months.”

Even though the government has not revealed whether it will seek a retrial, earlier this month federal prosecutor Terry Zitek said, “It would be correct to assume that we’re going to continue.”

Cole said Perez’s office is going back and forth with the Department of Justice, but wouldn’t comment specifically on what was being discussed.

“But obviously, in a case of this magnitude, we certainly would be discussing it with senior officials,” he said.

Al-Arian is accused of being the North American head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a known terrorist organization that has claimed responsibility for more than 100 deaths in the Gaza strip. The defense argued Al-Arian only aided the PIJ’s nonviolent causes.

The jury acquitted Al-Arian of the most serious charges, including conspiracy to murder, maim or injure persons outside the United States.

“There is no reason to think the great majority of jurors were wrong,” the ACLU letter stated.Al-Arian has been in custody since February 2003, when he was arrested. He taught computer engineering.