There comes a sense of closure with the news that former USF professor Sami Al-Arian has struck a deal with the U.S. government that may result in his deportation. But remembrance should accompany the closure.
Al-Arian has agreed to a lesser count of conspiring to contribute to a known terrorist organization. But unlike the original accusations, it says his involvement did not directly or indirectly contribute to the violent acts of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, according to the Associated Press, which reported the plea deal on Friday.
In custody since 2003, and amid controversy much longer, Al-Arian’s new plea deal is an embarrassing ending for the government, a blow to the Patriot Act and an inspiring victory for civil rights activists – or, for that matter, anybody who doesn’t want to be held in jail after being found innocent by a jury of peers.
Al-Arian, never convicted of a crime and acquitted on the most serious counts of his trial, has remained locked up, prompting outcry from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups. Mercifully, it seems Al-Arian’s ordeal is about to end.
When Al-Arian was acquitted on eight of 17 charges in his trial alleging his contributions to the PIJ in December, the government said it would decide in “weeks, not months” whether to retry Al-Arian on the remaining charges. It’s been 129 days since the jury acquitted Al-Arian, nearly five months. Most could see that Al-Arian should have been released: He was acquitted on the most serious charges and the one that he was not acquitted on were the result of one or two jurors in disagreement with the others. Like Al-Arian told the Oracle in February, “Look at what the government is doing and look what the people are doing, so there is a keen understanding that the American people are much more open, just and fair than the government.”
If Al-Arian is deported, USF administrators should not have anything to worry about, because job grievances would not be applicable. However, USF treated Al-Arian unfairly by firing him before he was convicted of any crime. Yes, there was pressure in the post-Sept. 11 atmosphere, but at the same time, the University should protect its faculty unless it knows for certain a faculty member is guilty.
Al-Arian may be leaving the country and there may be some closure, but the way the government and USF treated him is not going anywhere. It would be useful to remember that for the future.