Safety concerns spurred Al-Arian negotiations

Sami Al-Arian seriously considered taking a negotiated settlement offered by President Judy Genshaft in the late summer of 2002 before it was retracted several days later following objections from former Chairman of the Board of Trustees Dick Beard.

Nahla Al-Arian, the wife of Sami Al-Arian, said that she and her husband felt “75 percent sure” that they would take the deal, which would have paid Al-Arian between $920,000 and $930,000 to resign during the height of the controversy surrounding the former professor. The settlement was negotiated after USF suspended Al-Arian but before federal prosecutors charged him in a 50-count indictment.

“I said to my husband, let’s just take care of our kids,” said Nahla. “Let’s just get out of this place.”

Sami Al-Arian spoke publicly of the deal for the first time from a Virginia prison cell during an interview with Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman. During the interview, he said objections from Beard over the “anticipated political fallout” of the deal led to its quick retraction. Beard confirmed his concerns about the political implications of such a deal in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times.

We were just thinking about it and negotiating it, for two days,” said Nahla. “We were not really given a long time to think about it. On Monday, we thought that we could have an agreement over something, but the president’s lawyers came and said, ‘No, forget it. We are not going to do that.'”

Nahla said she and her children worried for her husband’s safety following death threats after an appearance on The O’Reilly Factor in late September 2001 when host Bill O’Reilly said he believed Al-Arian was linked to the violent activities of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

“The kids and I were worried about Sami’s safety,” said Nahla. “We felt that the government was not really protecting us, that the authorities at that time were not really friendly toward us, and we felt that they would allow crazy people to come and hurt us.”

Two days after his television appearance, Genshaft placed Al-Arian on paid leave, citing concerns for the safety of Al-Arian and the University after a series of death threats caused the evacuation of the Computer Science and Engineering building earlier in the day.

“At that time there was a vicious campaign on the TV channels, everywhere,” said Nahla. “I remember Dateline showed something about Sami so inflammatory that when my kids saw it they started crying. They were very worried about their father. So that’s the environment we were living in when the offer came.”

Nahla also said that the circumstances of the deal would have come out during Al-Arian’s 2005 trial had her husband’s lawyers felt the need to call Genshaft or Beard during Al-Arian’s defense. The defense called no witnesses in the trial, and a jury acquitted Al-Arian on eight of the 17 counts against him and deadlocked on nine others. In May 2006, Al-Arian pleaded guilty to helping associates of a terrorist group with nonviolent activities and received a 57-month sentence.

“We wanted them to come as witnesses,” said Nahla. “But later on we didn’t even have to present any witnesses because the government failed to show any evidence that my husband committed any crimes. Our lawyer said ‘forget about witnesses.’ That’s what our lawyer did. He just said the defense rests.”