It would appear the federal government believes Sami Al-Arian will give up his hunger strike before he dies. They shouldn’t be so sure. If they’re wrong, Al-Arian’s death could easily prove detrimental to the government’s war on terror.
According to the Associated Press, Al-Arian stopped eating on Jan. 22 to protest a judgment passed down by a federal judge – and reaffirmed by another – that demands he testify in cases against Muslim charities in Northern Virginia, despite his stated fear that his life would be in danger if he complied.
A month later, Al-Arian still hasn’t eaten, despite losing more than 30 pounds. On Feb. 13, he fainted and hit his head. Since then, he’s been housed in the Federal Medical Facility at Butner, about 22 miles north of Raleigh.
The federal government maintains Al-Arian is a member of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Even if the government is correct – a moot point, considering Al-Arian was never found guilty of anything – suicide by hunger strike doesn’t help the federal cause. Martyrdom, after all, is a concept highly regarded by many terrorist groups, especially when the government hasn’t proven its case against that martyr.
Such a case could give terrorist groups a persuasive example to use in their recruiting, especially when they’re trying to persuade new recruits that the United States is leading a war not against terror, but against Islam.
If the federal government truly believes Al-Arian knows something related to the operations and financing of known terrorist groups, it won’t be able to obtain that information from him if he dies.
What the government could do, however, is agree to not deport Al-Arian in exchange for his testimony. In fact, the government could offer to put him in a protection program. Al-Arian says he has refused to testify because he fears for his own life, so it is in the federal government’s interests to alleviate him of that fear. Doing so might result in Al-Arian’s testimony, which could lead to the prevention of terrorist acts.
More importantly, however, protecting Al-Arian could potentially save the lives of innocent victims of terrorist attacks that his testimony could prevent. If the compromise cannot be made in Al-Arian’s interests, it should be made in the interests of the security of the United States – that is, after all, what the federal government claims to be seeking.