The New York Times today became the latest tool in an aggressive lobbying campaign aimed at sabotaging a terror investigation in northern Virginia.
The campaign to free Sami Al-Arian started last year, led by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim American Society (MAS), and other American Islamist groups after the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) operative was held in contempt of court for refusing to comply with consecutive grand jury subpoenas. He now is defying his third subpoena to testify in a terror finance investigation involving a Virginia-based network that provided Al-Arian's organizations with tens of thousands of dollars in the 1990s.
In 2006, Al-Arian was sentenced to 57 months in prison, with credit for time served, after pleading guilty to conspiracy to provide goods and services to the PIJ. Though his prison sentence is over, Al-Arian could be held in contempt again or even face criminal contempt of court charges. That's what the New York Times reports today. But, just like Al-Arian's supporters, today's Times story grossly mischaracterizes the case, distorts what Al-Arian has admitted and incorrectly states why he remains in jeopardy:
"The Justice Department and some independent terrorism investigators have long accused Mr. Al-Arian of being the main North America organizer for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which has claimed responsibility for some of the more deadly suicide bombings against Israeli targets and which the United States has designated a terrorist organization.
Mr. Al-Arian's supporters, though, say that he is nothing more sinister than an outspoken Palestinian activist, and that the Justice Department has tried to exploit the post-Sept. 11 mood in the United States to punish him for that, using legal maneuvering to keep him behind bars."
If this were a secret tribunal, Times reporter Neil MacFarquhar might be excused for blindly accepting the representations of Al-Arian's attorneys and supporters. But there is an open record, one every reporter at the nation's supposed paper of record should be able to locate. Here's some help. Click here. It is Al-Arian's plea agreement. In a nutshell, it states that (Al-Arian) is pleading guilty because [the] defendant is in fact guilty."
On page 10 of the agreement, under the heading "Facts," it says "During the period of the late 1980s, and early to mid-1990s, defendant Al-Arian was associated with several organizations, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad." Two paragraphs later, it says "Defendant Al-Arian performed services for the PIJ in 1995 and thereafter." That includes "hiding the identities of individuals associated with the PIJ." In addition, "Defendant Al-Arian was aware that the PIJ achieved its objectives by, among other means, acts of violence."
Al-Arian's initials appear at the bottom of each page and he signed the plea at the end. Evidence presented at Al-Arian's trial showed he was on the PIJ Shura Council – its governing board. On federal wiretaps, he could be heard arguing with the group's founder, Fathi Shikaki, about the PIJ's future in 1994 when a financial crisis threatened its very existence. That's all on the record. Yet the Times holds out the possibility Al-Arian is "nothing more sinister than an outspoken Palestinian activist" suffering the wrath of a vengeful Department of Justice.
Today's article comes just days after CAIR, MAS and the American Muslim Alliance held a news conference in New York decrying Al-Arian's plight.
Remember, CAIR is an unindicted co-conspirator in the Hamas-support case of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, and the organization is described by federal prosecutors as "affiliated with Hamas." Now CAIR has become a platform for falsely portraying Al-Arian as a victim. A picture of the jailed professor appears on its website home page, along with a brief note urging "American Muslims and other people of conscience to write letters in support of Dr. Sami Al-Arian." CAIR continues to sponsor screenings of a propaganda piece masquerading as a documentary that shows only the perspective of Al-Arian's family, while ignoring his efforts on behalf of the PIJ as well as his 15-year record of lying to anyone who asked about his PIJ activities.
In the past few weeks, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad referred to Al-Arian as "a political prisoner." MAS even compared Al-Arian - who had called for "Death to Israel"-- to Martin Luther King. U.S. District Judge James Moody saw the evidence of Al-Arian's deep involvement in the PIJ. This is what the judge said of him at sentencing:
"But when it came to blowing up women and children on buses, did you leap into action then? Did you offer to form a committee to protect the innocent? Did you call your fellow directors and enlist their aid in stopping the bombing or even stop the targeting of the innocent? No. You lifted not one finger, made not one phone call. To the contrary, you laughed when you heard about the bombings, what you euphemistically call ‘operations." You even pleaded for donations to pay for more such operations.
…Your only connection to widows and orphans is that you create them, even among Palestinians."
On April 16, CAIR Chairman Parvez Ahmed and Muslim American Alliance founder Agha Saeed issued an op-ed piece claiming that "it has been clear that [Al-Arian] was being targeted not for his actions, but for his political views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His outspokenness about Israel's brutal occupation policies became a political hot potato in the post-9/11 climate of extreme suspicion of Muslims and Arabs."
"Since his arrest on Feb. 20, 2003, Al-Arian has proclaimed his innocence and until today maintains that the charges were purely political," Ahmed and Saeed said in the commentary.
As I showed above, that's not even close to true.
Now Al-Arian argues that his plea agreement gives him a right no American enjoys – the right to rebuff a federal grand jury subpoena without consequence. Al-Arian and his attorneys maintain that the plea deal ruled out any cooperation with law enforcement. But multiple courts have consistently rejected this claim, noting that there is no reference to any such absolution in the plea agreement itself or at the hearing at which the plea was entered. The 11th Circuit became the second appellate court, after the 4th Circuit, to dismiss Al-Arian's argument, stating it "is especially dubious where, as here, the plea agreement contains an integration clause stating that there are no other promises, agreements, or representations except those set forth in the agreement, and Al-Arian denied at his plea hearing that he pled guilty in reliance on any promises or inducements except for those found in the agreement."
Read the full 11th Circuit opinion here. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up his case, yet his attorneys press on, seeking any avenue of appeal, although the plea deal includes language stating that Al-Arian could not be charged with committing any other crime "known to the United States Attorney's Office or the Counterterrorism Section [of the Department of Justice] at the time of the execution of this agreement, related to conduct giving rise to this plea agreement."
So whatever Al-Arian's attorneys are arguing should have no effect on existing grand jury proceedings in the Eastern District of Virginia.
Why is Al-Arian's testimony so important? His organizations received money from the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), a northern Virginia organization tied to a labyrinth of companies reported to have been involved in money laundering and linked to terrorist groups. Al Arian, as a beneficiary of these funds, clearly has pertinent information that would help prosecutors in their investigation of IIIT. But Al Arian has refused to testify before the grand jury, thus earning him contempt citations. Even if he reveals information that is self-incriminating, he is immune from further prosecution. What he is not immune from is his legal obligation to tell the truth to the grand jury. Why won't Al-Arian testify? Because he almost certainly has incriminating information about the alleged money laundering and alleged terrorist ties of IIIT, as outlined in this affidavit of a federal law enforcement official.
Amazingly, CAIR and MAS helped secure face to face meetings between the Al-Arian family and members of Congress, including House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, to lobby for pressure on the Department of Justice to release Al-Arian. At an event on Capitol Hill sponsored by Georgetown University April 3, attended by CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad, Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), one of only two Muslims in Congress, asserted that he would seek additional congressional support for Al-Arian, stating "the Al-Arian case is very serious, members of the Al-Arian family are in D.C. today, and I think they're working on his case, trying to get some attention from members of Congress, I'm speaking with them and I hope others do as well."
That members of Congress would agree to do the bidding of groups named as unindicted co-conspirators or which are directly affiliated with the radical Muslim Brotherhood, or Ikhwan, shows the extent to which radical Islamic groups have made inroads on Capitol Hill.
If CAIR and MAS were truly against terrorism, as they publicly proclaim, they would pressure Al Arian to testify, rather than pressure the government to let him go. That CAIR and MAS have embarked on such an aggressive campaign to free Al Arian demonstrates their support of terrorism. Thus it is even more disturbing to see Congressmen, FBI officials, State Department representatives and local law enforcement agree to meet with and embrace CAIR, MAS and others in their campaign on behalf of someone linked to terrorism and who has blocked efforts by prosecutors to unravel other terrorist connections. This is nothing short of scandalous.
In a web posting, Mahdi Bray, the executive director the Muslim American Society's Freedom Foundation, lamented the failure of congressional leaders to pick up the charge:
As it became increasingly clear that the seemingly endless, unjust incarceration of Dr. Al-Arian would not end with the promised release as outlined in his agreement with the U.S. government, on March 21, MAS Freedom launched a Judiciary Letter Writing Campaign in addition to sending representatives to meet with U.S. Congressmen – all to no avail.
If the judiciary committee will not exercise its oversight in this gross miscarriage of justice, then the American people must, together with religious leaders of all faiths, human rights and civil liberties advocates, and all people of conscience, in asking what our public officials and members of congress have refused to ask, "What About Sami"?
Good question. Episodes such as this hunger strike bring to mind more of the words of Judge Moody when he sentenced Al-Arian in 2006. After hearing Al-Arian wax on about his love and respect for American justice, Moody hammered him as a "master manipulator" who "looked your friends and neighbors in the eyes and said you had nothing to do with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. This trial exposed that as a lie."
‘What about Sami' did Moody see that set him off?
• Al-Arian ran "the active arm of the Islamic Jihad Movement" and hid behind a charity name for "security reasons."
• He called on supporters to "damn America" for launching the 1991 Gulf War to liberate Kuwait from an Iraqi invasion.
• He has proclaimed that Allah cursed the Jews by turning them into "monkeys and pigs."
• He set up a think-tank run by Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, who now commands the PIJ from Damascus (recently rebuffing an invitation to meet with former President Jimmy Carter). Though he secured Al-Arian's work visa and wiretaps show he intimately knew of Shallah's place as a PIJ board member, Al-Arian lied to the press and to his employers at USF after Shallah took over the group in 1995. He had no idea Shallah had terrorist connections, he said, even claiming to have never known Shallah's full name.
• He wrote a letter soliciting "true support of the jihad effort in Palestine so that operations such as these can continue," after a brutal double suicide bombing claimed 22 lives in Israel. This letter was written after President Clinton signed an executive order designating the PIJ a terrorist group and prohibiting any transactions with it.
Again, all of this is in the record and all of it is ignored when the Times discusses the case, naively accepting as true the representations of an admitted liar.
Each time an article is written mentioning Al-Arian, Stephen Flatow's in-box grows by one e-mail. It's been getting clogged with Google alerts lately as the campaign by Muslim Brotherhood-front organizations ratchets up.
In their news conference Tuesday, CAIR and MAS urged the media to pay attention to the case. Tuesday had another meaning for Flatow. It was the yahrzeit – the anniversary on the Jewish calendar – of his daughter Alisa's 1995 murder in a PIJ attack.
Seeing organizations that present themselves as lobbying on behalf of someone who supported, and worked with, his daughter's killers is a source of deep frustration, Flatow said in an interview.
"The Muslim community in the United States has been hijacked by the most extreme aspects of Islam," Flatow said. "Until we have the major Muslim groups condemning terrorists by name we're going nowhere, and that scares me."
Alisa Flatow was a 20-year-old Brandeis student studying in Israel when a suicide bomber blew up a bus she was riding on in 1995. It was less than three months after Al-Arian wrote his letter praising the double suicide bombing and seeking support "so that operations such as these can continue."
"I wish I could cut myself up into 22 constituent parts and make a sign that says ‘Sami Al-Arian is in bed with the PIJ that killed my daughter,'" Flatow said Wednesday. "I'd have liked to go to that press conference in New York with it. I'd like to be at every press conference of every showing of the documentary USA vs. Al-Arian. I just can't do it. I'm only one person."
That's too bad. The New York Times looks like it could use some re-education about what it means to provide support to the PIJ to counter the blatant misrepresentations in its de facto collaboration in the campaign to free Al-Arian.