Heartbreak: Terrorist enabler stuck in prison

Sami al-Arian’s fondest wish is to be deported from the United States to the Palestinian territories. The US government has other plans, however, and will keep him in prison until he testifies to connections between charity front groups and terrorists. The former Florida professor claims he has immunity from further investigations, but somehow his side forgot to commit it to paper:

Former university professor Sami al-Arian wants to finish serving his prison sentence for a terrorism-related crime next month so that he can be deported to the Palestinian territories. But the Bush administration is threatening to keep him behind bars until he does something he has steadfastly refused to do: testify before a grand jury investigating allegations that Muslim charities aided terrorism organizations.

Arian, who taught computer engineering at the University of South Florida, said he is declining to testify against the charities because he thinks they were falsely charged, “and he doesn’t want them to be persecuted the way he was,” said Jonathan Turley, his attorney. As a result, Arian is to be held at the Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Va., on civil contempt charges. …

Arian was at the center of one of the nation’s highest profile terrorism cases, accused of conspiracy to commit racketeering and murder and to aid a terrorist group, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, in 2003.

Two years later, a jury acquitted him of eight counts and deadlocked on others, but Arian pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to “make or receive funds . . . for the benefit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad” and was sentenced to 57 months in prison, which included time already served.

Now he wants his release to get out of the US, but the Department of Justice wants his testimony about those groups and their support for terrorism. Al-Arian and his attorneys claim that they agreed to al-Arian serving an additional 12 months in exchange for immunity from further grand jury subpoenas. However — and this is the humorous part — they claim that no one bothered to commit it to paper, because everyone understood that condition.

Ahem. Have you ever heard an attorney agree to a deal that didn’t get committed to paper, especially when the rest of the plea agreement came in written form? If al-Arian expected the government to give him a pass from further investigations, then he needed a set of attorneys who know how to draft it into an agreement. This assertion makes no sense in any case. Would anyone expect the Department of Justice to let a material witness to terrorism flee the country without getting his testimony on the record?

His attorneys accuse Justice of setting a perjury trap. There’s an easy way out of that: don’t commit perjury. Tell the truth about the front groups and their connections to terrorists when the grand jury asks the questions. Of course, if al-Arian did that, he may not find his welcome in the Palestinian territories quite as hospitable.