Dr. Sami Al-Arian, the Palestinian professor at the center of a terrorism case, was just granted a release on bond after five-and-a-half years in government detention. He will await further legal proceedings with his family in Virginia. His many supporters around the country are relieved that he is at least free from detention for now.
On Tuesday, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released Dr. Al-Arian from custody.
Al-Arian’s family was overjoyed. Four of his five children and his attorney welcomed him at an ICE facility in Fairfax, Virginia. “We couldn’t believe our eyes,” said Leena, his second oldest daughter, “we were so relieved. It’s been 2,020 days since he’s last been with us.”
Under the law, ICE was supposed to only detain him for up to 90 days unless deportation has been arranged. Those who are a high threat to society or are likely to flee can be detained for longer.
The legal history of his case is long and complex. Al-Arian was being detained as the government sought to prosecute him for contempt, a more recent charge. He refused to participate further in the government’s case against a Muslim charity.
Al-Arian claimed this violated the terms of a plea bargain he made after the main trial against him several years ago. The prosecution failed to convict him of the terrorism charges against him. It was a mixed verdict. Some of the charges ended with a hung jury and were to be re-tried.
His family and supporters were elated with the outcome at the time, especially since his case was very public. Both of Florida’s senatorial candidates in 2006 tried using affiliations with Al-Arian against each other. Still, the government case proved to be too weak to convince the jury of his guilt.
Instead of facing another grueling trial, he agreed to accept guilt on two smaller charges in exchange for being deported (since he had violated immigration law). The charges carried sentences that he had already mostly served, leaving a year-and-a-half of prison time for him to carry out.
When the time came for him to be released, the government refused to deport him, as promised. They used rules allowing them to keep in custody certain material witnesses in other cases. In effect, Al-Arian was remaining in prison even after the government’s case against him was exhausted.
Al-Arian refused to testify further after speaking to prosecutors about one case against a Virginia Muslim charity, a case he knew little about. The prosecutors then charged him with contempt for violating court orders compelling his testimony.
In a hearing last month on the contempt charges, Judge Brinkema granted Dr. Al-Arian bail. However, ICE continued to detain him on the pretext that they were completing deportation procedures.
Last week, Dr. Al-Arian’s attorneys filed a petition for habeas corpus – a request that a prisoner be presented before the court to challenge the basis for imprisonment. Judge Brinkema gave the government until last Tuesday to respond. That is when they granted Dr. Al-Arian’s release on bail.
Dr. Al-Arian’s lead attorney, Jonathan Turley, a professor of law at the George Washington University’s law school, told the AP, “We are obviously relieved and delighted.” He noted that the release would allow Sami to see his son off to college and to spend the Muslim holy month of Ramadan with his family.
His family issued a statement thanking his many supporters, and attributed this development to the many phone calls and letters they sent to the authorities.
This seemingly never-ending government prosecution against him has gone through many ups and downs. Dr. Al-Arian went on hunger strikes several times, pushing himself to the brink of death to protest his mistreatment. He also spoke about being abused and harassed at the hands of guards. Often he was shuttled from one facility to another, without his family being notified.
This ordeal has been the center of thousands of media articles, a point of mud-slinging during a race for the U.S. Senate, and the inspiration for a documentary film, USA vs. Al-Arian.
Now, his supporters hope for a quick resolution to the contempt case. He awaits deportation to Egypt, where his brother-in-law Mazen Al-Najjar currently lives. Al-Najjar himself was deported after a lengthy deportation proceeding in which the government relied on secret evidence to link him with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group on the United States terrorism list.