Sami Al-Arian and the Anti-Patriot Act Movement
By David Horowitz
The following is an excerpt from the book Unholy Alliance, by David Horowitz (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2004)

Osama (Sami) al-Arian was a Palestinian professor of engineering who operated out of the University of South Florida. Al-Arian created two non-profit organizations, a think-tank associated with the University called the World Islamic Studies Enterprise (WISE) and the Islamic Committee for Palestine, which raised funds and recruited soldiers for Islamic jihad. Al-Arian’s Islamic Committee had featured the blind sheik, Omar Abdul Rachman, as a guest speaker while Tarik Hamdi, a board member of WISE was known by authorities to have personally delivered a satellite telephone and battery pack to Osama bin laden in Afghanistan in May 1998.[1]

Sami al-Arian was, in fact, the North American head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, one of the principal terrorist organizations in the Middle East, responsible for suicide bombings that took the lives of more than a hundred people including two Americans, aged 16 and 20, before he was arrested in February 2003. An FBI surveillance video of al-Arian’s fund-raising tour of American mosques shows al-Arian being introduced as “the president of the Islamic Committee for Palestine. … the active arm of the Islamic Jihad Movement.” While others in the video praise the killing of Jews and Christians, al-Arian states, “Let us damn America … Let us damn [her] allies until death.” In another speech al-Arian said, “We assemble today to pay respects to the march of the martyrs and to the river of blood that gushes forth and does not extinguish, from butchery to butchery, and from martyrdom to martyrdom, from jihad to jihad.” [2]

In 1997, Al-Arian created another organization, the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom. He appointed Kit Gage a member of the National Lawyers Guild and a veteran of the anti-Vietnam left to be its executive director. The specific purpose of the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom was to oppose the “Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act”—the predecessor to the Patriot Act—which had been passed in 1996 following the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, a terrorist atrocity which killed 175 innocent people. Pursuant to the Act, Palestinian Islamic Jihad was declared a terrorist organization. The Act made “material support” for terrorist organizations illegal and authorized the use of secret evidence in terrorist cases. Sami al-Arian’s brother-in-law Mazen al-Najjar was arrested under its terms, held for three and a half years and eventually deported after 9/11. His attorney was David Cole, the Center for Constitutional Rights counsel in the Los Angeles Patriot Act case and the Ford Foundation’s legal scholar and advocate against post-9/11 immigration controls.

Among the organizations supporting al-Arian’s “civil liberties” crusade against the terrorist legislation were the National Lawyers Guild, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the ACLU, the American Muslim Council and the Council on Arab-Islamic Relations (CAIR), two radical Islamic groups which also pretended to be civil liberties organizations. CAIR is an offshoot of the Hamas-created Islamic Association for Palestine and several of its leaders have been arrested as terrorists. The American Muslim Council is the “founder, corporate parent and supporter of several militant Islamic groups, while its leaders have openly championed Hamas terrorists, defended Middle Eastern terrorist regimes, [and] issued anti-Semitic and anti-American statements.”[3]

The 120-page indictment of Al-Arian issued by the Ashcroft Justice Department was based on a seven-year investigation including extensive wire-taps of al-Arian’s conversations with Hamas terrorists in Syria and the Middle East. Among the 200 specific acts connecting al-Arian to the terrorist organization listed in the indictment were a fax sent “to Saudi Arabia, [that] inquired about obtaining palletized urea fertilizer [a chemical compound used in explosives] in fifty kilogram bags suitable for ocean transportation,”[4] and telephone calls arranging payments to the families of suicide bombers, which was one of al-Arian’s responsibilities as financial head of the terrorist organization.[5]

Sami al-Arian was arrested for his terrorist activities in February 2003. He had been under investigation by the FBI since 1996 and had long been publicly identified as a terrorist by close observers of the Islamic jihad movement like Steven Emerson. The basis for their suspicion was fairly transparent. For example, one board member of al-Arian’s think-tank (WISE), a Palestinian academic named Khalil Shiqaqi, was the brother Fathi Shiqaqi the well-known founder of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. When Fathi Shiqaqi was assassinated, he was replaced as head of the terrorist organization by Ramadan Abdallah Shallah who was the director of al-Arian’s think-tank and a board member of WISE himself. At the same time, Al-Arian’s non-profit—the Islamic Committee for Palestine—was involved in raising money and recruiting at public events across America to “sponsor” Palestinian martyrs and featuring appeals by fundraisers “who begged for $500 to kill a Jew.”[6]

When Emerson began warning the public about al-Arian’s terrorist recruitment efforts and his connections to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, he was ferociously attacked for “Muslim-bashing” and “McCarthyism” by prominent figures in the political left, among whom al-Arian was by now a familiar colleague. On September 26, 2001 al-Arian made the mistake of appearing on the FoxNews Channel’s O’Reilly Factor. The host confronted al-Arian with his public calls for “Death to Israel” and declared, “If I was the CIA, I’d follow you wherever you went.” The ensuing public uproar produced enough embarrassment to University of South Florida officials that they finally suspended al-Arian from his professorship, albeit with pay.

Al-Arian immediately adopted the posture of the victim: “I’m a minority,” he said. “I’m an Arab. I’m a Palestinian. I’m a Muslim. That’s not a popular thing to be these days. Do I have rights, or don’t I have rights?” [7] The American left sprang to al-Arian’s defense. Their efforts included articles in The Nation and Salon.com, whose reporter Eric Boehlert called it, “The Prime Time Smearing of Sami al-Arian” and explained, “By pandering to anti-Arab hysteria, NBC, Fox News, Media General and Clear Channel radio disgraced themselves—and ruined an innocent professor’s life.”[8] Others who joined the al-Arian defense chorus included the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the University of South Florida faculty union, and the American Association of University Professors.[9] The leftist head of Georgetown’s Middle East studies program, John Esposito, expressed concern that al-Arian not be a “victim of … anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry,” and Ellen Schrecker, the foremost academic expert on the McCarthy era (who regards American Communists as well-meaning social reformers and innocent victims of government persecution) called al-Arian’s suspension “political repression.”[10]

After the O’Reilly show and just before al-Arian’s indictment, Duke University held a symposium on “National Security and Civil Liberties.” Al-Arian was the featured (and university-sponsored) speaker. After his arrest, a report on his appearance at Duke was posted on the leftist website CommonDreams.org. It was written by Sarah Shields, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of North Carolina: “Professor Sami al-Arian made an impassioned plea for free speech. An immigrant, a professor, a leader of his Muslim community, al-Arian had campaigned against the use of secret evidence in court, embracing the democratic guarantees of a constitution designed to protect the innocent. Professor al-Arian had seen first hand the triumph of our most valued principles. At a time when Americans needed the information about the growing number of Muslims in this country, he helped found a think-tank [WISE] devoted to the study of Islam in this country. … Sami al-Arian has spent the past decade arguing passionately for the freedom of conscience, for the protections against arbitrary imprisonment that form the very foundations of our civilization. Now he is locked up, unable to appear in court in his own defense, awaiting trial under conditions uncommon for even the worst convicted criminals. … When I was in preschool, I heard fairy tales about all-powerful kings who arbitrarily threw people into dungeons. When I was in Hebrew school, I learned how Jews were rounded up by rulers during times of instability. … And today I wonder: was there a warning in those fairy tales, those stories about bad kings, evil advisors, and their dungeons?”[11]

Sami al-Arian was arrested five months after the O’Reilly episode. The arrest took place seven years after the FBI investigation began, and was made possible only by provisions adopted in the Patriot Act. The reason for the long delay was the existence of a government rule that created a wall between criminal and intelligence investigations, and barred agents of the FBI and intelligence agencies from communicating with each other. It was this rule that had prevented FBI agents in Minneapolis from breaking into the computer of Zacarias Moussaoui—the so-called “20th hijacker”—a month before 9/11. Had the FBI agents been given permission to search Moussaoui’s computer, two of the 9/11 hijackers would have been identified along with the Hamburg cell that planned the attack, and it is possible that the 9/11 tragedy would have been averted.[12]

The rule erecting a barrier between intelligence and criminal investigations had been put in place by Attorney General Janet Reno in July 1995.[13] Referred to as “the wall,” it caused a breakdown in the collaboration between investigators that national security officials had long realized was a danger to public safety. In the words of Mary Jo White, a Clinton-appointed U.S. Attorney who was the most seasoned al Qaeda prosecutor before 9/11: “The walls are the single greatest danger we have blocking our ability to obtain and act on [terrorist] information.”[14] One of the important innovations of the Patriot Act was to eliminate these walls. This made possible the collaboration between intelligence agencies and the FBI and led directly to the arrest of Sami al-Arian and his associates.

 



[1] Emerson, op. cit. pp. 122, 121

[2] Ibid.

[3] Emerson, op. cit. pp. 197 et seq; pp. 203 et seq;

[4] David Tell, “Al-Arian Nation,” The Weekly Standard, February 3, 2003

[5] http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/flm/pr/022003indict.pdf

[6] Emerson, op. cit., pp., 109 et seq;

[7] Robert Spencer, “Al-Arian: Terrorist Professor and His Campus Allies,” www.frontpagemag.com, February 26, 2003

[8] Salon.com January 19, 2002. http://archive.salon.com/tech/feature/2002/01/19/bubba/

[9] The AAUP’s position is analyzed in Nathan Giller, “American Association of University Professors: Lobby for the Left,” www.frontpagemag.com, June 4, 2003

[10] Ken Timmerman, Preachers of Hate, p. 273; Ron Radosh, “The Case of Sami Al-Arian, www.frontpagemag.com, February 8, 2002; Jonathan Schanzer, “Professors for Terrorist Al-Arian,” www.frontpagemag.com, February 24, 2003

[11] Sarah Shields, “Sami al-Arian and the Dungeon: A Fable for our Time,” www.CommonDreams.org, November 16, 2003

[12] Heather MacDonald, “Why The FBI Didn’t Stop 9/11,” City Journal, Autumn 2002

[13] The rule was called, “Procedures for Contacts Between the FBI and the Criminal Division Concerning Foreign Intelligence and Foreign Counterintelligence Investigations.”

[14] Ibid.