Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Sami al-Arian acquitted, hung jury....

From the Washington Post:

A federal jury acquitted former Florida professor Sami al-Arian yesterday of conspiring to aid a Palestinian group in killing Israelis through suicide bombings, dealing the U.S. government a setback in its efforts to use secretly gathered intelligence in criminal cases against terrorism suspects.

The trial was a crucial test of government power under the USA Patriot Act, which lowered barriers that had prevented intelligence agencies from sharing secretly monitored communications with prosecutors. The case was the first criminal terrorism prosecution to rely mainly on vast amounts of materials gathered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), whose standards for searches and surveillance are less restrictive than those set by criminal courts.

Al-Arian, 47, was found not guilty on eight of 17 counts, including conspiracy to maim or murder. Jurors deadlocked on the rest of the charges, including ones that he aided terrorists...

A male juror told the Associated Press he perceived al-Arian's acquittal not as a First Amendment issue but as a failure of the government to prove its case.

"I didn't see the evidence," said the man, who declined to give his name. The court kept jurors' identities secret...

The case became pivotal in last year's Florida Senate race. Former housing secretary Mel Martinez (R) defeated former university president Betty Castor (D) after charging that she did not do enough to sever al-Arian's ties to the school. Castor noted that al-Arian campaigned for President Bush in 2000 and met with White House adviser Karl Rove in 2001 on religion-based initiatives.

This guy said- said- some pretty unsavory things. But this looked fishy from the start, and - in my mind - was clearly undone by folks like Bill O'Reilly:

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, all four media giants, eagerly tapping into the country's mood of vengeance and fear, latched onto the Al-Arian story, fudging the facts and ignoring the most rudimentary tenets of journalism in their haste to better tell a sinister story about lurking Middle Eastern dangers here at home.

The story went national when Al-Arian was invited on the Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor" show back on Sept. 26. Host Bill O'Reilly revived inflammatory charges against Al-Arian dating back, in some cases, 15 years. Those charges were that a now-defunct Islamic think tank Al-Arian founded and ran in conjunction with USF operated as a sort of home away from home for radical Palestinians and terrorists. The charges had been thoroughly investigated and rejected by USF, and an immigration judge; the FBI has been looking for years and has never filed any charges.

Not even his harshest critics suggest Al-Arian has done anything in the last five years that could be even remotely construed as aiding terrorist organizations. The entire controversy sprang from the fact that viewers became enraged after old allegations were re-aired, albeit often in mangled form, by O'Reilly.

O'Reilly's accusatory and hectoring interrogation of Al-Arian, filled with false statements and McCarthy-like smears, climaxed in a chilling parting shot in which the host repeatedly told his stammering guest that if he were with the CIA, "I'd follow you wherever you went" -- clearly implying that he believed Al-Arian was a terrorist. Not surprisingly in the fearful and hysterical climate after Sept. 11, the show resulted in a torrent of angry calls, including death threats against al-Arian, to USF.

Before firing him, USF placed Al-Arian on paid leave, saying his presence made the campus unsafe and pointing to an avalanche of hate mail and death threats.

But the Gulf Coast hysteria was entirely created by the media. Without the Tampa Tribune, which undertook a dubious seven-year crusade against al-Arian, there would have been no story to begin with. Without "The O'Reilly Factor" -- a showcase for noisy right-wing ranting whose producers apparently didn't even know that Al-Arian had been cleared of charges before they handed him over to their equally ignorant hanging-judge host -- the controversy would never have been revived. Without incendiary, know-nothing Clear Channel radio jocks, led by a gentleman named Bubba the Love Sponge, there would almost certainly have been far fewer USF death threats. And without NBC's sloppy work on "Dateline" there would probably have been no firing.

I think that it's pretty clear the government really did not have much of a case, if any at all. I do wonder if they intend to press further, to go jury shopping.

I wouldn't want this to happen to Fred Phelps or James Dobson, unless there was reasonable evidence that they in fact committed crimes.

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