USA vs. Al-Arian premiers in Tampa & panel discussion
A new film, USA vs. Al-Arian, made its Florida premiere last night at the Tampa Theatre. The film follows the family of Dr. Sami Al-Arian family during his 2005 trial and the 2006 plea negotiations. The screening was co-sponsored by Council on American-Islamic Relations, Friends of Human Rights, Amnesty International Tampa Bay, and WMNF. After the film Rob Lorei moderated a panel discussion that including a defense attorney, a Christian pastor, a FOX News producer, a juror, the film’s director, and Dr. Al-Arian’s eldest son. WMNF’s Sean Kinane reports.
The documentary USA vs. Al-Arian was warmly received by the audience of twelve hundred with occasional outbreaks of applause, crying, catcalls and laughter occurring throughout the film.
Kay Long Masero is a freelance television producer who was hired by Rupert Murdoch’s FOX News cable television station to attend the trial and report to them, the only national television network to do so. She said that FOX News had a vested interest that Dr. Al-Arian be found guilty of terrorism. Masero suggested that if cameras had been allowed in the courtroom, the results of the case would have been much different because the public would have seen that the government didn’t have a case.
“I think that it would have been apparent much earlier, it became apparent to me pretty early on in the trial that the government didn’t have much of a case. And I think if that would have been pounded home to the viewers, I think, and on the evening news every night, the shenanigans that were going on in that courtroom, I think that the outcome would have been different. I think the pressure would have been on them a bit more than it was.”
One example of shenanigans was when prosecutors acted out the conversations that were recorded by nine years of wire tapping the phone calls of Dr. Al-Arian and his family, according to Linda Moreno who was one of Al-Arian’s attorneys.
“Well, they had the prosecutors assume the roles of the speakers in the conversations. So you had the lead prosecutor was Dr. Al-Arian. And so, Terry Zitik would be Sami Al-Arian. And he would sort-of posture, and you know, and try to impose an artificial and contrived tone on conversations. So, you had a table full of federal prosecutors reading transcripts like some dreadful play.”
Moreno described one of the oddities of the plea bargain that Al-Arian signed in 2006 for providing non-violent support to associates of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
“And the government started getting desperate because they wanted this case over. So they said, well, we want him, in the Statement of Facts, also to plead guilty and to say that he lied to a reporter from the St. Petersburg Times. And I said, well, if that’s a crime, then we need to start building a lot of prisons because a lot of politicians are on their way.”
Paul Perez was the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida during the Al-Arian trial, overseeing the prosecutors of the case. He has recently resigned, but he plays a large role in the film, describing the government’s positions. WMNF News and Public Affairs Director Rob Lorei asked Line Halvorsen, the film’s Norwegian director - who flew to Tampa for the premiere -- if there were there any questions Perez wouldn’t answer?
“He answered all the questions we asked. But I must frankly say that I was a little surprised that it seemed there were a lot of things that he didn’t know. … It was things I knew, so.” Rev. Warren Clark is Pastor of the First United Church of Christ in Tampa and a member of Friends of Human Rights. He visited Dr. Al-Arian in jail during the trial and has lobbied in Washington on Dr. Al-Arian’s behalf. Supporters passed out postcards addressed to Representative John Conyers, chair of the Judiciary Committee, calling for an investigation of what Clark calls “show-trials” of Muslims.
“So this postcard is about - Let’s do a judicial inquiry into all of these trials of Muslims in our country where the juries are rejecting the cases overwhelmingly. But they are these large show-trials at the beginning to look good about fighting terrorism. Let’s do an investigation on that but with a particular focus on this case.”
Even though Judge James Moody gave Dr. Al-Arian the maximum sentence allowed under the plea agreement, Al-Arian was supposed to be released a month ago. But he was called by Assistant US Attorney Gordon Kromberg to testify before a Grand Jury in Virginia that Moreno feels is a trick by the government to keep Dr. Al-Arian behind bars. He is being held in contempt for not testifying.
“We knew about this prosecutor [Kromberg]. He had a history of bigotry and racism against Muslims. And he also is infamous for snatching Muslims who had been acquitted in cases and … So, we knew what this was. This was a trap for Dr. Al-Arian.“
Ron was a juror in the trial who prefers to be identified only by his first name. The jurors unanimously found Dr. Al-Arian not guilty on eight counts and were deadlocked on the nine others, in most cases 10-2 for acquittal. WMNF Asked Ron what he thought might have happened if, instead of a plea bargain, Dr. Al-Arian had been tried a second time on the remaining nine counts.
“I think he’ll be found not guilty. Either that or they’ll have more hung juries. There’s no, there’s no evidence. I can’t picture 12 people hearing everything we heard, going into a room and coming back with a guilty verdict. Not twelve; one or two, like we had, on some counts. But they won’t find twelve.” Ron said that he would like to see Dr. Al-Arian released.
“I personally would like to see him out, I think the charges should be dropped. I voted not guilty on every charge, I didn’t see any evidence for anything. But, like I told other people, we have the best judicial system in the world. It has its flaws; it’s not perfect. It just has to play out. I think eventually, I don’t know, right will be done; I would like to believe that. I’d like to see him out; I don’t think it’s fair that he’s in there [jail]. But at the same time, we didn’t acquit him on everything so that leaves a large door open for other people to do what they do.”
Ron, who was interviewed in the film and saw the documentary for the first time last night, said he thought the film was “excellent.”
“I loved it. I thought it was excellent. I was proud to be a part of it. … I wanted to see more about the family. I was curious to see while we were doing what we were doing what they were going through. And I just wanted to see, I don’t know, what the family goes through with it, and I think it portrayed that really well.” As a form of disclosure, this reporter has done human rights activism, including specifically advocating for the rights of Dr. Al-Arian. To find out more about the film, visit its website, USA v-s Al-Arian.com .
For WMNF News, I’m Sean Kinane
USA vs. Al-Arian
WMNF story on Norwegian premiere of the film
Attorney Middle District of Florida
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