Another Forgotten Victim of 911

Dr. Sami Al-Arian vs Big Brother
by Eileen Fleming / March 15th, 2008

American Palestinian Professor Dr. Sami Amin Al-Arian, has spent the last five years behind bars although NO jury ever returned a single guilty verdict against him. On March 3, 2008 he began his third hunger strike in Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Va. after learning he would face a third grand jury, instead of being released and deported this April.

After losing fifteen pounds, the diabetic Dr. was moved to Butner Medical Center. I phoned the center [919- 575-3900] on March 14, 2008, seeking a condition update, but only got as far as leaving a voice mail.

I then phoned Melva Underbakke, who was driving to Phoenix to show the documentary USA vs Al-Arian.

Melva informed me, “I have known Sami for fifteen years, we both taught at the University of South Florida. When he was indicted he lost his tenure. We lived a mile from each other and were both on the educational committee of HOPE, a volunteer organization in the community that works to strengthen the community. Sami and I were both on the committee that helped the public schools develop an alternative to out of school suspension by keeping the suspended kids in the school system.

“After 9/11, Sami was instrumental in outreaching to the entire community by inviting the churches and all others to the mosque to express our shared grief and sorrow.

“Sami has won many awards for teaching. He worked to get people out to vote and he lobbied in Washington.

“It’s a big loss to our community–a big loss to our country to lose such a person as Sami.

“Even during his pretrial incarceration the conditions were very harsh. He was always behind a glass; no physical contact was allowed, even for his family. I think maybe once a year they were allowed to be in the same room with him. The last time I saw him was just after his second hunger strike. He was still joking and in good spirits. He was strong and it was a happy visit.

“Sami was always a big believer in the American system. He felt justice would be done. But, I think because this case goes all the way to Washington, and they have been loosing these terror cases, they want to save face and don’t want to give up persecuting Sami.”

Dr. Al-Arian has stated:

“To be patriotic is to be able to question government policy in times of crisis. To be patriotic is to stand up for the bill of rights and the Constitution in times of uncertainty and insecurity. To be patriotic is to speak up against the powerful in defense of the weak and the voiceless. To be patriotic is to challenge the abuses of the PATRIOT Act.”

“A great nation is ultimately defined and judged by its system of justice. When the system is manipulated by the powerful and tolerates abuses against the minorities or the weak members of society, the government not only loses its moral authority and betrays future generations, but will also be condemned by history.”

The diabetic Dr.’s first hunger strike, lasted 140 days, he survived on nutritional liquids and lost 45 pounds. In 2007, he went on a two month hunger strike, drank only water and lost 55 pounds. His third hunger strike began March 3, 2008 and he is refusing fluids.

The documentary USA vs Al-Arian that Melva is taking around the country, details “the absurdity of the show trial held in Florida and the hollowness of the government’s case against Al-Arian. When the film was awarded Best Nordic Documentary at the Nordic Panorama in Finland the jury wrote: ‘The film shows precisely how a common man becomes a victim of the situation in the contemporary world, where the Big Brother is watching you even when you’re ordering pizza.’”

The film is also “a close portrait of an Arab-American family facing terrorism charges leveled by the U.S. Government. The film shows a personal story of a family living in a society where fear of terrorism has resulted in increasing stigmatization and discrimination against Muslims. For years, Nahla Al-Arian and her children have been fighting to prove the innocence of husband and father Sami, a Palestinian refugee, university professor and civil rights activist, who has lived in the USA for more than thirty years. In 2003, Sami Al-Arian was accused of giving material support to a terrorist organization and held in solitary confinement for over three years. His six-month trial ended without a single guilty verdict. The failure to convict Dr. Al-Arian was seen as a stinging rebuke for the federal government. While the Bush administration considered this a landmark case in its campaign against international terrorism, Sami Al-Arian claims he has been targeted in an attempt to silence his political views. Because the jury hung on some of the counts, however, Dr. Al-Arian remained in jail as the prosecution threatened to retry him. In May 2006, he agreed to a plea bargain with the US Government in order to put an end to the ordeal and to be reunited with his family. A federal judge sentenced him to 57 months in prison and subsequent deportation… The case of Sami Al-Arian is one of the first major tests of the USA Patriot Act, a controversial law passed hastily after September 11, 2001.”

So far the American taxpayer has provided approximately $50 million dollars to persecute Dr. Al-Arian. “The government has called 80 witnesses and subjected the jury to hundreds of hours of often absurd phone transcriptions and recordings made over a 10-year period, which the jury dismissed as “gossip.” Of the 17 charges against Al-Arian—including “conspiracy to murder and maim persons abroad”—the jury acquitted him of eight and was hung on the rest. The jurors disagreed on the remaining charges, with 10 of the 12 jurors favoring his full acquittal… Following the acquittal, a disaster for the government, especially because then-Attorney General John Ashcroft had announced the indictment, prosecutors threatened to retry Al-Arian. The Palestinian professor, under duress, accepted a plea bargain agreement that would spare him a second trial, saying in his agreement that he had helped people associated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad with immigration matters. It was a tepid charge given the high profile of the case.”


USA vs Al-Arian
Contact Melva Underbakke to schedule a screening in your city.
Call (813) 215-3403

Eileen Fleming is the author of Keep Hope Alive and Memoirs of a Nice Irish American Girl’s’ Life in Occupied Territory and the producer of 30 Minutes With Vanunu. Email her at


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