Sami Al-Arian: quick thoughts

Sometimes it seems there are an awful lot of "terrorists" but not a lot of convictions. Sami Al-Arian and his co-defendants join the ranks of the acquitted.

The basics of the case are these:

The trial, lasting more than five months, hinged on the question of whether Mr. Arian's years of work in the Tampa area in support of Palestinian independence crossed the threshold from protected free speech and political advocacy to illegal support for terrorists.

Prosecutors, who had been building a case against Mr. Arian for 10 years, relied on some 20,000 hours of taped conversations culled from wiretaps on Mr. Arian and his associates. Officials said he had helped finance and direct terrorist attacks in Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, while using his faculty position teaching computer engineering at the University of South Florida as a cover for his terrorist activities.

20,000 hours of conversations -- and not a single guilty verdict! It seems that the guy is not a terrorist.

The Times has also made the text of the indictment available (PDF), and I've been reading through it. The government makes many specific accusations against Al-Arian and his colleagues, but the broadest one is that he was the U.S. head of an organization called Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which engaged in a conspiracy to support people committing acts of terrorism.

Over the course of the indictment, the government describes its version of what the PIJ was doing between 1991 and 2002. Interestingly, the longest indictment by far is a charge of conspiracy to commit racketeering, not terrorism. This charge mostly reads like committee meeting minutes for what could be any small activist group, punctuated occasionally by references to suicide bombers overseas (notably: no specific references to any direct involvement in a bombing). And Counts 5-44 are "Travel in Interstate or Foreign Commerce or Use of the Mail in Any Facility in Foreign Commerce." The actual "material support for terrorism" indictments are relatively brief, though the government does claim significant evidence in each case.

For the government's case to fall through with this much evidence, there really must be substantial doubt about their basic version of what the PIJ was doing, who it was associated with, and when. Are they making it up?

Read it and see. Perhaps it all is, as Al-Arian's defense lawyer has said, "a work of fiction." But the indictment is specific enough to seem more than plausible to me.

The next question is, will he be deported? Will he try to get his job at the University of South Florida back?