On January 22 2007, Dr. Sami Al-Arian was called to testify before a grand jury in Virginia for the second time in as many months. Though he had been acquitted of all major charges and reached an agreement with the government last year that was to end his imprisonment within a few months, the latest round of subpoenas threatens to extend Dr. Al-Arian’s incarceration by up to 18 months.
While most observers are wondering what is behind the continued pursuit of a case that was all but concluded, recent revelations have pointed in the direction of one particular individual: a federal prosecutor who has made no secret of his anti-Muslim and anti-Arab beliefs.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg’s past actions and statements reveal a disturbing trend that supports the view that Dr. Al-Arian is being punished for his political activism on behalf of the Palestinian people. Kromberg has joked about torture, improperly confronted another suspect in public and has lamented “the Islamization of the American justice system.”
“Defense attorneys have objected for years that Mr. Kromberg, the lead counsel in many of these cases, has been using the Eastern District of Virginia to mete out his own brand of justice for Muslim terrorism subjects, often openly displaying his personal animus,” Al-Arian’s lead counsel, Jonathan Turley, wrote. “This long and controversial record forms the backdrop for the allegation of selective and malicious prosecution in this case.”
“When you look at the prosecutions together, there is a pattern that really doesn’t make Mr. Kromberg look very good,” a Muslim scholar from Maryland who has been subpoenaed, Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, said. “It reminds me of the Red Scare. Communism was a serious problem for America, but some people seemed to think almost every liberal was a Communist. Mr. Kromberg and a handful of other people in the government seem to have the same approach when it comes to outspoken Muslims.”
This widespread suspicion was confirmed to everyone who late last year read Kromberg’s words when he opposed delaying Dr. Al-Arian’s transfer to a prison in Virginia until after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
According to a court motion filed on Oct. 26, 2006 by Al-Arian’s attorney, Jack Fernandez, Kromberg’s outburst included the following remarks regarding Muslims:
“If they can kill each other during Ramadan, they can appear before the grand jury—all they can’t do is eat before sunset. I believe Mr. Al-Arian’s request is part of the attempted Islamization of the American Justice System. I am not going to put off Dr. Al-Arian’s grand jury appearance just to assist in what is becoming the Islamization of America.”
Following this undignified tirade, Fernandez asked Kromberg to recuse himself because of the apparent bias he holds toward Dr. Al-Arian as a Muslim activist. Needless to say, Kromberg promptly rejected this request.
In a Feb. 8, 2007 letter to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, the respected human rights organization Amnesty International called into question Kromberg’s motives.
“We are disturbed, too, by reports that the prosecutor leading the grand jury case in Virginia expressed anti-Islamic sentiments when discussing a request with Dr. Al-Arian’s lawyer to postpone his transfer to Virginia during Ramadan, a matter which we understand is currently the subject of a complaint before the court. This raises further concern as to whether these proceedings are being taken to punish [Dr. Al-Arian] for his political profile rather than for legitimate purposes.”
Violating an Agreement
Kromberg first called Dr. Al-Arian to testify before a grand jury investigating the International Institute of Islamic Thought, a think tank in Herndon, Virginia, last November—despite a plea agreement five months earlier that did not contain a cooperation clause because both parties agreed that Dr. Al-Arian would not be required to cooperate with prosecutors, and that the plea agreement concluded his entire business with the United States government.
On the advice of his attorneys, Dr. Al-Arian refused to testify because the situation had all the markings of a perjury trap. As a result of his refusal, Dr. Al-Arian was placed in civil contempt, extending his prison sentence indefinitely, until the term of the grand jury expired in late December without having returned a single indictment.
Within days, Dr. Al-Arian was transferred temporarily to a prison in Atlanta until a new grand jury was impaneled in Virginia to look into the same case. Once again, Kromberg called Dr. Al-Arian as a witness and, upon advice from his lawyers, Dr. Al-Arian again refused to answer any questions. He was held in contempt of court for a second time, for which he must serve an indeterminate prison sentence.
Forcing Dr. Al-Arian to cooperate with the government is a clear violation of the plea agreement between prosecutors and defense attorneys.
According to court documents, any information Dr. Al-Arian might be able to provide the grand jury is likely unnecessary or irrelevant because the information the U.S. Attorney’s Office is interested in is very old.
Moreover, Dr. Al-Arian had been under 24-hour surveillance for at least a decade before his incarceration in February 2003. Any information the U.S. attorneys might be seeking surely has been obtained by other means. This leads to the conclusion that forcing Dr. Al-Arian to testify is solely for punitive purposes, namely to keep him in prison beyond the April 2007 date that was determined following a jury trial and plea agreement.
Read the rest of this entry »