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Take a Memo

Preach Peace, Sami; Get Truthful, Tribune and Prosecutors

by JOHN SUGG

The Sami Al-Arian trial is over. Defenders of the U.S. Constitution are rejoicing. Federal prosecutors and FBI agents are cowering (from the truth and the media). And, it’s time for me to catch up on a few memos I’ve been meaning to write.

* * *

Sami,

Maybe someday you’ll again be a free man. If there was really justice, you’d get your University of South Florida job back, but your foes are vengeful, especially in defeat.
You now have grave credibility issues to address. You were, as we’ve found out, a functionary in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). True, it was at a time prior to 1996 when it was perfectly legal. The Tampa Tribune, ersatz terrorism "expert" Steven Emerson and federal prosecutors want to confuse that time element. It’s the only way they can attack your First Amendment rights.

But you weren’t always truthful, with me, with other journalists, with a legion of your supporters. It’s time to tell the full story, Sami.

Here’s a suggestion. Your people, the Palestinians, have suffered horrible oppression for decades. Their anger and despair are understandable. Their violence is not. Every bomb that Hamas or the PIJ explodes serves as a justification for Israel’s expansionist ambitions.
You are likely to have considerable sway over the route Palestinians travel. Lead them with peace, Sami. If your compatriots had followed the examples of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi–instead of Yassir Arafat and, yes, your former colleagues Fathi Shikaki and Ramadan Shallah–you would already have been victorious in your cause. You would have a state, and you would have the admiration of the world. Non-violent struggle — jihad, if you will — is exactly what your enemies fear most.

Salaam Alaikum, Peace and Shalom.

* * *

To: Paul Perez, U.S. Attorney, Middle District of Florida

Paul, I realize that, as part of the Bush administration, you don’t feel accountable to the plebian masses. That brings up the question: Who investigates the investigators? Your office is in dire need of a little scrubbing. The odor of rottenness is getting overpowering.
Here are some specific queries to which I’m sure the people of Florida — the people you are supposed to protect — would enjoy answers. Actually, we’re entitled.

The cost of prosecuting Sami Al-Arian ran into the tens of millions of dollars. One FBI agent, now retired, has told me $50 million would be a good starting point for estimates. Thousands of hours were expended chasing Al-Arian for more than a decade.

Meanwhile, Mohammed Atta al Sayed–remember him, the guy who flew a jetliner into the World Trade Center?–was having a grand time in Florida, taking flying lessons in Venice, renting an apartment in Coral Springs, and boozing it up in Hollywood. The feds were alerted to Atta’s activities in Florida by Israelis who were watching him, as I’ve reported in another story, based in part on secret DEA and FBI reports provided me by a retired Israeli intelligence commander. But I guess Al-Arian was such a priority, it got in the way of ferreting out real terrorists.

Just whose priority was it to relentlessly pursue Al-Arian, a mission that obligated your folks to wipe their feet on the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights? Who was calling the shots? A clue can be found with your prosecutors, who claimed (falsely) that Israeli intelligence wasn’t a factor in the Al-Arian case–clearly an attempt to deny the guy his Sixth Amendment right to confront his real accusers. The lie was exposed by, and this is absolutely a gas, an Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, which stated last May about the Tampa case: "Behind the scenes it was the Israelis who for years collected material, transmitted information about conversations and correspondence and generally connected the dots."
Paul, really now, don’t you think the feddies ought to make a stab at telling the truth? You seemed to make so much out of Al-Arian’s dissembling, after all.

Much more important: Is it just a little bit possible that if some of the oceans of money and time you federal hot-shots wasted chasing Al-Arian had been spent looking for real terrorists, maybe 9/11 wouldn’t have happened? After all, Paul, I’d say Atta was a bona fide enemy of the United States. But where is there a whiff of evidence that Sami Al-Arian ever planned to attack America?

Try a little candor. Open your files on Al-Arian to the public. (We know you’ve leaked damaging concoctions about Al-Arian to Michael Fechter at the Tampa Tribune, but I mean all of the files.) How about the conclusion of the FBI’s former national terrorism chief, Bob Blitzer, who told me in 1998 no federal crimes were committed by Al-Arian and his associates? How about the decision of your own criminal division chief, Bob O’Neill, and of then-Attorney General Janet Reno not to prosecute Al-Arian because evidence was so lacking? Please, no nonsense about the (un)PATRIOT Act making evidence available. The Justice Department had access to everything long ago. Certainly Reno did.

O’Neill–that name rings a bell. Oh, yes, he’s the federal prosecutor who also owns that Hyde Park Irish bar, Four Green Fields, where there have been all of those Guinness-awash fundraising events for Sinn Fein and very-terrorist Irish Republican Army. I’m not a G-man, Paul, but even I was able to discover that IRA killers have been up to their Celtic keisters in supplying help to Palestinian bombers. So, it’s not completely unreasonable to surmise that some of the greenbacks collected at Four Green Fields could have paid for bombs that killed Israelis and, possibly, Americans visiting the Middle East (just like the tragic case of the Flatow girl, whose death you tried to hang on Al-Arian). The Four Green Fields fundraising for the oh-so-lethal IRA was proven (many federales and Tribune reporters tossed money into the passed hat). That’s a lot more than can be said of the Al-Arian case, where you didn’t prove squat.

Anyway, is it OK for federal law enforcement officers to raise money for terrorist groups?

Paul, there’s a lot more at your office that deserves some Eliot Ness treatment. You guys were the conduit for fabricated "evidence" used in an attempt to smear state Judge Greg Holder. In fact, Holder’s supporters think someone in your office might have cooked up the fabrication. That you, um, "lost" critical evidence in the case does seem a tad suspicious. Judge Holder, I’m sure, angered you when he told your bosses you had undermined your own investigations of organized crime influence in the county courthouse.

That is rather humorous considering that your prosecutors — Cherie Krigsman, for example — compared Al-Arian with Tony Soprano. Just where are the real Sopranos in Tampa? One thing is for sure–you guys aren’t chasing them.

Finally, Paul, I thought it was marvelous strategy to deny Al-Arian the right to tell the jury about the plight of his people. Dead Palestinian babies, often killed with weapons we gave to Israel, don’t count for much, do they? But if you really want to jail a killer, here’s an idea. The next time Ariel Sharon comes to America muscling us for money, collar him. That guy, popularly known as the "Butcher of Beirut" was part of the undisputedly terrorist Unit 101, and he presided over the murders of thousands of women and children at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. Sorry, I forgot, we dislike only Palestinian murderers.

Oh, I know how vindictive you Bushies can be, but it really is time to let Sami go. You stacked the deck against him, and his lawyers still thrashed you.

* * *

To: Michael Fechter

Hey, Mikey, I really looked forward to discussing the Al-Arian case with you on WMNF 88.5 FM last week. The station says that when you found out I’d be there to ask you a few questions, you ran away. You and the Trib never have wanted to subject your reporting to independent review.
For example: In one of your first-ever stories about Al-Arian, two days after the April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City bombing, you tried to implicate Al-Arian in that horrible crime. Oh, sure, it was an attack by slithery innuendo, and among other sins, you neglected to tell readers that no Palestinian group has attacked America. Don’t you think it’s finally time for a correction, Mike?

Around Tampa, people call you the Trib’s Judith Miller. What would a close look at your files and, say, phone records reveal? At the very least, I’d argue, a very credulous reporter. And perhaps one who has always waged a stealth political war under the guise of journalism.

I read the Trib after the trial, and Michael, there you go again. I loved it when one of your articles called the al-Arian verdict "a terrible precedent." You really hate that old Constitution, don’t you?

As with your original reports on Al-Arian, you slip in sources without letting readers know their missions. For example, in one article you quoted a vaguely identified guy named Frank Gaffney as some sort of independent terrorism expert–sort of like you did with Steven Emerson. Gaffney said Al-Arian "has associations and has created an extraordinary track record" of involvement in terrorism. Gaffney also said, according to you, that our justice system was "too skewed" in protecting rights (I guess the fact that we’ve fought many wars to keep that "skew" escapes you and Gaffney). What you don’t tell readers is that Gaffney is a former Defense Department protégé of Richard "Israel First, Hate the Arabs and Make a Little Cash Out of War" Perle. Gaffney is, in fact, one of the most rabid of the neo-conservatives, and he desperately wants an all-out clash of civilizations. You knew that, though, didn’t you?
Mike, how come you never told readers the truth about, say, Emerson?

Like how when Likud disinformation agents have slipped into America to undermine the Oslo peace process, they bedded down at Emerson’s apartment. There’s much, much more, but even a tidbit like that might have given Tampa residents a reason to be a little skeptical about the guy–and you.

* * *

Dear Steve Emerson,

Well, I beat you in court–when the judge told you to prove allegations you made, and you gave up your libel suit against me instead. Also, AP reporters tossed you from a terrorism project because they didn’t trust you.

And there’s so much else. Here’s one dilly:

You claimed that Tampa’s Palestinian advocates at the University of South Florida were directly involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. You ranted: "I am constrained at this point from revealing some of those details, but I can tell you they will come out in the near term."

Well, Steve, you made that statement nine years ago. Where’s the proof, pal? Or is it just something else you claimed, but can’t prove?
A question: We now know so much about Al-Arian because of your crusade. What about you? Who funds you, Steve? Who is behind the curtain guiding your actions? Betcha won’t tell.

For a detail account of the Al-Arian trial and verdict read The Summer of Sami by Wayne Garcia.

Senior Editor JOHN SUGG’s other writings on the Al-Arian case, including his exclusive interview with the Palestinian academic, can be found at www.johnsugg.com.