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For over three years during my ordeal with the US government between 2003 and 2006, I was placed in solitary confinement, having no contact visits with anyone except my attornies, Bill Moffitt and Linda Moreno.
At the end of my first meeting with Bill in the spring of 2003, after my arrest, he hugged me and said: “this is how we greet each other, brother.” He was indeed not only my attorney, but also my trusted friend and brother.
Bill Moffitt passed away on April 24 after suffering a massive stroke. He was indeed one of the best legal minds and defense attorneys this country had ever produced. His sharp intellect and passion for justice were unmatched. He was the second Black president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and an attorney who took on unpopular causes for decades, most recently defending Palestinian activists wrongly accused by the Bush administration.
I first met Bill when the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom (NCPPF) organized a major event at the US Capitol in February 2000. The event was convened to draw attention to the use of secret evidence by the Department of Justice in immigration courts. As president of the NCPPF, I invited and introduced Bill to address the assembly in his capacity as the president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. In front of an audience of over 700, including many members of Congress, he was articulate, fierce, and passionate in his defense of the constitutional right of due process.
Little did I know that in three years Bill would become my voice to the world, and along with Linda, would do everything humanly possible to defend me, not only against the bloated indictment and vicious prosecution, but also against a prejudicial and biased media. From the moment we went about facing these seemingly insurmountable tasks, Bill and Linda became family to my wife, children and me.
Bill often referred to our case as the civil rights case of the 21st century. In his opening statement to the jury, he blew up two pictures the FBI took during their searches of my house. One was a picture of my library with thousands of books on shelves. The other was a picture of a gun I owned at the time. He then told the jurors: “this is what this case is about. When the government raided Dr. Al-Arian’s house, this is what they took (books), and that’s what they’d left (the gun). This case is not about violence but about freedom of speech.”
In his closing argument, Bill Moffitt summed up the case to the jury by saying: ” I suggest to you that somewhere very close, the people who wrote those words, ‘we the people,’ are listening and observing these proceedings and wondering whether we have the courage to maintain what they set out for us; whether we will remain the beacon in the world to someone like SAMI AL-ARIAN to come here and to speak his piece.” He then added: “So, I hope as we are looked down by those people who created this great country, that in my attempt to defend SAMI AL-ARIAN and to defend those principles, along with Ms. Moreno, that they thought we gave it a good run.”
He concluded: “I have a daughter. I hope that she will live in a country where she can speak her mind and believe what she wants without fear. That’s what this case is about.” The jury surely believed strongly in Bill Moffitt’s passionate defense of the right to speak freely, as they did not return a single guilty verdict despite a six-month onslaught by the government.
After Bill and Linda negotiated a plea agreement with the government in 2006 with the
expectation of my imminent release, we made a pact to celebrate along the Mediterranean Sea. However, more than two years later, he visited me in my daughter’s apartment in a Washington suburb, where I’m currently under house arrest. We hugged and talked, reflected on the trial and laughed. He was still his old self, a maverick, who deeply cared about justice and civil rights, the constitution and empowering the voiceless.
I spoke with Linda on the day Bill passed. With teary eyes and a choking voice, she said, “It was my privilege to work with Bill. He was the very best of us in the defense bar. He will be greatly missed by anyone who cares about justice. His legacy will surely endure.”
My family and I offer our deepest condolences and prayers to Bill’s wife and daughter. They are surely proud of his rich life and many accomplishments. He has left his mark, and the legal community has lost a great champion of civil and constitutional rights. The country and the world are definitely a better place today because of Bill Moffitt. He will be missed dearly. May God rest his soul.
To send messages to Dr. Al-Arian, please write the Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace and they will be forwarded to him: firstname.lastname@example.org