From the Miami Herald:
TAMPA – A former college professor was found not guilty Tuesday of key charges linking him to a Palestinian terrorist group that allegedly operated an underground cell in Florida, ending a lengthy trial that balanced allegations of terrorist-related acts against assertions of abused constitutional rights.
After 13 days of deliberation, a federal jury acquitted Sami Al-Arian, once a computer sciences professor at the University of South Florida, of eight of the 17 charges against him, including a charge that he conspired with other leaders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad to murder people in Israel.
The 12-member jury deadlocked on the nine other counts against him, including charges that he aided terrorists.
The indictment did not allege a connection to al Qaeda or to any attacks on U.S. soil, but it was issued — amid considerable fanfare by the Bush administration — within 18 months of the Sept. 11 attacks and as the United States prepared for war with Iraq.
The case also played a major role in last year’s U.S. Senate campaign in Florida, with Democrat Betty Castor, a former USF president, absorbing harsh attacks over the Al-Arian issue from primary opponent Peter Deutsch and Republican candidate Mel Martinez, who ultimately won the election.
In the end, after more than five months of testimony by nearly 80 witnesses and the presentation of 1,800 faxes, wiretap transcripts, e-mail and other exhibits, most observers agreed that no single piece of evidence directly linked the defendants to terrorist acts.
Rather, the case boiled down to the jury’s interpretation of a long series of statements and actions.
On Tuesday, the jury of seven men and five women found that those statements and actions did not rise above the threshold of guilt.
“I didn’t think the government showed us clear, definitive evidence,” one female juror said as she walked away from the courthouse along windy Polk Street. “Let’s just say I couldn’t connect all the dots. There was a lot they didn’t connect.”
A male juror who also asked not to be identified said: “The main thing was that the evidence wasn’t all there.”
So much for the legacy of former Attorney General John Ashcroft. This was his big case back in 2003; he was going to prove that there were terrorists everywhere. Well, just because you back an unpopular group like Palestinians doesn’t make you a terrorist, nor do you deserve to be treated like a piñata in a political campaign.
It also shows you why the Bush administration is going to such great lengths to set up these “enemy combatant” tribunals in places like Gitmo or do their torture renditions overseas. They can’t make their cases in the regular courts of law. They blew the shit out of the sleeper cell case in Detroit by concealing evidence, and they knew they were going to get their head handed to them by the Supreme Court in the case of José Padilla, the so-called “dirty bomber,” for holding him indefinitely without charging him.
Gee, the Bill of Rights can really get in the way of a good political campaign, and in Dr. Al-Arian’s case, he becomes Exhibit A in the case against the PATRIOT Act and its John Birch Society approach to fighting terrorism. The excuse has been that since the terrorists have no respect for the rule of law, we should fight back in the same manner. The problem with that logic is that if you use their tactics you’re no better than they are. It makes the whole “freedom’s on the march” thing a sham.