Free All Political Prisoners!
Arab Political Prisoners in U.S. Jails:
Although various courts have established that the LA8 engaged in completely legal acts, the government continues to seek deportation of two defendants, Michel Shehadeh and Khader Hamide. Beginning on July 13, 2005, the prosecution will attempt to retroactively apply the USA Patriot Act to argue that eighteen years ago, by distributing pro- Palestine magazines, the LA8 were in fact providing “material support” to terrorists.
During the 1980s, many of the LA8 were local student activists who devoted themselves to organizing around the Palestinian struggle for justice. Not unlike student activists today, they distributed magazines on Palestinian issues, held educational forums and raised money for charities in their home country of Palestine.
On Jan. 26, 1987, the eight were arrested in their Los Angeles homes. Like a scene out of a Hollywood movie, the FBI surrounded Shehadeh’s home before dawn with armored vehicles and helicopters, sent in armed agents, and arrested him at gunpoint while he was watching over his infant son.
Under the pretext of having volumes of secret evidence that would justify the deportation of the eight, the Immigration and Naturalization Service kept the student activists shackled and in solitary confinement at a maximum-security detention facility for nearly a month. The eight were released in February 1988, however, when the immigration court refused to hear the secret evidence. Those documents were soon made available to the attorneys for the LA8, who found that despite nearly three years of extensive FBI surveillance, there was no evidence of illegal activity.
With the original case in shambles, the eight were then charged with violating the nowrepealed McCarran-Walter Act for possessing literature advocating “worldwide communism.” The government claimed that the LA8 were representatives of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Palestinian Marxist organization that was one of the original members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
The government has openly admitted the political nature of the charges. William Webster, the director of the FBI at the time of the arrests, testified before Congress that the eight had not engaged in criminal activity and could not have been legally arrested if they had been U.S. citizens. The 1952 McCarran-Walter Act, however, made it a deportable offense for an immigrant or naturalized citizen to engage in activities deemed “subversive” by the government. Used during the McCarthy period as a tool of repression against communists and other political activists, the act was repealed by Congress after a federal court declared it unconstitutional in 1989.
Still, the repeal of the McCarran-Walter Act did not put an end to the government’s harassment. It renewed the campaign to deport Shehadeh and Hamide using “anti-terrorist” laws. On several occasions the federal courts ruled that the LA8 had not been involved in criminal or terrorist activities—instead, the government had violated the First Amendment by selectively targeting the eight for constitutionally protected political activities.
The seesaw legal battle was not over yet. In 1996, Congress denied the federal courts the authority to hear selective enforcement challenges to deportations, effectively legalizing the selective deportation of immigrants. Then, in a major setback for the eight, the Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that immigrants are not entitled to basic constitutional rights such as free speech, due process, equal protection and protection against selective prosecution. The shocking decision opened the door for immigrants to be deported on the basis of their political views. The LA8 were called back into immigration court where they were barred from arguing the constitutional deficiencies of the government’s case.
Currently, the government is using the case of the LA8 to test the most repressive provisions of the USA Patriot Act. In September of 2004, the government brought charges against Shehadeh and Hamide for the distribution of Palestinian magazines and for raising funds for humanitarian aid in Los Angeles more than twenty years ago. The United States now claims that even though these activities were clearly legal at the time and protected by the First Amendment, they are deportable offenses under the Patriot Act.
The Patriot Act allows the deportation of foreign nationals for providing “material support” to any group of two or more that has threatened to use or has used a weapon with the intent to endanger person or property. Under the Patriot Act, it will be Shehadeh and Hamide, not the government, who will have the burden to prove that they did not know their activities would further terrorist activities. At no point will the government need to prove that the distribution of magazines provided “material support” to terrorist activity.
By making it illegal to raise funds for charities in their home countries or to advocate for any political movement abroad, the Patriot Act essentially bars immigrants from the constitutional right to free speech and association. Although immigrants like Shehadeh and Hamide never forget the suffering endured in their homelands, they are told by the U.S. government that they cannot do anything to bring relief to their people.
The upcoming July immigration hearing could have a large impact on the future of the LA8. The government must prove that the Patriot Act can be applied to the case. Prosecutors must also decide whether they will try to use the ancient McCarran-Walter Act.
For eighteen years, a people’s defense movement has stood by the LA8, demanding that all charges be dropped. One activist organization, the Committee for Justice, plans to renew its educational campaign and bring about awareness for this important case, including the launching of a website in support of the LA8, http://www.committee4justice.com/, planning of educational forums and organizing support rallies for this important hearing in July.
In a recent interview, Shehadeh described his continued role in the forefront of the solidarity movement for Palestinian national liberation and the movements for peace and justice in the United States. As a key organizer in the mass movement opposing the war and occupation of Iraq, Shehadeh said, “To not do anything ... would have been very dehumanizing … The only way that I have felt empowered and have persevered is to feel that I was part of a movement of struggle for the very rights we are being denied.”
Sami al-Arian, Palestinian professor and activist from Tampa, FL, is now on trial, with three co-defendants, in Florida under spurious charges of “material support” to Palestinian Islamic Jihad. After years of harassment of Dr. Al-Arian, and the deportation of his brother-in-law, the U.S. government indicted Al-Arian in 2003. Al-Arian’s family and supporters have kept attention focused on his case. For more information, please see http://www.freesamialarian.com/. The following update is provided by his defense committee:
The trial of Dr. Sami Al-Arian and his co-defendants has entered into a one week recess for the Fourth of July holiday. Court will resume Monday, July 11.The government has presented over 40 witnesses thus far. Over half of the witnesses have been government agents who were involved in the investigation of Dr. Al-Arian and his codefendants.. Prosecutors used these witnesses to introduce evidence derived from the searches....Of the hundreds of boxes of materials seized from the home of Dr. Sami Al-Arian, the World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE) offices and the Islamic Academy of Florida, the government introduced very little evidence as part of its case. Defense attorney William Moffitt successfully objected to the introduction of some evidence that was deemed prejudicial, irrelevant to the case and potentially unlawfully obtained.
On the other hand, what was largely introduced to jurors were items such as books, videotapes, magazines and brochures. Of Dr. Al-Arian's personal library containing over 5,000 books, three were introduced as evidence. Defense attorneys maintain that the government has brought nothing more than evidence of activities protected under the First Amendment, such as the rights to free speech, association, and assembly. Observers in the courtroom found the government's emphasis on publications and speeches as evidence to be a chilling example of the silencing of free speech activities that have become commonplace under the Bush Administration....
Aside from government agents, prosecution witnesses also included nearly a dozen individuals from Dr. Al-Arian's life and career. Prosecutors attempted to present WISE, the University of South Florida-affiliated think tank, as a front organization with ulterior motives by bringing respected USF professors to discuss their experiences. Instead, professors such as Dr. Mark Orr and Dr. Mohsen Milani spoke glowingly of their experiences with WISE, recalling the numerous academic events, roundtable discussions, and publications that resulted from their years of activity. ...The prosecution's attempts to taint the achievements of WISE fell flatly, as their own witnesses consistently supported the defense's contention that WISE was a scholarly institution that was highly regarded.
Among the hostile witnesses, the government brought an alleged former Imam at a Sarasota mosque, Muneer Arafat, who testified to meeting Dr. Al-Arian on three occasions since 1988. He claimed that on the first occasion, he was recruited to join the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and refused, but that on the second occasion, he helped solicit funds for the organization. Arafat quickly lost face with jurors and outside observers, however, when it was revealed that he had been paid $35,000 by the government for his testimony...Arafat, who claimed to have received Islamic training, also testified that lying was permissible in Islam. An official with the largest U.S. Muslim organization, the Islamic Society of North America, Ahmed El-Hattab testified about ISNA's affiliation with the Islamic Committee for Palestine...Though government documents demonstrated that ICP was authorized as an ISNA affiliate and granted the use of its tax identification number as late as 1992, El-Hattab testified that his organization should not have approved the application because it did not affiliate with political groups or charitable organizations. ISNA's links with numerous international charitable and political causes are welldocumented, however.
The government also presented its expert witness, Matthew Levitt, a researcher with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a notoriously pro-Israel think tank. Levitt has testified in a number of previous cases against Arab and Muslim activists. In this case, however, his testimony about the history of militant groups in Palestine appeared disjointed from the individuals involved in this case—and distorted the Palestinian-Israeli conflict...
Ultimately, many observers, including members of the media, have said that the government has yet to provide a single piece of evidence in support of its case. A month into the trial, prosecutors could only show activities protected under the First Amendment, the establishment of legal organizations that engaged in scholarly functions and activism—consistent with the American tenets of the free expression of ideas and the right to associate and assemble. As Dr. Al-Arian remains in prison and his family continues to suffer in his absence, it's become evident that this trial is wholly politically-motivated and a waste of tax-payer money. Above all, this case is a testament to how a government's unjust policies wrecked havoc on the lives of four men, their wives and 18 children.