Historian Ronald Radosh writes in The Weekly Standard (www.weeklystandard.com) on Jan. 2 about why a professor of terror beat a federal rap:
"The acquittal on Dec. 6 of Sami al-Arian, a former professor of computer engineering at the University of South Florida, on eight counts relating to terrorism was a setback not only for the Department of Justice and the Bush administration, but also for the struggle against Islamic extremism itself. That the Florida jury deadlocked on another nine counts, however, leaves open the possibility of his ultimate conviction.
"Al-Arian was indicted in February 2003 for his involvement with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group that engages in terrorist acts including suicide bombings in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. And his trial did clarify, once and for all – after years of denial by the professor and his supporters – that Al-Arian was a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, approved of its goals and methods, and raised money in the United States to finance its activities. Nevertheless, after five months of trial and 13 days of deliberation, the jury found Al-Arian not guilty on the most serious counts against him, including conspiracy to murder and maim abroad.
"On these counts, the prosecution may have overplayed its hand. The Department of Justice built its case on nine years' worth of secret surveillance (fully authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, by the way), including almost 500,000 intercepts of faxes and phone conversations, many of them exchanges between Al-Arian and leaders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The terms of the Patriot Act made this evidence admissible in court. And it showed Al-Arian's sympathies and intent beyond any doubt.
"Government Exhibit T-516, for example, is a letter written by Al-Arian on Feb. 10, 1995, to Ismail al-Shatti, a member of the Kuwaiti legislature. In the letter … Al-Arian urged al-Shatti to 'extend true support of the jihad effort in Palestine so that operations such as these can continue.'
"While the prosecution stressed the hideous nature of Islamic Jihad's attacks on civilians, it did not establish a link between Al-Arian and any specific act of violence. And it failed to persuade the court that the law required no such link for a conviction.
"But whatever mistakes the prosecution may have made, it cannot be blamed for Judge James Moody's confusing instructions to the jurors. As if collaborating with the defense – and over the prosecution's objections – the judge told the jury, 'Our law does not criminalize beliefs or mere membership in an organization.' Even advocating the use of force, the judge instructed the jury, is permissible as long as the words used are 'not directed at inciting or producing imminent or lawless action.' Al-Arian could be found guilty only if 'the evidence proves he committed a crime charged in the … indictment.'
"What the judge did not emphasize – and the jurors either did not understand or, in an act of nullification, chose to ignore – was that fundraising for a terrorist group is a federal crime every bit as much as personally planting a bomb.
"In 1996, Congress changed the law, correcting an earlier statute that required the government to prove that money sent to illegal terrorist groups was earmarked and used for the execution of terrorist acts. The new statute, section 18 USC 2339B, which became law in October 1997, prohibits 'material support to designated terrorist organizations' whether or not it can be tied to particular acts.
"Al-Arian's defense team, with help from the judge, succeeded in transforming a terrorism trial into a trial over free speech. The prosecution valiantly tried to prove that he was as guilty under federal law as the suicide bombers he supported and financed. The jury wasn't convinced.
"The Department of Justice is reportedly close to deciding to prosecute Al-Arian on the charges on which the jury was split. In any new trial, prosecutors would concentrate on the funding alone, a clear violation of the law. With the Patriot Act in danger of being rescinded early next year, it is essential to proceed quickly to a new trial."
Israel's Pac-Man Starts to Gobble Up the Political Establishment
Former State Department diplomat Aaron David Miller writes in the Los Angeles Times (www.latimes. com) on Dec. 30 about Ariel Sharon:
"Despite the repercussions of his mild stroke Dec. 18, Ariel Sharon dominates Israel's political landscape like a modern-day colossus, straddling two stunning realities that he himself helped to fashion.
"Sharon has already proved that whatever the odds against him, he should not be counted out. At 77, Sharon is like some Israeli version of the Pac-Man video game character, the leader of a new centrist party who threatens to gobble up Israel's political establishment.
"Sharon's position – which reflects the current mood of the Israeli public – has long been clear: No agreement to end the conflict with Palestinians is possible that would both protect Israeli interests and satisfy Palestinian requirements. Instead, Israel must prepare and position itself wisely to answer its critics, improve its demographic situation and ensure its security.
"Nowhere has Sharon's pragmatism been better demonstrated than in Israel's disengagement from Gaza: 1.5 million Palestinians are no longer a demographic threat to the Jewish population of Israel; its army has been relieved of the corrosive effects of the Gaza occupation; its strategic ties with the United States are intact; and the onus for responsible behavior in Gaza has been shifted to the Palestinians. Moreover, for the first time in Israel's history, an Israeli prime minister succeeded in establishing a permanent western border for Israel, with the approval of the international community.
"Should the prime minister be reelected in March (and only death or incapacitation is likely to prevent this), he will turn to setting a permanent border on the east as well – most likely unilaterally but possibly through negotiations with the Palestinians. This will be no easy task. The Palestinians will demand close to 100 percent of the West Bank and half of Jerusalem, and neither the Arabs nor the Europeans will be as supportive of Israel's position as they were in Gaza. Israelis themselves will face tough choices: withdrawal from large areas of the West Bank, dismantling some settlements and much tougher opposition from settlers.
"But Sharon's public, buoyed by Gaza disengagement, is ready to be led by a tough, pragmatic and historic figure whom they trust. He will surely not end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but he believes he can produce an outcome that makes Israel more secure, with fewer Palestinians within its borders, and still leave the nation in control of key settlement blocks: the strategically important high ground along the ridge lines in the east and most of Jerusalem.
"He may be right. With the settler movement delegitimized, the Palestinian house in disarray and the United States both preoccupied with other matters and supportive of his approach, the field is remarkably clear."