He said, “Let us damn America, let us damn Israel, let us damn them and their allies until death.” He is alleged to have used his position at the University of South Florida as cover for his activities as head of the American wing of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He is thought to have held a key position in the group’s worldwide leadership and even to have established a cell of the terrorist group at his university. He helped sponsor conferences featuring Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, a principal conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
He is, of course, the notorious Sami Al-Arian, and soon he may walk. Aug. 5, U.S. District Judge James Moody ruled that prosecutors not only have to show that Al-Arian raised money for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but that he knew that what he was doing was illegal and would aid terrorist activities. According to defense attorney Bill Moffitt, who must have been resisting the impulse to jump and cheer in front of reporters: “They will have to show that the support they allege Dr. Al-Arian provided was directly connected to the violence the group carried out. It significantly raises the burden of proof, and rightly so.”
Imagine for a moment that you are a terrorist. Besides blowing up people and buildings and spreading mayhem, you decide to win a few hearts and minds by opening a soup kitchen. Then you attract a supporter who helps you raise significant money; when this supporter is arrested, he says, “Oh, I was just supporting the soup kitchen. I didn’t know they were killing anyone.” Have things gotten so bad that we have to spell this out? Even if this imaginary terrorist group really does have an accounting system that allows the big supporter’s money to be used only for its soup kitchen, that frees up other money to buy bombs. Judge James Moody should go back to elementary school: Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a terrorist group. I know it. You know it. The State Department knows it. Now we’re supposed to believe that Sami Al-Arian, who was in regular contact with members of the group itself, didn’t know it?
Yet instead of getting the rebukes he deserves, Moody has been lionized by the establishment media. In an unsigned editorial, “A standard of justice,” the St. Petersburg Times praised him for rejecting “guilt by association” and criticized existing anti-terror legislation: “Moody noted that the statutes under which Al-Arian and the others are charged, such as the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, are written so broadly that renting a hotel room or giving a taxi ride to a member of the PIJ is enough to impose criminal liability on hotel clerks and taxi drivers.”
I certainly don’t think that someone who rented a hotel room or gave a taxi ride to a terrorist should be prosecuted, unless it could be proven that the clerk or cabbie knew what he was doing. But to claim that Sami Al-Arian may have been in the position of the clerk or cabbie is absurd. The latter two generally know nothing about the person with whom they are dealing. Does Judge Moody believe, or expect us to believe, that Sami Al-Arian sent money to Palestinian Islamic Jihad without knowing who they were or to what they were dedicated? Was this just a random act of zakat (Islamic charity), and Sami could just as well have been sending money to the Rotary Club or the National Committee for Quality Assurance?
Judge Moody’s decision is all the stranger in light of the fact that the indictment of Al-Arian makes clear that the professor knew and approved the primary mission of Palestinian Islamic Jihad: bringing death and suffering to the perceived enemies of Islam. When two Islamic Jihad suicide bombers killed 18 people in Israel in 1995, Al-Arian called them “two mujahedeen [warriors of jihad] martyred for the sake of God.” He didn’t mean that they were young men striving for self-improvement.
Whether or not that kind of evidence is enough for Judge Moody remains to be seen, but the prosecution has appeared snakebitten from the beginning. Last December, some documents that were key to the prosecution’s case were accidentally shredded by the clerk’s office for the Middle District of Florida.
If Al-Arian is acquitted, it won’t be because the evidence wasn’t there to convict him. It will be because of activist judges and careless clerks – luxuries we can ill-afford in these perilous times.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and the author of “Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West” (Regnery Publishing), and “Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter Books).