The Washington Post ‘s May 2 editorial, “A Plea Deal in Florida: In which Sami al-Arian is shown to be a liar, and the Justice Department is shown to be inept,” deserves not only praise but wider notice. In five paragraphs it accurately and informatively comments on an important terrorism case, one that lasted for years.
Although Sami al-Arian, a former professor at the University of South Florida, was acquitted last year on eight of 17 terrorism-related charges, he was sentenced on May 1 to another year and a-half in prison (the maximum allowed, in addition to more than three already served). According to his plea agreement with federal prosecutors, al-Arian admitted, among other things, to being associated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad; knowing that his co-worker at a university-affiliated think tank, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, was associated with Islamic Jihad; and assisted members of the terrorist group after the U.S. government prohibited support for it in 1995. Al-Arian also agreed to deportation at the end of his imprisonment.
Nevertheless, a group calling itself the Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace insisted that the plea bargain “in no way diminishes … the victory achieved in court.” As the Post emphasized, this was “bunk”:
Mr. al-Arian admitted to one conspiracy charge and accepted deportation while the government dropped the other charges remaining against him. Mr. al-Arian has now conceded what he had long denied: that he aided — even helped manage — a reprehensible terrorist organization. As Judge Moody put it yesterday, “You lifted not one finger” to stop suicide bombings. “To the contrary, you laughed when you heard of the bombings.”
Al-Arian had been, as the editorial noted, “a sometime rallying point for advocates of free speech and academic freedom.” (In the professor’s case this appeared to be so for some of his backers at least so long as the imagined victim of alleged government persecution could be described as a fighter for “Palestinian rights” and opponent of “Israeli occupation.”) But as the Post noted, “the verdict is in,” al-Arian “is not only a terrorist leader but a liar, too.”
The editorial did not spare the Justice Department, either.
Yet despite what the judge called ‘clear’ evidence, the government has settled this case on terms under which Mr. al-Arian will go free in less than two years.
It wasn’t certain, the paper said, whether the government originally charged al-Arian “too aggressively, or simply put on a bad performance at trial.”
The al-Arian case shed light on an important covert Arab terrorist network in the U.S. directly supporting Palestinian terrorism against Israel. At times during the investigation, administrators at the University of South Florida and others in the Tampa Bay area and beyond refused to believe that the person they knew as faculty member and family man could be a terrorist leader and, in the judge’s words, a “master manipulator.” The editorial performed an important service, reminding readers of the deceptive, international nature of Islamic terrorism. And it did so in direct English — the words “militant” or “activist” as euphemisms for terrorist did not appear.
The one thing the editorial did not specify was the victims of the Islamic Jihad attacks supported by al-Arian were Israelis.