In early 2007, Sami Al-Arian was verbally and physically abused by federal prison guards, according to the inspector general for the Department of Justice.
Last week, Al-Arian's attorney, Jonathan Turley, received a letter from an investigator from the Justice Department, agreeing with Al-Arian's complaint that he had been abused.
"It is very unusual to get a letter of this kind," said Turley. "It suggests that the evidence carried a great deal of weight."
At the time, Al-Arian was on a hunger strike in a Virginia jail, protesting being held beyond his sentence for refusing to testify before a grand jury.
The former University of South Florida professor had been sentenced to 57 months in Tampa federal court for aiding members of a terrorist group in nonviolent ways. But the Virginia incarceration was apart from that sentence.
The abuse occurred while Al-Arian, who was gaunt and sickly from starvation, was being transferred from a federal facility in Petersburg, Va., to one in Alexandria.
According to his family, Al-Arian said that a guard who was strip-searching him told him if he had his way, Al-Arian would be dead instead of in prison. He then hurled obscenities at the former USF professor, insulting his religion.
During a four-hour van trip to Alexandria, the same guard and a lieutenant tightened his handcuffs and shackles seven times, increasing the pain each time. In Alexandria, the lieutenant "physically abused Al-Arian by pushing him into a wall," according to the letter from the inspector general's investigator.
In his letter to Al-Arian's attorney, inspector general's investigator Glenn G. Powell wrote that "a preponderance of evidence supports Al-Arian's allegations." Powell also wrote that the findings have been reported to the Bureau of Prisons "for appropriate action."
Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, said the evidence was being reviewed to decide on discipline for the two officers, who were not named in the letter. "Up to the termination of the two corrections officers," she said.
Meanwhile, Al-Arian is out on bail in Virginia, waiting to see if he will be tried for criminal contempt for refusing to testify before a grand jury.