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A Times Editorial

An object lesson in the rule of law

The federal government's case against Youssef Megahed always hinged on the suspect math that one plus one equaled three. This week, having overcome two attempts by federal authorities to jail or deport him, Megahed was back where he belonged — at the University of South Florida completing his degree in engineering.

Megahed, 23, and a fellow USF student, Ahmed Mohamed, were arrested in South Carolina in 2007 after police stopped and searched their car and found PVC pipes in the trunk stuffed with a mixture of potassium nitrate and sugar. The FBI accused the two of conspiring to form a terrorist cell. Mohamed pleaded guilty to a terrorism charge and is serving a 15-year sentence. But in April, a federal jury in Tampa acquitted Megahed on charges he illegally transported explosives. That should have ended the case.

Yet three days after he was acquitted, federal authorities swooped into a Tampa Wal-Mart parking lot and arrested Megahed on immigration charges. It was a cheap and abusive attempt by the government to save face on a flimsy case it had oversold from the start. Jurors in the criminal case sat through a three-week trial and deliberated 21 hours before deciding the government had not made its case. Some were so outraged Megahad was later arrested on immigration charges (for acts they had already found guiltless), that they released a statement criticizing the arrest as "fundamentally wrong."

The judge in the immigration case ruled, after a hearing last week, that the government had failed to prove terrorism charges, and Megahed — after four months in immigration custody — was suddenly freed. In a matter of days, he was readmitted to USF, from which he is one class shy of graduating. The legal permanent U.S. resident, an Egyptian national, hopes to complete his education and become a U.S. citizen, like his parents and two brothers, who gained citizenship this month from a government seeking to deport their son and sibling. His ordeal is a fitting reminder that what makes America special is the rule of law.

An object lesson in the rule of law 08/27/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 27, 2009 6:27pm]
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