Sami Al-Arian finally has been released from imprisonment after more than five years. The former University of South Florida computer science teacher and admitted conspirator in the aid of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group was freed from immigration custody on Tuesday. He may remain with family under a supervised release while battling ongoing criminal contempt charges.
But the broader questions remains: Why is Al-Arian is still on American soil and not yet deported to Egypt, a country that agreed long ago to accept him? It is hard to fathom beyond the Justice Department's attempts to exact a kind of legal revenge.
The department was deeply embarrassed by failing to convict Al-Arian in 2005 on any of the 17 charges it brought. Since then, federal prosecutors have used their wide-ranging powers to punish Al-Arian in other ways. Had the terms of a plea deal been respected, Al-Arian should have ended his prison sentence in April 2007 and been deported soon after.
But the department wasn't finished with Al-Arian and called him to testify multiple times before grand juries in Virginia. When Al-Arian refused to cooperate, since he thought his plea agreement released him from any such obligation, he was twice found in civil contempt and had his incarceration lengthened.
Then, in April 2008, when Al-Arian had finally finished serving time for civil contempt and his criminal sentence, rather than be deported, he was picked up and held for months by federal immigration authorities — weeks beyond the legal limit. Meanwhile, the Justice Department filed criminal contempt charges against Al-Arian for failing to cooperate with the grand juries.
Al-Arian may now be free to live outside prison walls, but he is still tethered to the justice system. His legal issues may not be cleared up for months or years.
Currently, his criminal contempt trial is on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to hear Al-Arian's challenge to being called to testify at all. And legitimate questions have been raised about whether the prosecutor's grant of immunity to Al-Arian was too conditional. Without a proper grant of immunity, Al-Arian had no obligation to testify before the grand juries and the criminal contempt charges fail.
It's all a legal, twisted mess that easily could be dropped. Deport Al-Arian, and let's move on.