A prominent Washington attorney taking on the defense of former USF professor Sami Al-Arian indicted on charges he raised money for Islamic terrorists said Friday his first challenge to the government is to justify the conditions under which his client is being held.
William B. Moffitt said the U.S. Justice Department's insistence that Al-Arian be held under strict confinement at a federal prison northeast of Tampa is violating Al-Arian's right to assist in his own defense. A hearing will be held Friday in U.S. District Court in Tampa on the matter.
Moffitt said Al-Arian, who faces a 50-count indictment that he used an academic think tank and a charity at the University of South Florida as fronts for financing the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, is being treated as if he has already been convicted of a crime. Al-Arian is housed in the same unit as inmates who have assaulted corrections officers or other prisoners and are considered too dangerous to be held elsewhere.
Al-Arian should not be held in any different manner than any other person accused of a crime, Moffitt said he intends to argue. Al-Arian is being held without bail while he awaits a January 2005 trial.
"Is this community so prejudiced and biased against Sami Al-Arian that they think that is appropriate?" Moffitt said in a news conference held after briefly meeting with Al-Arian at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Sumter County.
"This man is presumed innocent," Moffitt said. "Is this community willing to give him that presumption?"
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa declined to comment in response to Moffitt. The government has previously cited security concerns for keeping Al-Arian at a prison instead of the Hillsborough County Jail, where most area federal prisoners awaiting trial are kept.
Moffitt joined the case this week after Al-Arian's family and supporters were able to raise enough money for a retainer. Moffitt declined to discuss the finances; Al-Arian's family had previously said it would cost as much as $1.5-million for Moffitt's services.
At least two groups are helping raise money for Al-Arian's defense: the National Liberty Fund in Washington and the Muslim Civil Rights Center in Hickory Hills, Ill.
Ahmad Tansheet, community outreach coordinator for the Muslim Civil Rights Center, said a fund-raiser held in Chicago on Oct. 19 raised about $7,000 for Al-Arian's defense. Telephone calls to the National Liberty Fund were not returned Friday.
Tansheet said raising money for Al-Arian has been difficult, despite his longstanding as a community activist, because people are afraid to donate to him and draw the attention of federal investigators.