Lady Justice could be rightfully excused for wanting to take a long, hot shower to rid herself of the tawdry image of defrocked former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian emerging as the poster child for respecting legal concepts such as fair treatment, respect for the Constitution and due process.
There are probably many people currently residing in the Tampa Bay community who have never heard of Al-Arian and his byzantine journey through the federal criminal justice system. It has been that many years. It has been that surreal. It has been that strange.
More than 15 years ago, Al-Arian, a computer science professor at USF, found himself the focus of numerous investigations into his leadership of an off-campus "think tank," the World and Islam Studies Enterprise. Interest began to peak after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks when Al-Arian was quoted delivering inflammatory, anti-Semitic speeches including some not-too-thinly-veiled calls for violence. So much for thinking.
It also didn't help that one of Al-Arian's "scholarly" associates, another USF professor, Ramadan Shallah, unexpectedly gave up his post to return to the Middle East for a new job as the head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, after the assassination of its leader Fathi Shikaki, presumably by the Israeli Mossad, although no one has ever fessed up.
By 2003 Al-Arian was indicted by the feds on a bazillion charges of being a leader in the PIJ and providing money for terrorist acts in which numerous civilians had been killed. A subsequent jury trial acquitted the professor of many counts, and jurors found themselves hung on the remaining charges.
In 2006 Al-Arian cut a plea deal agreeing to some lesser counts of providing material aid to terrorists, in return for time served and immediate deportation. And that should have been that. By now Al-Arian should have been wiling away his days in the bucolic, quiet charms of Cairo.
Instead he has been confined to a form of house arrest in the Washington, D.C., home of his son — all because of a glitch in the wording of the plea deal. Nowhere in Al-Arian's plea deal is there any language either requiring him to cooperate with federal investigators or absolving him of any obligation to cooperate.
The federal government insists that Al-Arian should testify before a grand jury regarding terrorist activity. Meanwhile, Al-Arian's lawyers argue, in the absence of an agreement binding him to testify, that he should be deported as the government promised. That has been the standoff since 2009.
Enough already. Al-Arian has served his time. The government won its case. And while there should be a pox on both the defense and the government for not more clearly defining Al-Arian's post-plea obligations, because he has been either in prison or under government control for 11 years, it is rather doubtful that any testimony provided by Al-Arian would be worth very much.
The United States prosecutes and imprisons all manner of dreadful people, who serve their sentences and are eventually released. That's the way the system is supposed to work — for everybody. But in this case, the government has opted to ham-handedly turn an aider and abettor of terrorism into a cause celebre for jurisprudential martyrdom.
Forget the shower. Lady Justice is going to need a delousing.