Thursday, December 08, 2005

Al-Arian acquittal an indictment of failed US War on Terrorism

al-Arian vindication an indictment of U.S. Government
Dec. 07, 2005
By Ray Hanania

Anyone who knew Ghassan Ballut and Hatem Fariz knew they could not be the terrorist the Justice Department made them out to be.

I knew both men, two of four co-defendants in a trial touted as a showcase of the Bush Administration’s "War on Terrorism" but that most Arab Americans have known is a sham. Their co-defendants are Sameeh Hammouda and Sami al-Arian.

The acquittal of the "Tampa Four" on all 51 indictments this week proves that you can’t take twist international causes that are unrelated to the War against al-Qaeda and turn them into proof of terrorist activity.

Ballut and Fariz were members of the National Arab American Journalists Association which I helped found back in the late 1990s. We had more than 145 members across the United States.

Palestinian Muslims, Ballut and Fariz were based here in Chicago. And they wore their politics on their shoulders, but in a respectful manner.

Both writers were "Islamicists" in the positive sense. They believed strongly in their Islamic faith and they also believed just as strongly that Israel was guilty injustices against the Palestinian people.

They often spoke harshly of Israel, maybe more harshly than myself and others, but they never at any time denounced, criticized or spoke in threatening ways against the United States, their adopted country.

And that is where the Justice Department continues to go wrong. Desperate to prove they are effectively fighting the War on Terrorism, President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft have charged anyone who is Arab and has sad harsh words about anything.

But the conflict against Israel and the attacks of Sept. 11 are not related, just as the War in Iraq has more to do with oil and Bush family vengeance than with protecting this nation from another terrorist assault.

Too many innocent people who have spoken out against Israel are either in jail or are being charged unfairly like Ballut and Fariz. That's not to say there isn't terrorism against Israel or that suicide bombings are justified. Suicide bombings are immoral and wrong. But criticizing Israel is not the same as supporting international terrorism.

There is Mohammad Salah also in Chicago. Salah was arrested in Israel in 1992 and charged with supporting Hamas. He was forced to sign under torture a confession in Hebrew, a language he does not speak or read. He served five years in an Israeli jail where he claims the torture continued and he was released by Israel in 1997.

Salah and his attorneys were about to conclude a deal that would allow him, his wife and three children to live the rest of their lives here in peace when Sept. 11 happened. Ashcroft immediately turned to Salah as the "poster boy" of his misguided "War on Terrorism."

In the past four years, the U.S. Government has harassed, intimidated and persecuted Salah. The family lives in the basement of a small apartment, barely able to make ends meet. All of their possessions and money confiscated. Friends who want to help have been threatened with imprisonment, too, for contributing to the defense of an alleged terrorist.

Like Ballut and Fariz, Salah often spoke harshly against Israel. But he never said a bad word against the United States, the American people nor did he ever say anything that would suggest he supported violence.

I do not know al-Arian, though I have read some of his public quotes that have earned him a nickname as a firebrand Islamicists. Nor do I know Hammoudeh. But I do know Ballut and Fariz. I was included on the defense witness list, prepared to testify on their behalf during the trial if called but was never called.

Clearly, Americans should be concerned by this jury verdict. Concerned not that four suspected terrorists are now free and may pursue further acts of violence.

No. We should be concerned that our government is ineffectively fighting the "War on Terrorism."

We should be concerned that all the Bush administration lies, the distortions, the arrests of the innocent, the weakening of our Constitutional Rights under the Patriot Act and the atmosphere of profiling have made this country more vulnerable to terrorist attack.

These politically motivated prosecutions intended to veil the Bush Administrations failure to fight the real "War on Terrorism" are making this country less and less safe.

While we focus on the wrong front, the real terrorists like Osama Bin Laden remain at large plotting, planning and waiting for the moment to strike again.

The acquittal of the "Tampa Four" sends a loud and clear message that we need to change how we define the "War on Terrorism" and re-examine what this country is really doing.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian journalist and author. He can be reached at

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