Attorney David Cole examines a recent court ruling that he says marks one of the biggest defeats for the Justice Department regarding the Patriot Act to date. A Saudi graduate student was jailed for over a year and a half for designing websites that linked to sites with terror ties. Cole asks, could the New York Times be charged for linking to sites with terror ties?
In February 2003, the FBI raided the home of Saudi student at the University of Idaho. Sami Omar Al-Hussayen a 34 year-old Ph.D. candidate who studied in the U.S. for nine years had volunteered his time to a Michigan-based group, the Islamic Assembly of North America, to set up a website that promoted the study of Islam.
The website contained a link to another website set up by a group the U.S. government had listed as a terrorist organization. Another link pointed to a site that advocated suicide bombings in Israel and Chechnya.
Al-Hussayen was arrested and charged with three counts of terrorism, four counts of making false statements, and seven counts of visa fraud. The terrorism charges against him were made under the Patriot Act and charged him with providing '’expert guidance or assistance'’ to groups deemed terrorist. In the year before Al-Hussayen was arrested the government closely tracked him by intercepting 29,000 emails and phone calls.
Last week, after more than a year in jail, a jury found Al-Hussayen innocent of most of the charges, including all three terrorism charges dealing the Justice Department a major defeat.
The trial, which lasted seven weeks, featured a convicted terrorist who said he was influenced by Al-Hussayen’s Web writings, and retired CIA operative, Frank Anderson, who was the only witness called by defense attorneys. After the acquittal, Anderson said “I am embarrassed and ashamed that our government has kept a decent and innocent man in jail for a very long time.” Al Hussayen remains in prison on immigration charges.
- David Cole, Washington-based constitutional attorney, professor at Georgetown Law School and author of the book “Enemy Aliens: Double Standards and Constitutional Freedom in the War on Terrorism.”
- Marwan Mossaad, a personal friend of Sami Omar Al-Hussayen. He has visited Sami many times in jail. At the University of Idaho both Sami and Marwan served terms as the heads of the Muslim Student Association.