We look the case of one of Sami Al-Arian’s co-defendants, Sameeh Hammoudeh. Despite being acquitted in December of all the terrorism charges against him, he remains behind bars. Hammoudeh speaks to us from jail in Florida and we go to Ramallah to speak with his daughter, Weeam, who is waiting for him to be released and deported. [includes rush transcript]
We look the case of one of Sami Al-Arian’s co-defendants, Sameeh Hammoudeh. In December, he was found not guilty of all charges against him and the judge in the case ordered his immediate release from jail.
Hammoudeh, who is also Palestinian, expected to be immediately deported along with his wife and six children. The deportation was part of an agreement in exchange for pleading guilty to tax and immigration violations in a separate case in which he received no jail time.
But officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement took him into custody, saying initially that its standard of innocence was different from the jury’s. A spokeswoman for the agency said they believed that "Hammoudeh had ties to terrorists," despite his acquittal.
Nearly four months after being acquitted of all terrorism charges, he remains behind bars. Sameeh Hammoudeh joins us on the line now from Manatee County Jail in Bradenton, Florida.
We are also joined by Sameeh Hammoudeh"s daughter, Weeam. She joins us on the line from Ramallah in the West Bank. The family moved there after her mother was deported in February.
- Sameeh Hammoudeh, speaking from the Manatee County Jail in Bradenton, Florida.
- Weeam Hammoudeh, daughter of Sameeh Hammoudeh speaking from Ramallah, West Bank.
- John Sugg, senior editor for Creative Loafing, an Atlanta-based alternative weekly newspaper. He has closely followed the Sami Al-Arian for the past 10 years.
- Website: JohnSugg.com
AMY GOODMAN: Sameeh Hammoudeh joins us on the line right now from the Manatee County Jail in Bradenton, Florida. We welcome you to Democracy Now!
SAMEEH HAMMOUDEH: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: We will listen as carefully as we can. The line isn’t very good. Why are you still in jail?
SAMEEH HAMMOUDEH: Well, because the whole case is based on what we can call an abuse of power. The United States government is not only violating the international laws regarding this, but they are violating and disregarding the civil rights and the human rights inside the United States. And my case is one of these violations.
And if I want to talk about my case, it’s going to take me hours and hours, because the whole case was based on fabrication, violation — I mean fabrication, manipulation of facts, inventing even facts and events that did not even take place. The special agent who directed this case said things that never happened, never occurred. And he even — in his testimony, he changed my name to rhyme with the name of Sami Al-Arian. I mean, my name in Arabic is Sameeh, Sameeh Hammoudeh. So he changed my name to Hami, which rhymes with Sami, and whenever he was talking about Sami, he would combine me there, because he had no evidence whatsoever even to indict me.
AMY GOODMAN: Sameeh Hammoudeh, we’re having trouble hearing you, so we’re going to ask you to call back. But while we go through that, we are going to ask John Sugg to talk about your case, as well, one that he also has covered.
JOHN SUGG: Well, what you have is sort of a repeat of what started a lot of this case, and that was the illegal imprisonment of Palestinians. In the first case it was Sami Al-Arian’s brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, who was held for about four years on secret evidence. Interestingly, in that case, a federal judge, a federal immigration judge, twice reviewed the secret evidence and ordered Al-Najjar released, a decision that was ratified by Janet Reno. Twice, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s office recommended that there be no prosecution brought against Al-Arian and the other defendants, and they were ignored all under the Bush administration. The prosecution was brought.
I mean, you know, we’re talking about an administration that, as the Boston Globe reported last week, where President Bush has broken something like 750 laws. I mean, this administration, you know, it defines as "illegal" what’s ever convenient, and that’s what’s happening to Hammoudeh right now. He should be out of jail. He should be allowed to leave the country. He’s being held for no reason at all. The government cannot articulate a valid reason why he’s being held.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined on the phone from Jordan by Weeam Hammoudeh, who is the daughter of Sameeh Hammoudeh. Can you talk about how you ended up — excuse me, speaking to us from Ramallah — how you ended up in Ramallah, when you were staying in Florida as your father remained in jail?
WEEAM HAMMOUDEH: Well, they had agreed to a separate plea deal, like you said earlier, and part of that was deportation, and it was supposed to happen after the terrorism trial ended and the sentencing was done, if there was any sentencing. In my father’s case, obviously, since he was acquitted, there was no sentencing hearing. Then, we were given different dates. It kept getting postponed, saying that they needed clearance for my father and whatnot. And we were given three separate promises, promising us that he would be on an airplane with us.
And then, they gave us — at the end, they sent my mother a letter saying that we had until February 9th to leave the country or that they would take whatever measures that were at their disposal against her. So we bought the tickets and left, and our lawyer and us, we were also told that my father would be joining us. So when we got to the airport, he didn’t show up, and the immigration official that was there told us that he wouldn’t be on the plane with us that day, but he would be joining us within 72 hours.
So we got to Jordan and stayed in Jordan for about a week, waiting for him, because we kept getting different promises. The last thing he told us to buy him a ticket and that as long as we bought him the ticket, they would let him go or whatever, but obviously that didn’t happen either. And after that, we came to Ramallah through Jordan, and we’re here now with all our family, waiting for him to come home.
AMY GOODMAN: We have Sameeh Hammoudeh on the line with us again from jail. Have they given you any indication if it they will release you?
SAMEEH HAMMOUDEH: No. They won’t. I mean, my attorney keeps trying to call them, and every time they give him just the cold shoulder, and he’s having even trouble to communicate with the government officials.
AMY GOODMAN: John Sugg, is there any redress? Can you compare this to any other cases that you have tried? And in your interviews with the prosecution, with the government, what are you hearing?
JOHN SUGG: Well, I don’t think that there — I think that there’s reasons that they’re holding Hammoudeh that have nothing to do with whether he’s guilty or innocent of anything. I think that, you know, the same reasons, the same mentality why, you know, we hold scores of prisoners at Guantanamo, many of whom we know had no involvement in terrorism.
You know, one thing that’s important to also keep in context in this case — Linda Moreno sort of addressed it — but almost all of the activities of these men, certainly of Al-Arian, occurred before 1996, occurred in the late 1980s, early 1990s. The Tampa Tribune, which she mentioned, is very adept at failing to mention the time context of all of that, because most of what they were doing was perfectly legal, First Amendment-protected stuff.
Terrorists don’t go out there and try to draw attention to themselves. They don’t work with the F.B.I., as Al-Arian did, trying to create a better understanding of his cause and of Islam and other things. Terrorists don’t draw attention to themselves like that. I mean, whatever they were doing, they were trying to state their point of view. You can agree or disagree with their point of view, but all along this has been a case of our government making a frontal assault on civil liberties, and with Hammoudeh, it’s one more extension of that.
And that’s — I don’t think that there is any reason. I think the government is embarrassed. The government was terribly embarrassed by the verdicts in this case. They couldn’t prove a thing, and so they’re just exacting retribution now on these guys to make, you know — for retribution, revenge. And I think that that’s a very poor thing for our government to be engaged in.
AMY GOODMAN: John Sugg, Professor Al-Arian’s indictment in 2003 was hailed by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft as one of the first triumphs of the PATRIOT Act. The government’s case was built on hundreds of documents, including thousands of hours of wiretapped telephone calls, intercepted emails, faxes, bank records, gathered over a decade.
JOHN SUGG: Right. Well, 400,000 wiretaps, and the government could find only a few hundred that pertained to anything at all. It was so ridiculous. With Hammoudeh, for example, the government claimed that every time the word "family" was mentioned that it referred to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. I mean, these prosecutors had watched too many Godfather movies, okay? So when Hammoudeh would call up his elderly father and mother and ask about how the family was doing, the government says that they were talking about Islamic Jihad business. I mean, that’s how stupid this was.
The PATRIOT Act, almost all of the information — all of the information, I’m told, but give them a break — almost all of the information, the government has had for years, there was nothing new added by the PATRIOT Act in this case. That was a fraud, you know, perpetuated by the government to justify the prosecution.
AMY GOODMAN: Laila Al-Arian?
LAILA AL-ARIAN: Also, I wanted to say, to put this case in context, in 2003 in the first indictment, also in the superseding indictment, there were 34 counts against my father, and he was acquitted or the charges were dismissed against all of them, but one, which was extremely watered down in the plea agreement. So, you know, for the government to hail this case is just completely hypocritical and false.
AMY GOODMAN: What has this done to your family? And, Weeam, I want to ask you the same in Ramallah.
LAILA AL-ARIAN: I mean, it’s definitely devastated us. My younger siblings have basically grown up during the most important time of their lives — they’re 15 and 12 right now — without a father, and, you know, it’s just one of the worst possible things that can happen to a family is to lose their father and to see him being held in such horrible conditions.
AMY GOODMAN: You are all American citizens. Your brother went to Duke, was an aide to Congressman Bonior at the time. You are now a journalist. How has it shaped you and your view and how you will cover things?
LAILA AL-ARIAN: I guess, seeing the media coverage in our case and kind of all the false things that are printed about my father and about the trial, it’s just made me sort of cynical about kind of — I mean, I’d like to be the kind of journalist that makes sure that everything that I publish or print is 100% true, but it’s just, to me, jarring. I was just thinking about it this morning on the way here, that to see all of the, I guess, misperceptions about the case that are printed day in and day out and how they’re taken as fact by people who have never attended the trial, just reprinting falsities that my father was a leader in the PIJ or that he engaged in fundraising or that he, you know, funded the organization, etc.
AMY GOODMAN: You know Weeam.
LAILA AL-ARIAN: Yes, I do.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you both go to the trial together?
LAILA AL-ARIAN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Weeam, how has this affected your family?
WEEAM HAMMOUDEH: I mean, along the same lines. It’s really devastated us a lot emotionally. And, I mean, I have younger siblings, like my youngest brother is turning five in two weeks, so I mean, we have three kids that are ten and under, and you know, they’ve spent three years of their lives without their father, and it’s really hard explaining to them why, especially with the youngest two, because, I mean, five and seven. When everything happened, my brother wasn’t even two years old yet. And, I mean, for the first month or so, every time the door would open, he would run out the house saying, "Baba! Baba!" waiting for my dad to get there, because that’s what he was used to, and then just after a while he stopped saying it, because I guess he got used to not seeing him, and the expectation wasn’t there anymore.
AMY GOODMAN: Sameeh Hammoudeh, the last word goes to you, as you speak to us detained in Bradenton, Florida.
SAMEEH HAMMOUDEH: Well, I will just say what the jurors found after five months of the government’s presentation. I mean, when the twelve jurors went into deliberation, they took several hours to silently examine the evidence. Then, the foreperson asked for a show of hands to determine the verdict on Hammoudeh, and without hesitation, all twelve they have their hands up for acquittal on all counts, and one of the jurors said, "Without talking about it, we had each made up our mind." I mean, they even did not discuss what the government had said about me, because they did not believe anything.
Everything was fabrication. Everything was a mere lie, sad lies. This is what they did, and this is what they are insisting on doing to me and to continue my ordeal, only because I am a stateless Palestinian, that nobody is going to care about me, nobody is going to talk about my case. I am not a Christian. I am not a Jew. I am not a citizen of a powerful country that can ask about my destiny, about why the American government is abusing my rights.
And I am very upset. I am very frustrated, and I think the American government now is taking the United States into a very dangerous situation, where they are violating everything that belongs to human dignity and to human rights. They are violating all the traditions of the United States. They are violating everything human in this life. They are turning this country to an ugly country for everyone who’s observing what they are doing, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, here inside the United States and everywhere. I mean, in an era where people are opening up to each other, nations are coming closer to each other, they are thinking about building walls, and they are encouraging Israel to establish a wall between the Jews and the Palestinians instead of encouraging the Palestinians and Israelis to talk to each other and to establish enduring peace between them.
AMY GOODMAN: Sameeh Hammoudeh, I want to thank you very much for being with us. And, Laila, last question: Where will your father be deported to after he serves his year and a half?
LAILA AL-ARIAN: We’re not actually sure of that yet, and we appeal to any country that’s willing to take a stateless Palestinian refugee to give him a home, give us a home.
AMY GOODMAN: Laila Al-Arian, thank you for joining us here in New York, Columbia journalism student, daughter of Sami Al-Arian; Weeam Hammoudeh, the daughter of Sameeh Hammoudeh — both on the line with us, Weeam waiting for her father in Ramallah; Sameeh Hammoudeh speaking to us from the Manatee County Jail in Bradenton, Florida.