© St. Petersburg Times, published March 30, 2003
We know that Sami Al-Arian, accused of being a Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative, visited the Bush White House for a briefing and lobbied Congress to abolish secret evidence in terrorism cases. But was he also lending a hand to the Pentagon?
In 2001, the then-University of South Florida professor translated an Islamic religious ruling from Arabic into English for the military that sanctioned Muslim-American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, his lawyer said during Al-Arian's recent bond hearing in Tampa.
"It shows that the government, when they needed something from him, didn't have a problem with asking and believing he has some influence and credibility," the lawyer, Nick Matassini, said in an interview.
The ruling, or fatwa, was endorsed by prominent Qatar cleric Sheikh Yussuf Al-Qaradhawi, who has expressed sympathy for American victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but also has lauded Islamic Jihad and other suicide-bombing groups as Palestinian freedom fighters.
"His message is very confusing," said Tamar Tesler of the Investigative Group, a Washington terrorism research organization that has translated Al-Qaradhawi's writings from Arabic into English.
Concerning the war in Iraq, Al-Qaradhawi wrote on his Web site: "If the Kafir (unbelievers) attack a Muslim country, all its people must go out and hasten to resist them, and expel them from their homes."
Said Tesler: "This is a very dangerous situation, with Muslim-American servicemen receiving guidance from a religious leader who also advocates violence against our armed forces overseas."
At other times, though, Al-Qaradhawi sounds like any Western critic of the war. He calls it an unjustifiable aggression that is really about securing oil supplies.
Maybe Al-Arian can help translate?
A retired Army general has been tapped to supervise the rebuilding of Iraq. Jay Garner will head the Pentagon's new Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. Garner is a veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, where he oversaw the feeding and protection of the Kurds in northern Iraq.
Assisting Garner will be Barbara Bodine, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen. In 2000, Bodine clashed with the FBI team sent to investigate the bombing in a Yemeni port of the USS Cole, an al-Qaida operation in which 17 American service members died. She wanted the G-men to be more sensitive and respectful of the local culture, while the FBI team saw her as an impediment to the investigation.
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith has overseen creation of the office, which will administer U.S.-funded reconstruction efforts.
Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Largo, cringes every time he hears about Iraq's elite Republican Guard. It's not that he is worried about beating them. He just wishes the Iraqis used a different name.
"I've been trying to get them to change the name to 'Democratic Guard,' but I haven't been very successful," Young said.
-- Compiled by Times staff writers Mary Jacoby and Bill Adair.