His and another prisoner's complaints about prison conditions get little sympathy.
By GRAHAM BRINK
Published May 29, 2003
TAMPA - For weeks, Sami Al-Arian and a fellow defendant have complained about conditions at the prison where they await trial on charges of raising money for a terrorist group.
They are kept in special confinement for 23 hours a day with limited access to the phone and recreational facilities, they said through their lawyers.
Among other objections, the prison is too far from Tampa for them to adequately assist their lawyers, they said.
On Wednesday, the magistrate judge overseeing the case ruled that they had better get used to it, at least for now.
Judge Thomas McCoun stated in his 10-page order that he had visited the Coleman Correctional Facility in Sumter County and found the facility "well maintained, and very clean."
He said Al-Arian and Sameeh Hammoudeh are allowed radios and reading material, including evidence from the case.
As for the 23-hour-a-day confinement, prison officials expressed concerns for Al-Arian's and Hammoudeh's safety, McCoun said. He denied their request to be moved to a facility closer to Tampa.
McCoun, however, questioned why prison guards strip searched the two defendants after visits during which they have no physical contact with their visitors.
McCoun added that the recreational facilities afforded the two defendants were "less than ideal," but the evidence did not show that the conditions were meant to punish them.
McCoun also acknowledged the lawyers' complaints about the travel time to the prison and the delays getting in to see their clients once they arrive. McCoun wrote that prison officials have assured him they are aware of the complaints and are taking steps to eliminate the delays.
At the judge's request, prison officials also set up videoconferencing equipment as an alternative method for the lawyers to speak with their clients.
Federal agents arrested Al-Arian, Hammoudeh and two other men, Hatem Fariz and Ghassan Ballut, in February.
The 121-page indictment focuses on their role in supporting, promoting and raising funds for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group responsible for more than 100 deaths.
Fariz and Ballut were released on bail.
A hearing is scheduled today to discuss the exchange of evidence.