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Al-Arian videotape allowed in court

Outtakes from a 1994 Sami Al-Arian interview for a PBS documentary will be shown publicly for the first time.

Published August 26, 2005

TAMPA - Part of a videotape - potentially damaging to Sami Al-Arian - will be allowed in his federal criminal trial, the judge ruled Thursday.

When it is shown in court, over the objections of Al-Arian's defense attorneys, it will be aired publicly for the first time.

The video is about 10 minutes of outtakes from a 1994 interview of Al-Arian by Steve Emerson for Jihad in America, a controversial PBS documentary about the clandestine activities of Islamic groups in the U.S. The film won prestigious national journalism awards when it was released, but Emerson's work has also been criticized by numerous journalists, including Seymour Hersh, formerly of the New York Times.

Al-Arian's attorney, Bill Moffitt, argued in court Thursday that the excerpts were "unfair to Dr. Al-Arian because of how they have been edited" by the government.

Prosecutor Terry Zitek argued that Emerson asked Al-Arian pointed questions about the Islamic Committee for Palestine and that Al-Arian's responses were "clearly designed to insulate the conspiracy."

The ICP, founded by Al-Arian in Tampa in 1988, held annual conferences in Chicago. Several speeches, from five ICP conferences between 1989 and 1992, are part of the prosecution's case. In the video, prosecutors say, Al-Arian lies about ICP activities.

A former University of South Florida professor, Al-Arian and three co-defendants are on trial for conspiring to raise money, through the ICP, for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group that has claimed responsibility for more than 100 killings in Israel and the occupied territories.

At the time of the interview in August 1995, according to FBI wiretaps of Al-Arian's telephone conversations, he was involved in a plan to wrestle money away from a PIJ treasurer to reorganize some of the PIJ's activities in the occupied territories. It is not clear from the FBI wiretaps exactly what these activities were.

In the afternoon, Judge James S. Moody ruled in the prosecution's favor, saying that "Dr. Al-Arian's statements were his statements" and therefore admissible.

After the ruling, Moffitt told the St. Petersburg Times: "I'm most concerned about the assumptions in Emerson's questions."

The defense took another beating earlier in the day when Sameeh Hammoudeh's attorney, Stephen Bernstein, was repeatedly stopped while questioning FBI agent Kerry Myers. Bernstein tried to rely on information not in Myers' testimony to punch holes in what Myers had said. But the judge ruled that much of the new information was beyond the scope of cross-examination, forcing Bernstein to change directions. Nevertheless, Bernstein successfully raised questions about whether Hammoudeh had been misidentified in some of the FBI wiretaps.

In stark contrast to Bernstein's mellow style of stopping and starting and patiently allowing Myers to explain his answers, Brooke Elvington, Ghassan Ballut's attorney, questioned Myers rapidly and aggressively, cutting him off when he tried to expound. "Agent Myers, I didn't ask you about that. The question requires a "yes' or "no' answer," Elvington told the agent, over and over.

Myers agreed with Elvington that:

Sami Al-Arian invited FBI agent Manny Perez to the 1991 ICP conference in Chicago.

The FBI wiretapping equipment didn't show if an intended recipient actually received a fax.

Myers' knowledge of mosques in the occupied territories is limited because he has never been there.

Just because someone talks about something - whether it be "red states, blue states, Hamas or the PIJ" - doesn't make a person part of it.

And, finally, Elvington established that in nine years of FBI surveillance of defendants' phone calls, the FBI never intercepted Ghassan Ballut's calls because there was not enough evidence to get the surveillance approved.

Monday, Elvington continues questioning Myers.

Staff writer Meg Laughlin can be reached at 813 226-3365 or

[Last modified August 26, 2005, 01:35:09]

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