Until then, the prosecutors had refused Al-Arians request for access to the tapes, saying that disclosure of the tapes would reveal sources and methods of government snooping.
Al-Arian, a former professor at the University of South Florida here, was fired from his job shortly after he and three co-defendantsSameeh Hammoudeh, Hatem Naji Fariz, and Ghassan Zayed Ballutwere arrested February 20 on phony terrorism charges outlined in a 50-count federal indictment. The government asserts that Sami Al-Arian is the leading U.S. representative for Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian organization based in the Israeli-occupied territories that Washington has labeled terrorist. Their trial is set for January 2005.
The issue of secret evidence was becoming increasingly contentious in the case. At a July 25 hearing, the court granted Al-Arians request to represent himself while warning him that only lawyers with a security clearance and sworn to keep what they heard secret, including from the defendants, would be allowed access to the tapes. Al-Arian promised to challenge the constitutionality of the secret evidence.
Al-Arian and his co-defendants are outspoken defenders of the Palestinian national liberation struggle. Al-Arian and Hammoudeh have been held in solitary confinement since March at Coleman Federal Prison, 70 miles north of Tampa. They are subject to frequent strip searches and are confined in a 7 by 13 foot windowless cell that is constantly lit. They have no access to a clock. And they are allowed one 15-minute monitored family phone call per month, and one hour of exercise on weekdays in a larger empty steel cage.
Knowledge has spread about these inhuman conditions and the governments attempt until recently to insist on keeping the evidence secret. On August 3, the Palm Beach Post reported on the July 17 letter from Amnesty Internationals London bureau, denouncing Al-Arians detention as gratuitously punitive.
An August 8 editorial in the Tampa Tribune said, Prosecutors must reveal to him that evidence they plan to use to prove their case.
An August 20 St. Petersburg Times editorial chimed in, stating that Al-Arian should be given access to the audio and videotapes related to his case. Referring to Amnesty Internationals letter to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Times editors concluded that the government appears to be doing all it can to break the man and make it more difficult for him to mount a defense.
The increasing concern over the punitive conditions the Palestinian is being subjected to was also registered in an August 21 press release issued by the North Central Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The release covers Al-Arians history as a visible, outspoken and opinionated Muslim and Palestinian.
He must be freed from the excessive limitations of Coleman Prison and returned to the Tampa area to prepare for his defense, the ACLU statement continues. It would seem that Dr. Al-Arian is being treated more severely because he is a Muslim, a Palestinian, and most importantly an outspoken political activist at odds with the ideology of his accusers.
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