Sami Al-Arian (l) and James Yousef Yee (r) (AP)
Some documents have been shredded relating to the prosecution of Sami Al-Arian, the former professor who is accused of running a Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell in Florida. It was an accident, says the clerk’s office for the Middle District of Florida, but it could severely damage the prosecution’s case.
The documents in question: “three warrants and an affidavit that allowed investigators to search the home and offices of Sami al-Arian in 1995.” On these depend “thousands of pieces of evidence gathered during the 1995 searches of al-Arian’s home and offices — coupled with bank records and intelligence wiretaps that were declassified last year,” all of which “helped bolster the U.S. Department of Justice’s case against him, officials said.”
The defense is taking full advantage: “‘We simply don’t know whether the search and seizures were constitutional, but we have a right to know and we’re going to find out,’ said Tampa lawyer Linda Moreno, who along with Washington, D.C., attorney William Moffitt is representing al-Arian.”
In fact, this could be a major boon for Al-Arian: “Legal experts said al-Arian’s attorneys may have been handed a big break in what many view as a daunting case — one that includes 20,000 hours of wiretapped conversations. . . . Miami lawyer Richard Strafer, a criminal appellate expert, said al-Arian’s legal team could capitalize on the mistake because the initial warrants and affidavit formed a foundation for the overall indictment. ‘The goal is to find the first illegal [warrant] and the dominoes start falling because everything becomes tainted,’ Strafer said.”
Meanwhile, in Georgia, “the criminal proceedings against Capt. James J. Yee, the former Muslim chaplain at GuantÃ¡namo Bay, Cuba, fell into confusion on Tuesday and stalled as the military prosecutors asked for extra time to determine whether documents that were found in Captain Yee’s luggage when he was leaving the base were, in fact, classified.”
They have to find out whether or not the documents were classified? They don’t know?? “The hearing was postponed until Jan. 19 to give the prosecutors time to review the documents that set off a major investigation into whether Captain Yee was a spy, a contention from which the government has since emphatically distanced itself.”
This kind of bungling is not only appalling; it’s dangerous. Al-Arian, despite years of investigations and mountains of evidence, could walk on a technicality, without the implications of that evidence ever being fully examined. He may not go back to his old bad habits after this experience, but still: while it’s good to show the scrupulousness of our justice system, it would also send a signal that we may not have the nerve for this kind of prosecution. As for Yee, if he wasn’t mishandling classified material, he never should have been bothered in the first place. There are other cases involving misuse of classified documents at Guantanamo, and this case is diverting time and manpower from them.
Of course, both these case still bear a great deal of watching. But I certainly hope that someone will put a stop to the bungling.