In an unsigned editorial, “A standard of justice,” the St. Petersburg Times praises a judge’s recent decision to raise the bar for the prosecution in the Sami Al-Arian case. The editorial displays some of the muddled thinking that hampers anti-terror efforts.
“Personal guilt” is a basic standard of our criminal law. It means a person can’t be held responsible for the criminal activity of another unless there is an active conspiracy between them. It means we don’t subscribe to guilt by association.
This simple principle was upheld by U.S. District Court Judge James Moody when he ruled this month on the standard the government will have to meet to win a conviction of former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian and his three co-defendants. The men are accused of supporting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group that has used suicide bombings as a terror tactic in Israel and is believed responsible for more than 100 deaths.
Moody said it wouldn’t be enough just to demonstrate that Al-Arian and the others sent money to PIJ, a group that our government has designated as a foreign terrorist organization. He said the government would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants sent funds for the purpose of furthering the group’s illegal activities….
Moody noted that the statutes under which Al-Arian and the others are charged, such as the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, are written so broadly that renting a hotel room or giving a taxi ride to a member of the PIJ is enough to impose criminal liability on hotel clerks and taxi drivers. The government has already tried to prosecute a Saudi graduate student in Idaho who ran Web sites for groups supporting suicide bombings. He was acquitted.
I certainly don’t think that someone who rented a hotel room or gave a taxi ride to a terrorist should be prosecuted, unless it could be proven that the clerk or cabbie knew what he was doing. But to claim that Sami Al-Arian may have been in the position of the clerk or cabbie is absurd. The latter two generally know nothing about the person with whom they are dealing; does Judge Moody believe, or expect us to believe, that Sami Al-Arian sent money to Palestinian Islamic Jihad without knowing who they were or to what they were dedicated? Was this just a random act of zakat, and Sami could just as well have been sending money to the Rotary Club or the National Committee for Quality Assurance?
Surely, if the St. Petersburg Times doesn’t know better, the Judge Moody should.