February 6, 2009
In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict
Government must hand over important information on 2006 Plea Bargain / Other motions put off for another hearing
February 5, 2009 – Alexandria, VA – An important hearing was held today in the criminal contempt case of Dr. Sami Al-Arian. Although Judge Leonie Brinkema of the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA) had originally been expected to rule on several motions submitted by both the defense and government, she postponed her decision.Instead, the judge chose to focus on the defense’s motion to compel discovery, that is, to force the government to hand over crucial evidence regarding Dr. Al-Arian’s original plea agreement concluded in 2006. In a move that could prove pivotal to Dr. Al-Arian’s defense, Judge Brinkema granted that request.
Since Dr. Al-Arian was first called before a grand jury in October 2006, his attorneys have argued that the Florida plea bargain exempts Dr. Al-Arian from having to cooperate with the government (including testifying). During the negotiations over the plea agreement in early 2006, Dr. Al-Arian’s then-attorneys submitted affidavits saying that Dr. Al-Arian’s non-cooperation was non-negotiable. In a subsequent hearing held in November of that year, government prosecutor Terry Zitek stated in no uncertain terms that the cooperation clause was deliberately removed: “It’s not there, and we’re [the government] not…complaining that the defendant Al-Arian has refused to cooperate.” To date, the government has not turned in any evidence on the plea negotiations, nor has it tried to rely on earlier drafts of the agreement which contain the cooperation clause that was ultimately removed.
Over the government’s strenuous objections, Judge Brinkema maintained that the facts in “this unique case” are incomplete and that she could not proceed without more information from the record. She further said that she saw “a hole in this case,” given that the prosecution has, until now, not submitted any evidence regarding what transpired in the 2006 plea negotiations. The judge also stressed that, since this is now a criminal case, it is critical that she possess all the relevant information.