The Magazine

Is the President a "Dictator"?

Dec 3, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 12 • By DAVID TELL, FOR THE EDITORS
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Yes, well. How can he be so sure, one wonders? As a jurisprudential matter, any respectable pronouncement on the constitutionality of the Bush/Ashcroft "gulag" must take extensive account of the Supreme Court's most recent refinement of the due process rights implicated by alien detentions, you would think. And yet never in his column has Richard Cohen so much as alluded to the existence of the ruling in Zadvydas. Nor can he have learned about Zadvydas's suddenly renewed relevance from the work of his colleagues, for not once since September 11 has the Washington Post--or any other major American newspaper, such is modern journalism's chronic, shocking ignorance of the law--mentioned a single word about that case.

In other words, dear reader, your morning daily has proved a useless guide to precisely that awful question it has helped make current: Have the president and his attorney general violated their oaths of office by mounting a clear and powerful assault on our founding document?

For a start toward the real answer, perhaps we should provide a little update on Sami Al-Arian, the University of South Florida computer engineering professor whom we have met before in these pages. Al-Arian is a piece of work: a man who in the past has played host or even employer--right there in the Tampa/St. Pete metropolitan area--to a number of notorious international terrorists and their equally notorious propagandists and sympathizers. Al-Arian appears ill-disposed towards Jewish people; in February 1995, ten days after two young Arab zombies had blown themselves up at an Israeli bus stop, killing 22 people and injuring 59 others, Al-Arian wrote a fund-raising letter exulting in the deed and requesting "support to the jihad effort in Palestine so that operations such as these can continue." Al-Arian appears similarly ill-disposed toward Americans, even those who aren't Jewish. "Let us damn America" and its allies "until death" he has been heard to proclaim, at one of the many jihadist pep rallies he has sponsored since arriving in the states more than a decade ago.

Federal authorities have been keenly aware of Sami Al-Arian since the mid 1990s. The FBI and INS, in particular, seem soon thereafter to have concluded that he was the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's principal representative in North America. But so habitually cautious about the law is our Justice Department that Al-Arian has never been charged with a crime. Nor has he ever been targeted for deportation. Nor--even now, while the government is said to be rounding up every Arab or Muslim fellow it can get its hands on--has Al-Arian even been detained. Quite the contrary; he is currently free as a bird, and the subject of an incredibly stupid profile in the Los Angeles Times, which thinks we should know that Sami Al-Arian "wears Hush Puppies and resembles Mahatma Gandhi."

Some "gulag."

Interestingly enough, it is none other than Al-Arian's brother-in-law and full partner in the promotion of political violence, one Mazen Al-Najjar, whom critics of the Justice Department's "anti-Arab witchhunt" are quickest to cite as a sympathetic victim. Sympathy for Al-Najjar seems less appropriate the more you know about him, however. And properly understood, the extensive litigation his case has spawned tends to rebut, rather than reinforce, the "civil libertarian" complaint routinely made on behalf of Arab and Muslim aliens detained by the INS in conjunction with past and current terrorism investigations. The notion that the Justice Department has subjected Mazen Al-Najjar to arbitrary, harsh, and constitutionally irregular treatment is preposterous. For the moment, at least, pending his latest appeal, Al-Najjar, too, like his brother-in-law, walks the streets of Tampa, Florida, a free man. But for the government's determination that he is a very dangerous man--were he an "ordinary" subject of American immigration law, that is--Al-Najjar would almost certainly have been expelled from our shores, without the slightest fuss, a very long time ago.

Al-Najjar, a Palestinian native of Gaza, arrived in the United States from the United Arab Emirates in 1981. Having entered the country with "refugee" status, he then secured permission from the INS to attend a graduate school program in North Carolina. But by the spring of 1985, having failed to secure a green card by virtue of a quickie, abortive marriage to an American citizen and no longer carrying a valid student visa, Al-Najjar was "noted" by the INS for thus-obligatory deportation proceedings. Which he has been fighting ever since, though he has all along acknowledged that his presence within our borders is unlawful.