Earlier today, I reported that in 2000, U.S. Senate candidate from California, Tom Campbell, received campaign contributions from Sami Al-Arian, the former University of South Florida professor who subsequently pled guilty to conspiring to help associates of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The Campbell campaign has just emailed me a detailed explanation from Campbell himself, which I’ve reprinted in full below.
As you can see below, Campbell acknowledges not only that Al-Arian donated money to his campaign, but that he visited Al-Arian’s brother-in-law (himself associated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad) in prison. Campbell writes that Al-Arian was “instrumental in asking others in his community to contribute to my 2000 Senate run. I have always stated that fact plainly; and I bring it up so no one can claim I am attempting to hide it.” At the time, he argues, he was taking a principled stand against the use of secret evidence and indefinite detention.
Campbell also acknowledges that when Al-Arian was fired from the University of South Florida (after controversy generated by a Bill O’Reilly report on Al-Arian’s terrorist ties), he sent a letter to the school protesting the action. Campbell argues that he was just taking a stand for academic freedom, and that he wasn’t aware of the evidence that would later emerge during trial. The campaign notes that he also took a stand against the British University and College Union un-inviting Israeli professors.
In addition, the campaign passes along this David Frum piece from 2003, detailing President Bush’s ties to Al-Arian.
Here’s Campbell’s full response:
I was approached when I was in Congress by the sister of an individual who was being kept in jail without being allowed to see the evidence against him. She asked if I could visit her brother, as Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde had done, and speak with him. I did so. I then brought this situation to the attention of my colleagues in Congress. I was able to persuade the chairman of the relevant Judiciary Committee subcommittee to hold hearings, and I introduced, and carried, a symbolic appropriations rider critical of this practice. The rider passed the House.
The overwhelming majority of individuals being held without being allowed to see the evidence against them, were Muslim. As a candidate, then-Governor George Bush promised a group of American Muslims that he would, as President, end the practice of keeping people in jail on the basis of evidence they had not seen, calling it “secret evidence.”
The legal premise for this practice by the Department of Justice was the allegation that the suspected individuals had entered the US, in some cases many years earlier, without admitting at the time of their entry that they had associations with terrorist organizations. Deportation is a civil proceeding, so the criminal law protections (like proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or the right to confront witnesses against the accused) did not apply, the Justice Department argued. The former legal residents now held subject to deportation could be held indefinitely, until a country could be found that would take them. Hence, some stayed in jail in America for many years, without being able to confront the evidence that put them there. I thought that was wrong; so did Jim Woolsey, the former CIA director. Note that this situation was in force long before 9/11; and is very different from those kept in Guantanamo. The individuals kept in jail under “secret evidence” had become legal residents of the United States, and, in some cases, for many years.
As a result of my efforts on this issue, I received some contributions for my 2000 Senate run from the community most directly affected, Muslim Americans, especially those with relatives in prison. Sami Al Arian, the brother-in-law of the individual in prison whom I visited, who never donated himself, was nevertheless instrumental in asking others in his community to contribute to my 2000 Senate run. I have always stated that fact plainly; and I bring it up so no one can claim I am attempting to hide it.
Later, he was fired from his professorship at the University of South Florida. The statements I saw that the University officials made to the press gave as the reason that he was controversial, over the issue of a Palestinian nation. At the urging of a colleague professor, at Georgetown Law, I wrote to the University expressing my concern at the stated rationale for his being fired.
After he was fired, and after my letter, Sami Al Arian was indicted for allegedly having invited terrorists to visit the US. He was not convicted on any count: on some, he was acquitted outright, on others, there was a hung jury. Rather than retry him, the government arranged for him to leave the U.S., and he agreed to leave.
The evidence introduced at the trial, however, included very upsetting language from wiretaps that was quite shocking. I would not have written to the University about him, or had any other association with him, if I had known that evidence at the time. I simply did not know; I was in private life, and had access to no special ability to find out about him. From all I had seen and heard about him, I knew his call for the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state was controversial, but nothing more.