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The terrorism prosecution of former college professor Sami al-Arian has, at times, seemed like an extended game of Chutes and Ladders. The case jumps forward in fits and starts, but then takes an unexpected fall that makes the climb to a conclusion seem impossible. Now George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley is joining al-Arian’s defense team in a last-ditch effort to block federal prosecutors from forcing al-Arian to testify before a grand jury. Turley hardly comes in at a high point of the case. Al-Arian, 49, was first charged in 2004 for material aid to terrorism, but in 2005 a federal jury in Florida acquitted him on eight of the charges and deadlocked on nine others. After the Justice Department moved to retry al-Arian, the former computer science professor at the University of South Florida agreed to plead guilty to one charge of supporting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He was sentenced to 57 months in jail followed by deportation. Due to time served, al-Arian was expected to be released and deported sometime this year. But just days after al-Arian was sentenced, Gordon Kromberg, a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, subpoenaed him to testify before a grand jury investigating the International Institute for Islamic Thought, a Herndon, Va.-based charity. Al-Arian maintains that prosecutors told him he would not be forced to testify in other cases and that his plea agreement makes no mention of any cooperation. Accordingly, he moved to quash the subpoena. Judge Gerald Lee of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia asked al-Arian’s Florida trial judge, James Moody Jr., for clarification. Moody upheld the subpoena, and in November, Lee held al-Arian in contempt of court, effectively tacking an additional 18 months onto his prison term. (The contempt order was reissued in January when the grand jury expired, and prosecutors subpoenaed al-Arian again.) In March a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld the contempt ruling. Enter Turley. “There are other reasons why this is an abuse of the grand jury process,” he says. “And it’s perfectly clear at this point that the government is seeking to punish him rather than seeking to compel his testimony.” Turley says he will file a motion soon, but he wouldn’t go into details about his arguments.
Emma Schwartz can be contacted at [email protected].

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