Why did the Justice Department case against former college professor Sami Al-Arian and three codefendants for financing and promoting terrorism collapse in a Florida courtroom this week? The Los Angeles Times says that the acquittals “cast a pall over the Bush administration’s war on terrorism in the courts.” The Times says the verdicts suggest an aversion by jurors to convict those only indirectly involved in violence, especially when the targets are not U.S. citizens. The Patriot Act allowed combining the work of intelligence and criminal investigators, but the case turned out to be so old and tenuous that jurors were unmoved.
That is bad news for prosecutors in other high-profile matters, including a recent indictment of onetime “dirty bomb” suspect Jose Padilla. “What this case shows is, when you cannot connect the dots until the dots are stale, people are not all that interested in the dots,” said Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor. The government may have been too slow to act on 1990s intelligence about Al-Arian and other suspects. “If everyone was playing off the same sheet of music, maybe this case gets indicted in 1997 instead of 2003,” McCarthy said. “If that happens, it may be an entirely different result.”