Judge Moody passes judgment

Don’t miss Josh Gerstein’s New York Sun article on the sentencing of University of South Florida professor of terror Sami al-Arian: “A judge stuns al-Arian with maximum time.” Gerstein reports:

A federal judge yesterday lambasted a former Florida college professor, Sami Al-Arian, as a liar and “master manipulator,” before sentencing him to nearly five years in prison for providing support to a Middle Eastern terrorist group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Under a plea deal finalized last month, Al-Arian, 48, agreed to admit guilt and accept a possible sentence of 46 to 57 months and eventual deportation from America. Prosecutors agreed to join defense attorneys in recommending a sentence at the low end of the range, but the judge, James Moody Jr., ignored those suggestions and imposed the maximum sentence allowed by the plea bargain.

Al-Arian has been in custody since he was accused of being the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in America and arrested in February 2003. A six-month trial overseen by Judge Moody last year resulted in Al-Arian’s acquittal on eight charges against him and a hung jury on nine others. In a blow to the prosecution, none of the four defendants tried was convicted on any count and two of Al-Arian’s co-defendants were acquitted outright.

The former University of South Florida professor’s family and allies had hoped his guilty plea would lead to his speedy release and deportation, but the sentence imposed yesterday, when reduced by time served and other credits, means Al-Arian is likely to spend at least another year in jail before being handed over to immigration authorities.

At a court hearing yesterday morning, Judge Moody coupled the tough sentence with a stinging verbal rebuke of Al-Arian. The judge scoffed at many of the explanations and defenses Al-Arian has offered since news reports emerged in the mid-1990s alleging that the computer science professor and his Islamic studies think tank had ties to terrorism.

“You are a master manipulator. You looked your neighbors in the eyes and said you had nothing to do with Palestinian Islamic Jihad. This trial exposed that as a lie,” Judge Moody said. “The evidence was clear in the this case that you were a leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”

When evidence emerged at the trial of Al-Arian’s contacts with leaders of the terror group, his attorneys argued that he was involved solely in the group’s nonviolent wing and that his fund-raising activities were charitable in nature.

Judge Moody also called that account “a lie.” He noted that Al-Arian worked intensely to restructure Palestinian Islamic Jihad to preserve financial support from Iran. However, the judge said Al-Arian did nothing to oppose the group’s terrorist acts and even laughed when discussing the suicide bombings in conversations secretly wiretapped by the FBI. “When it came to blowing up women and children, did you leap into action then?” Judge Moody asked rhetorically. “No. You lifted not one finger, made not one phone call.”

Judge Moody faulted Al-Arian for condoning terrorist bombings in the Middle East, while raising his children comfortably in America. “Your children attend the finest universities this country had to offer while you raise money to blow up the children of others,” the judge said.

Recall that al-Arian operated with impunity from his academic perch on American soil for years while American intelligence monitored his every move — until the passage of the PATRIOT Act enabled his prosecution based on the intelligence work. Responding to al-Arian’s presentencing statement to the court, Judge Moody said: “I find it interesting that here in public in front of everyone you praise this country, the same country that in private you referred to as ‘the great satan.'” Al-Arian’s friends at CAIR aren’t accustomed to such bluntness:

A group of Al-Arian backers who were in the courtroom was stunned by the judge’s verbal broadside. “That was shocking to hear that,” a spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, Ahmed Bedier, said. “The judge’s demeanor – he looked angry as he was delivering that, even his face was turning somewhat red.”

Gerstein notes that Judge Moody was appointed to the federal bench in 2000 by President Clinton, and that he received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida and was a civil litigator before becoming a county judge in Florida in 1995.

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