By Seán Kinane USF Oracle 3/28/06

An innocent former USF student and instructor is being held in custody, but the government has no interest in releasing him. Sameeh Hammoudeh, who was working on his Ph.D. in applied anthropology at USF until he was arrested in February 2003, has been in prison for more than three years and is in the custody of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in a Bradenton jail.

Three years ago, Hammoudeh was arrested on terrorism-related charges. Despite there being no credible risk that he would flee or of him being a danger to the community, Hammoudeh was denied bond and remained in prison for nearly three years before and during his trial. Later, the government admitted that many of the charges against Hammoudeh and his three co-defendants (including former USF professor Sami Al-Arian) were false and issued a correction in the form of a superseding indictment.

On Dec. 6, 2005, a jury unanimously found him not guilty on every charge.

But recent reporting by the St. Petersburg Times indicates there was never enough evidence even to indict Hammoudeh and that federal prosecutors resorted to using “misinformation” to make indictments against him that were “undercut” by the summaries of Hammoudeh’s wiretapped conversations.

In a charge unrelated to the terrorism indictment, Hammoudeh and his wife pled guilty to not paying income taxes and immigration violations in exchange for not having to serve jail time by being deported. The Hammoudehs have lived up to their end of the bargain; Nadia Hammoudeh and their six children arrived in Amman, Jordan, en route to Palestine on Feb. 8. But the U.S. government has not lived up to its promise. It has not allowed Hammoudeh to join his family and continues to hold him in ICE custody.

Hammoudeh was supposed to join his family at Tampa International Airport as they left the country, but 30 minutes before the flight departed Nadia was notified that her husband would not be released. In three years, the Hammoudeh children have had only one visit with their father. Now they are half a world apart and have no idea when they will see him again.

In interviews with Tampa-based WMNF-FM, the Weekly Planet and the St. Petersburg Times, Hammoudeh has said that he believes his arrest, the tax and immigration charges against he and his wife, and his continued detention are tactics by the U.S. government to get him to falsely testify against Al-Arian. But Hammoudeh refuses to lie. This appears to be why ICE is keeping him in jail.

As the Oracle previously stated in an editorial, Al-Arian should be released, not retried on the counts in which the jury couldn’t reach a unanimous decision. Al-Arian’s continued detention is a travesty of justice. But it is even clearer that there is no reason for Hammoudeh to remain in jail.

Last week, John Sugg, senior editor of Creative Loafing, the parent company of Weekly Planet, wrote that the U.S. government is holding Hammoudeh hostage because of pressure from Israel to silence Palestinian activists like Al-Arian. According to Sugg, “(A) foreign nation, Israel, has commandeered our judicial system, and with our federal prosecutors as willing accomplices, is using our courts for political reprisals.”

The St. Petersburg Times has explored the connection between Israel and the continued detention of Hammoudeh. Federal prosecutors told the Times the reason why Hammoudeh is being held is because the Israeli government, which occupies the Palestinian territory known as the West Bank, will not allow him to pass from Amman to his home in Ramallah in the West Bank. But the Times received denials of this allegation from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, the Israeli Consulate in Miami, the Israeli Defense Force and the Israeli Office of the Prime Minister.

Hammoudeh’s family was allowed to pass from Jordan to the West Bank without hindrance. In fact, his daughter, Weeam, called into WMNF’s True Talk “from the West Bank in Palestine” the same day her father called the program from the Bradenton jail. So if his family had no travel problems, the question remains: Why is Hammoudeh still in jail after being ordered released by U.S. District Judge James Moody in February?

U.S. District Judge James Whittemore is giving the government until May 25 to release Hammoudeh or he will hold a hearing to see why he is still in jail. But May 25 is not soon enough. A Tampa jury found Hammoudeh to be an innocent man. The U.S. government should keep its word, release him from jail immediately and deport him so that he can be with his family in Palestine.

Seán Kinane is a Ph.D. candidate in biology.