William Mitchell College of Law 10/20/08

William Mitchell Professor C. Peter Erlinder received the Malcolm X Freedom Award from the American Muslim Alliance for his work on the Sami Al-Arian case.

The award, presented at the 2008 American Muslim Alliance National Convention in Boston, Mass., on Oct. 12, recognized Erlinder for “opposing secret evidence deportations and defending Muslim and Palestinians unjustly accused of terrorism, following 9-11, as well as speaking out against the Patriot Act …early on.”

Al-Arian, a former Florida professor was charged with being a leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in February 2003.After he spent three years in prison, a Tampa jury acquitted him of the most serious charges and deadlocked 10-2 for acquittal on others. In December 2005, TIME Magazine reported the verdict as one of the Justice Department’s most embarrassing post-9/11 defeats.

Al-Arian eventually pleaded guilty to a singlecount of conspiracy, in return for the promise to release him in May 2006 and to facilitate his immediate voluntary removal from the United States. The trial judge extended his sentence for a year based on violent conduct of which the jury had acquitted him. Erlinder appealed the “acquitted conduct” issue to the Supreme Court.

Within days, federal prosecutors in Virginia called Al-Arian before a grand jury. Al-Arian refused to testify and criminal contempt charges were filed earlier this year. Recently, however, Judge Leonie Brinkema, postponed the contempt trial indefinitely because of irregularities in the indictment and a pending Supreme Court Appeal. She also released Al-Arian to house arrest. A motion to dismiss the indictment is pending.
Erlinder represented Al-Arian in the 4th and 11th Federal Circuit Courts and in a cert petition to the U.S.Supreme Court.

Erlinder has taught at William Mitchell since 1982. He is a defense attorney at the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the former president of the National Lawyers Guild.

The Al-Arian case was the subject of a documentary, USA v. Al Arian, debuting in Oslo in 2007. Erlinder has beenquoted extensively about the case in international media and has written an article on the case in the forthcoming University of Southern California Journal of Social Justice.

The American Muslim Alliance works to organize the American Muslim community in mainstream public affairs, civic discourse, and party politics across the United States.
Previous Malcolm X Freedom Award recipients include:

Ramsey Clark, former U.S. attorney general
Richard Curtiss, former U.S. diplomat, editor of Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
Paul Findley, former U.S. representative
Pete McCloskey, former U.S. representative
Tom Campbell, former U.S. representative
Cynthia McKinney, former U.S. representative and 2008 Green Party presidential candidate
David Bonior, former U.S. representative
Professor David Cole, Georgetown University Law School