July 29th, 2008 13:46 EST
Terror Prosecutor Accused of Anti-Muslim Bias
A federal prosecutor who has led a series of investigations into Islamic militants and Muslim groups based in Virginia, Gordon Kromberg, may soon be facing a trial of sorts himself, if defense lawyers get their way.
Attorneys for a former Florida college professor who pleaded guilty two years ago to aiding Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Sami Al-Arian, are asking a federal judge to hold a hearing on whether anti-Muslim bias led to the government`s decision to obtain a new indictment of Al-Arian in June for contempt for refusing to testify before grand juries pursuing the Virginia organizations.
While the motion claims Muslim terrorism suspects are generally treated unfairly by the Justice Department, Al-Arian`s lawyers argue that Mr. Kromberg, 51, has a particularly egregious record of intemperate statements and actions in a series of terrorism-related cases and investigations.
"Defense attorneys have objected for years that Mr. Kromberg, the lead counsel in many of these cases, has been using the Eastern District of Virginia to mete out his own brand of justice for Muslim terrorism subjects, often openly displaying his personal animus," Al-Arian`s lead counsel, Jonathan Turley, wrote. "This long and controversial record forms the backdrop for the allegation of selective and malicious prosecution in this case."
Al-Arian`s lawyers claim that in 2006, when Mr. Kromberg moved to obtain new testimony from the former professor following his guilty plea in Florida, the prosecutor "became agitated" in response to a defense lawyer`s request that the testimony be put off until after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. "They can kill each other during Ramadan. They can appear before the grand jury; all they can`t do is eat before sunset," Mr. Kromberg responded, according to a declaration written by one of Al-Arian`s attorneys, Jack Fernandez. Mr. Fernandez said the prosecutor described the request for a postponement as "all part of the attempted Islamization of the American justice system." Mr. Fernandez wrote that he viewed the comments as exhibiting "apparent bias against Muslims."
Mr. Fernandez also said Mr. Kromberg called the 57-month prison sentence Al-Arian received "a bonanza" for the Palestinian Arab activist. He had faced the potential of life in prison for acting as the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in America, but a trial in 2005 resulted in his acquittal on eight counts and a mistrial on nine others where jurors could not reach a verdict. Al-Arian`s lawyers contend that the dogged pursuit of their client is retribution for the outcome of the Tampa trial, which was widely seen as a failure for the government.
The new motion also asserts that Mr. Kromberg joked about the torture of a Virginia man then being held in Saudi Arabia, Ahmed Abu Ali. The suspect`s lawyer, Salim Ali, said that when he asked Mr. Kromberg about the possibility of returning the young man to America, the prosecutor "smirked and stated that `he`s no good for us here, he has no fingernails left.`"
In a court declaration, Mr. Kromberg said that he had no recollection of making the statement and that he was arguing an appeal in another city when the comment was allegedly made.
Council on American-Islamic Relations
453 New Jersey Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20003