This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, August 22, 2002, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.
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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: A Palestinian-born professor says the University of South Florida has it all wrong. Sami Al-Arian denies that he is tied to terror and predicts that efforts to have him fired will fail..
Al-Arian's attorney Robert McKee says he wants to have the case moved from state jurisdiction to federal court. He joins us now live in Tampa.
Mr. McKee, why do you want it to go to federal court? What difference does it make?
ROBERT MCKEE, AL-ARIAN'S ATTORNEY: It's a federal issue. It's a federal constitutional issue, and it properly belongs in federal court, not state court.
GIBSON: What is the constitutional issue? This is tenure, whether the taxpayers of Florida should keep paying a guy whose views and activities… they disagree with?
MCKEE: Well that's not the issue that's been raised in the lawsuit, John. According to the university and the lawsuit they filed, they're confused about what Dr. Al-Arian's rights are under the First Amendments of the United States Constitution.
They want a court to step in at this point and give them guidance as to whether or not his speech is constitutionally protected, and, if it isn't, they want the court to give them guidance as to whether or not he should be fired.
GIBSON: Does Dr. Al-Arian have a right under free speech to raise money for Islamic Jihad?
MCKEE: At one point, it was not illegal to raise money for Islamic Jihad. Today, it is illegal to do that. So it wouldn't be constitutionally protected, if he did it today. That's not to say he ever did it.
GIBSON: Well, did he do it?
GIBSON: Well, there's his quote from Fawwaz Abu Damra, who was introducing Dr. Arian at a group of people who were supporting Islamic Jihad, and he says, "Dr. Sami Al-Arian is the president of the Islamic Committee for Palestine. It is the active arm of the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine." What did he mean?
MCKEE: What's your question?
GIBSON: You just told me he did not raise money for Islamic Jihad.
MCKEE: That's correct.
GIBSON: Fawwaz Abu Damra thinks he did.
MCKEE: Well, you should ask Mr. Damra.
GIBSON: All right. Well, let's...
MCKEE: I've never met Mr. Damra.
GIBSON: You're representing Mr. Al-Arian. Here's a letter written in Arabic by Sami Al-Arian asking people for money and saying that "the latest operation carried out by two mujahidin who were martyred," killed, "for the sake of God is the best evidence of what the believing few can do."
And he goes on to say, "The movement's financial situation is very difficult, and it cannot fulfill its responsibility toward the martyrs unless you contribute."
It sounds like he was raising money for Islamic Jihad.
MCKEE: And you say that's a letter that he wrote to people asking them to give money?
GIBSON: Yeah, it was a fund-raising letter.
MCKEE: No, it's not.
GIBSON: What is it?
MCKEE: That was a personal correspondence to a personal friend that was seized from Dr. Al-Arian's home and was, in fact, never sent.
Now, at the time the letter was written… it was seized by the FBI back in 1995… even if Dr. Al-Arian had given his view to this personal friend, who asked for his opinion, it would have been constitutionally protected and clearly not illegal.
And the proof of that, John, is the fact that the FBI has had this letter since 1995. One would think, one would assume that, if there was any illegal activity associated with that letter, that some criminal action would have been brought.
GIBSON: Well, Mr. McKee, come on. We've had a lot of things come clear to us since 9/11. Activities that were somewhat benign, maybe not favored by this government in 1995, are now clearly activities we would like to prohibit, and the people of Florida wonder whether their tenure system is providing a hedgerow for a guy who supports terrorism to hide behind.
MCKEE: Dr. Al-Arian has never supported terrorism. He's on record as saying that he abhors any attacks on civilians, whether it be by the Israelis against Palestinian civilians or Palestinians against Israeli civilians. He's never supported terrorism.
He is not, however, a pacifist. He has spoken out about the rights of Palestinians to take up arms to fight the Israeli soldiers who are occupying their territory. That's his public position. That's constitutionally protected.
It's no different than what people did in the '60s when they protested against the Vietnam War. They made statements like "Damn America." They burned the American flag. Constitutionally protected activity, John.
GIBSON: But we now know that Hamas and Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups not only carry out terrorist operations in Israel, but are planning to carry them out in this country against us, and we suspect that those kind of groups are involved with the kind of groups that attacked us.
Why should the people of Florida continue to give tenure to somebody who evidently harbors murderous feelings towards his own citizens?
MCKEE: He doesn't harbor murderous feelings towards his own citizens, absolutely not… that's just unfair to even suggest that.
GIBSON: Why is it unfair? Here's a guy who's involved with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He has had guys working with him at his think tanks in Tampa there at the University of South Florida, who have since de-camped and gone back to the Middle East and have been involved with terrorist operations there. Why can't we connect these dots?
MCKEE: You tell me. Why hasn't the government connected these dots? What you're suggesting here is that there should be some guilt by association, that someone Dr. Al-Arian was associated with back in the mid '90s has since left this country and taken up with the Islamic Jihad, and that Dr. Al-Arian should somehow be responsible for that. That's unfair.
GIBSON: Why is it unfair? Dr. Al-Arian supported these people. They worked for him. They went to conferences together. He went to a conference with the blind sheik who was responsible for the World Trade Center bombing in '93. Others have gone back to the Middle East, had major terrorist organizations, and we are supposed to assume that Dr. Al-Arian's hands are clean?
MCKEE: Yes, he's absolutely entitled to that presumption. He has never...
GIBSON: Do we have to be blind?
MCKEE: He has never been charged with a crime. He's never been convicted of a crime, never been charged with a crime. So you want to throw out the Constitution. Because of 9/11, you want to throw out all of these presumptions of innocence. That's not right. That's not American.
GIBSON: Robert McKee, good luck. The tenure issue may end up in federal court. Thanks very much.
MCKEE: All right, John. Thank you.
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