June 7, 2005

I went to Tampa for day one of the terrorism trial of a former University of South Florida professor accused of aiding a known terrorist organization, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

After court was over for the day, I grabbed Sami Al-Arian's defense attorney for a quick interview. He tells me the case is about free speech, even the right of his client to celebrate a bus bombing.

"What's not illegal? Applauding a terrorist act?" I ask, surprised he'd acknowledge his client might cheer the death of innocent people.

"That's correct,” He told me.

"So he has a right to do that?"

"He has the right to do that."

"You’re not disputing that he applauded a terrorist act?"

"I'm saying that if that's what he did, he had the right to do that. That's not illegal. It’s not illegal to stand up and say, 'I support the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.'"

I ask, "What about funneling money to suicide bombers' families?" Which the government also alleges he did.

"It's not illegal to feed women and children either unless the government can prove there was a pre-existing agreement and that's the reason the people did what they did, you can feed anybody after the fact."

What a country.

A few minutes later, someone pointed out the date of one of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad bombings. It was October 21, 2002 in the town of Hadera, between Tel Aviv and Haifa. I was there.

We arrived a little over an hour after the event, and police allowed us within a few feet of the charred wreckage. The bus had been shredded and blackened by the explosion and intense fire and heat. The ground was littered with scraps of the remains of the bombers and victims. I watched as rescue workers carried what was left of the bodies still in the shell of the bus past us to waiting ambulances. It was horrific and nauseating — one of the worst things I've ever seen.

Hard to imagine anyone celebrating this kind of massacre of innocent people.

But I guess it's our right.

E-mail Rick!

[Ed. note: Click the video tab in the upper right to watch Leventhal's reports.]

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