A Hard-Fought Victory

In 2011, Professor Turley (second from right) and GW Law students were interviewed after filing a case on behalf of U.S. Congress members who believed President Obama was outside of his constitutional presidential powers when he ordered combat operations in Libya. Some of the students who worked on that case also worked on the Dr. Al-Arian case.

After eight years of work by Professor Jonathan Turley and his team of GW Law students, the Justice Department in late June dropped its criminal prosecution of former college professor Sami Al-Arian.

“This is a hard-fought and long-awaited victory that was eight years in coming,” says Professor Turley, GW’s J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law. “The win rate for prosecutors in national security cases is exceptionally high, so this result is a rare outcome in favor of the defense.”

In 2004, the Justice Department accused Dr. Al-Arian of being the American head of the extremist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad and charged him as part of a 53-count superseding indictment. The nation paid rapt attention to Dr. Al-Arians’ highly publicized trial. The jury acquitted him on eight counts of the superseding indictment but did not reach a unanimous verdict on nine others. With the government considering charges on the remaining counts, Dr. Al-Arian executed a written plea agreement in February 2006, which resulted in his incarceration. The pro bono legal team headed by Professor Turley worked successfully to have him released from prison and later to have his home confinement conditions lifted.

According to Professor Turley, the case is one of the most disturbing of his career because of the government’s continued litigation despite a jury verdict and agreement to allow Dr. Al-Arian to leave the country. “This case remains one of the most troubling chapters in this nation’s crackdown after 9/11,” he wrote in his blog.

Over the years, GW Law students have assisted Professor Turley on many aspects of the case as well as other criminal and civil cases the professor has taken on, gaining valuable real-world experience.

“Our client Dr. Al-Arian and I could not be more proud of the hard work that our GW litigation team has dedicated to this case to help him get justice, as well as our partnership with Bryan Cave as our local counsel,” says Professor Turley. “The students, many of whom are now alumni, had an opportunity to work on a case with international significance and to produce a result that advances the rule of law in a real and tangible way.”