The US War on Terror, from the Eyes of an Alleged Terrorist’s Wife
The film USA vs. Al-Arian takes a look at the justice system’s treatment of one individual, from the perspective of his family

Director: Line Halvorsen Producer: Jan Dalchow (99 minutes) Norway/Palestine/USA

Film Description:
In February 2003, university professor and pro-Palestinian civil rights activist Sami Al-Arian was arrested in Tampa, Florida, charged with providing material support to a terror organization. For two and a half years he was held in solitary confinement, denied basic privileges and given limited access to his attorneys. The film follows Sami Al-Arian’s wife, Nahla, and their five children throughout his 6 month-long trial. This is a nightmare come to life, as a man is prosecuted for his beliefs rather than his actions. It presents democracy in a new light in a post-9/11 culture of fear, where “security measures” trump free speech and punishment is meted out in the name of protection.

Stanford University and the United Nations Association teamed up to bring to the California Bay Area the 10th annual United Nations Film Festival showcasing a variety of films over the course of just four days, October 24-28.

In the welcome letter, found in the UNAFF program, founder and executive director Jasmina Bojic states: “The world around us is a painful reminder of how vulnerable and interconnected we are” and that “the first step towards any solution is the willingness to learn.” In line with the goal of Americans for Informed Democracy, the film festival looked at a variety of different issues, allowing viewers to learn more with each film. With the theme “Camera as Witness,” the festival featured a total of 32 films from countries all over the world, ranging from Bolivia, China and Croatia to Kenya, Iraq and Vietnam, and everywhere in between.

The film opened with a simple statistic “6472 people have been arrested since 9/11 as suspected terrorists” Sami Al-arian is one of these individuals.

“We’re on the hunt” Bush says in a clip from the film, “It’s a matter of time before they know the meaning of American justice.” On February 20, 2003 special investigators spent 12 hours searching the Al-arian house. Bush believes that we “still face dangerous enemies,” although a man from the crowd shouted “you” – at Bush’s on-screen image.

The film contrasted everyday life from home video of the Al-arian family with the contrast of a family in which a trial runs their lives and life revolves around Sami Al-arian’s 45 minute phone-call each day.

Without giving away the suspense in the movie, as of yet, there has been no happy ending of American justice served. Unless the “American justice” Bush speaks of is a different justice all-together.

Director Line Halvorsen, from Norway attended the screening at Stanford University, and spoke shortly thereafter. Al-arian is currently in prison in Virginia, according to Halvorsen, he went on a 60 day hunger strike to protest his treatment.

“It is difficult to talk about what is really going on,” Halvorsen said. Nahla’s (Sami Al-arian’s wife) version of the story was very different from the story told in the media, Halvorsen added.

As far as screening goes, PBS has refused the documentary, despite the fact that it has been sold to eight countries in Europe and the Middle-East and screened at festivals around the world. “Countries are afraid to show it because they don’t want to provoke the American government,” Halvorsen said.

Halvorsen followed the Al-arian family for roughly 15 months and eventually finished the film in about two years with funding from foundations. With the film, Halvosen says she has many hopes for it, including creating awareness. “When I started, it wasn’t meant to be a ‘free Sami Al-arian film’ but as I became more involved, there is a lot more to the case…” Halvorsen would like the film to show the faces behind the headlines and to individualize the War on Terror.

The film has done just that, my only hope is that more people see it and that it incites them to act in defense of civil liberties and the principles this country was created upon, namely, in defense of free speech.

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