May 7, 2004

Patriot Act on Campus

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Sami Omar al-Hussayen, a Saudi computer science doctoral candidate at the University of Idaho, has been accused of plotting to aid and maintain Islamic Web sites that promote jihad. He is currently standing trial for conspiracy and providing support to terrorists in Chechnya and Israel, and is accused of conspiracy to raise funds for the military wing of the Islamic Resistance Movement, also know as Hamas.

What makes this trial notable is that it is one of the first times that the PATRIOT Act has been levied against someone in the United States. The PATRIOT Act, enacted in 2001, has made it a crime to provide “expert guidance or assistance” to terrorist groups, such as Hamas. The law has been under great contention. The issue is over the Act’s potential invasion of privacy and violation of the first amendment.

The trial offers conflicting views of Hussayen, a son of the Saudi middle class, and father of three. He is portrayed as an intelligent religious family man that was merely a webmaster caught up in a gust of witch-hunting. Yet, he is also portrayed as a cunning man that has worked to destroy America and promote both jihad and terrorism against the innocent.

The prosecution recently stated that Hussayen, “knew and intended that the material support he provided was to be used in preparation for, and to commit, violations of federal law involving murder, maiming, kidnapping, and the destruction of property.”

However, retired professor of computer sciences, John Dickinson, who was Hussayen’s doctoral adviser at the University of Idaho commented, “It’s an illustration of how much power the government can bring against somebody, it should scare anybody.”

In his State of the Union address President Bush implored Congress to renew this Act throughout 2005. Bush has continued to publicly support this law during several recent campaign stops throughout the country. “The PATRIOT Act defends our liberty, is what it does, under the Constitution of the United States,” stated The President in Buffalo last week.

The Cornell community, deeply prided for its diversity in opinions and ideals, has mixed reactions over the PATRIOT act and whether a case such as this could transpire here.

“This case seems very distant but it occurred on a college campus and while unlikely, it has the potential to happen here,” said Jason Atwell ’06. “The PATRIOT Act is our assurance that domestic terrorism stays at bay and is necessary for the War on terror.”

“On paper, the PATRIOT Act seems like a good thing. But, when it is aimed at a person such as this, exercising his freedom of speech, on a college campus, which should be an area of open debate and discussion of these issues, the Act has serious short comings and it may need serious reform,” said Jillian Perrotta ’06. “This could happen to anyone here and it could be a huge injustice.”

Archived article by Kris Reichardt
Sun Staff Writer