U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema, Eastern Virginia District, is not a justice figure commonly associated with the interminable debate over Guantanamo detainees. But her comments expected at the end of the month may signal a turning point in how the U.S. handles the gray areas in detainee justice.
Brinkema's will hear the case of Dr. Sami Amin Al-Arian, a Kuwati-American university professor who has been held under house arrest in Virginia since September of last year. He was charged with contempt of court after refusing to testify in grand jury hearing on the International Institute of Islamic Thought's role in terrorist financing believing his life would be in danger.
Al-Arian has been fighting spurious federal charges since his original arrested in 2001 for abetting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. For two years Al-Arian was held in solitary confinement in prisons across the South until he was granted a formal trial in 2005. After six months a jury acquitted him. An observer of the 2005 trial wrote "the transcripts of the case against Al-Arian—which read like a bad Gilbert and Sullivan opera—are stupefying in their idiocy."
Judge Brinkema ruling in a few weeks will decide if Al-Arian is guilty of contempt. Crucially, at University of Virginia law school recently, she commented on Thursday that civilian courts could handle detainee cases like Al-Arian's that involve classified information. This could pull Guantanamo Bay proceedings out of the military's purview and leave them squarely in the hands of the American people.