Synopsis by Mark Deming
Sami Al-Arian is a Palestinian refugee who came to the United States in 1975, and in time built a career for himself in academia, teaching college-level computer science and raising a family in Tampa, Florida. Al-Arian's life took a sudden and unexpected turn one night in 2003 when police and federal agents raided his home and put him under arrest. Al-Arian was accused of being a key American agent for the Islamic Jihad, and was tried in one of the first major trials to rise from laws established under the post-9/11 PATRIOT Act. While Al-Arian freely admits he's been an outspoken activist for Palestinian rights and against Israel, he's strongly denied taking part in any terrorist activities, with his wife and their five children lending their support. However, Al-Arian spent two years behind bars before his case went to trial, and the federal government spent six months making their case without finding a firm link between him and any known terrorists. Hoping to end his legal nightmare after his jury was deadlocked on several charges, Al-Arian pleaded guilty to aiding a group of Palestinian militants under the understanding he would be deported out of the United States as punishment; however, the judge opted to send Al-Arian back to prison instead, and now his family is fighting to win him a new trial. Norwegian documentary filmmaker Line Halvorsen followed Al-Arian's case for several years, and U.S.A. vs. Al-Arian employs newsreel footage and interviews with the defendant and his family in a troubling true-life story of justice gone awry.