Florida Court to Hear Arguments Today in
"Secret Evidence" Case

Tuesday, August 29, 2000

BRADENTON, FL--At a hearing before an immigration judge today, the American Civil Liberties of Florida will urge the release of Dr. Mazen Al-Najjar -- a Palestinian who has lived in the United States for 18 years -- who has been jailed for more than three years based on secret evidence that the government has refused to reveal.

"We look forward to this opportunity to have a fair and open hearing, and are confident that when the government's charges are exposed to the light of day, Dr. Al-Najjar will be a free man," said David Cole, an ACLU cooperating attorney from the Georgetown University Law Center.

Since he was taken into the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in May 1997, under suspicion of being a threat to national security, Dr. Al-Najjar has yet to be formally charged with a crime. The former professor and Muslim cleric began his detention on May 19, 1997 when INS and FBI agents stormed into his home and arrested him in front of his family.

Earlier this year, ACLU President Nadine Strossen visited Dr. Al-Najjar at the detention center here. Her account of the interview is online at http://www.intellectualcapital.com/issues/issue375/item9376.asp

Today's hearing was ordered by Judge Joan A. Lenard, who ruled on May 31st that the INS had violated the Fifth Amendment by not allowing Dr. Al-Najjar or his attorneys the opportunity to review or rebut the evidence that purportedly links him to the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a group the United States government has designated as "terrorist."

Judge Lenard also ruled that "mere association" with the PIJ does not amount to a national security threat. She held that the INS must, in a fair proceeding that guarantees Dr. Al-Najjar's due process rights, prove a ‘degree of participation' in the activities of the [PIJ] in order to legally continue to detain him.

Attorneys representing Dr. Al-Najjar are concerned that the government still intends to use secret evidence as its argument even though it has not provided any indication of its contents.

Judge R. Kevin McHugh, who will preside over today's hearing, has declined to order the government to produce a summary of any secret evidence it plans to submit. In similar cases, immigration judges have released immigrants who were initially detained on the basis of classified information and later able to defend themselves once the government disclosed information about the case.

Nearly every person against whom the government has recently used secret evidence has been an Arab or a Muslim, the ACLU said. The INS is currently using secret evidence in approximately a dozen cases, and admits that it used secret evidence in approximately 50 cases from 1992-1998.

In testimony before a House panel last May, the ACLU said that the use of secret evidence to imprison people is unjust and un-American, and urged Congress to pass legislation that would end the use of secret evidence in immigration proceedings.

The "Secret Evidence Repeal Act," -- which has more than 100 co-sponsors -- would ensure that no immigrant is deported or denied any benefit under the Immigration and Nationality Act based on secret evidence. The ACLU is urging a vote of the full House before Congress recesses in early October. For more information on the legislation, go to http://www.aclu.org/congress/rightsecret.html

The lawsuit, Al-Najjar v. Janet Reno, was brought by the ACLU of Florida, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Nationalities Service Center and Tampa-based attorney Martin Schwartz on behalf of Dr. Al-Najjar.

Copyright 2000, The American Civil Liberties Union