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Justice heeds court order to open immigration hearing

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Secret Courts         Sep 27, 2002    

Justice heeds court order to open immigration hearing

  • Eight days after a district judge gave the U.S. Department of Justice 10 days to release a detainee or grant an open hearing, the department said the Lebanese man will get the hearing.

The Department of Justice announced Sept. 25 it will comply with a district court order to grant an open immigration hearing to a Muslim activist rather than release him.

The department had 10 days to heed U.S. District Court Judge Nancy G. Edmunds’ Sept. 17 order to sanction a public detention hearing for 41-year-old Lebanese National Rabih Haddad or release him, after finding that he had the right to an open hearing under the Fifth Amendment, said Nancy Chang, an attorney for Haddad.

“Press and public scrutiny can, and often does, effect the outcome of a government proceeding,” said Chang, an attorney with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights. “Openness and transparency encourage witnesses to be honest in their testimony and promote a more thorough inquiry into the facts.”

Haddad is one of more than 700 immigrant detainees, Chang suspects, that have undergone closed detention hearings since the Sept. 21, 2001 blanket directive from Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy to close all immigration hearings of “special interest.”

A new bond hearing will take place Oct. 1 before a different immigration judge in Detroit and will be open to the public. This may be the first time the Justice department has opened a hearing previously closed under the Creppy directive.

The Justice department, however, plans to appeal the order, according to a recent department statement.

“The Department believes this order represents an unwarranted intrusion into the administrative immigration process,” said Barbara Comstock, the department’s Director of Public Affairs in the Sept. 25 statement.

Ashraf Nubani, another of Haddad’s attorneys, said his client is happy as the decision “was a long time in coming.” However, Nubani said, Haddad is “cautiously optimistic.”

Haddad’s arrest last December on an immigration violation likely would have allowed him to be released on bond in the pre-September 11 environment. Since that time, the media reported, he has been accused of financing terrorism through a Chicago area charity he co-founded.

The government froze the assets of the non-profit humanitarian organization Global Relief Foundation on the day of Haddad’s arrest. Presently, Nubani said, the government has not substantiated those claims and have only charged Haddad with overstaying his visa.

“This is just a McCarthyism type of tactic in terms of targeting people for perceived political views that they may or may not have,” Nubani said of the accusations and called them a “justification” for detaining a man charged with a visa violation for 10 months.

“Substantial portions” of the hearing will be open but the department may close portions pertaining to “sensitive information … which could prove valuable to terrorists seeking to harm America,” according to Comstock’s statement.

Chang said she has yet to see the government file a motion to close any part of the hearing. “There’s no order that bars the public or the press from attending, or any part of it [the hearing],” she said.

(Rabih Haddad v. John Ashcroft, et al.; Detroit, Mich.) AU

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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