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Terrorism-related detention hearings must be open to public

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    NMU         MICHIGAN         Secret Courts         Apr 4, 2002    

Terrorism-related detention hearings must be open to public

  • A federal district judge yesterday sided with Michigan newspapers and a congressman who had sued for public and press to access immigration proceedings in cases related to September 11 detainees, despite the Justice Department’s efforts to keep such hearings closed.

A federal district judge in Detroit ruled yesterday that it is unconstitutional to hold the legal proceedings of immigration detainees in secret, setting a standard that the media hopes will be followed for hundreds of other pending immigration hearings for individuals of Arab descent since the Sept.11 attacks.

Judge Nancy G. Edmunds wrote in her opinion: “Openness is necessary for the public to maintain confidence in the value and soundness of the government’s actions.”

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of Rep. John Conyers, Jr., the Detroit News and the Metro Times against U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft when the public and press were turned away from the deportation hearings in the case of Rabih Haddad. Haddad is a Muslim community leader from Ann Arbor who co-founded an Islamic charity suspected of supporting terrorist activities.

Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU’s Michigan chapter, said the ruling is a “victory for democracy” and the public needs to know what goes on in the courtrooms to ensure that justice is served. She also said that secrecy in the Haddad case has suggested the defendant has certain character flaws and is guilty of crimes he didn’t commit. Moss said openness, however, might have resulted in a more accurate portrayal of Haddad.

“Our system of democracy depends on openness,” Moss said. “Secrecy breeds fear, distress and resentment. We need faith and confidence that people won’t be railroaded.”

Edmunds’ decision was the first in a federal court concerning the Justice Department’s attempt to close such cases and could influence other detainees’ hearings throughout the nation. The government has not announced if it will appeal.

The decision in this case comes on the heals of a decision last month by a New Jersey state judge that the names of most persons arrested in connection with the events of Sept. 11 must be disclosed under a New Jersey law that requires information about people jailed in state institutions to be public.

(Detroit Free Press, et al. v. John Ashcroft, et al.) KG

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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