Bond Hearing for Secret Evidence Victim
BRADENTON, Florida — Tuesday, August 29th, a bond hearing mandated by a federal judge will be held for Mazen Al-Najjar. Immigration Judge R. Kevin McHugh will listen to witnesses from both sides and decide if Al-Najjar may be released on bond. Al-Najjar has been held in jail, denied bond for over 3 years, as he fights a high-stakes deportation proceeding. Finally in this immigration court hearing Al-Najjar will be able to confront the evidence against him, as Federal Judge Joan Lenard required in her May 31st order.
All Al-Najjar or his lawyers have known about the allegations to this point is that he is supposedly associated with the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which is on the list of “foreign terrorist organizations” the U.S. identifies as part of the 1996 Anti-terrorism Act. People in the U.S. are prohibited from giving funds or “material support” to such groups. In Judge Lenard’s decision, she ruled that “mere association” with the PIJ is not a national security threat, all the INS has ever alleged of Al-Najjar. Instead, the government must prove that Al-Najjar had “a degree of participation” in the activities of the PIJ.
The Immigration Judge has agreed to hear secret evidence and at the same time has refused to order the INS to provide a meaningful unclassified summary to Al-Najjar and his lawyers as they have requested. Dr. Al-Najjar’s legal team is concerned that the government has said that it still intends to use secret evidence, and has not provided them with any indication whatsoever of its contents. Since the defense team lacks the secret evidence, they are unlikely to be able to use the hearing to rebut the secret evidence. Kit Gage, National Coordinator of the NCPPF noted, “We are outraged at this unconstitutional denial of due process even in the face of a federal court ruling that Al-Najjar and his lawyers see the evidence against him.” At this juncture, additional federal court intervention would likely be required, further delaying justice for Al-Najjar.
The government arrested Al-Najjar in front of his small children on May 19, 1997, arranging press coverage so his picture was splashed across the front pages of local papers, along with allegations that he was a threat to national security. Al-Najjar has never seen or been able to rebut the government’s evidence against him. As the case has progressed, it has been at the forefront of the national movement to abolish the use of secret evidence, and received significant media attention regionally and nationally. Gradually, as the case has been publicized, people, newspapers, and elected officials have come out publicly against the use of secret evidence, recognizing that it is impossible either to defend against evidence one cannot see or to cross-examine unnamed witnesses. Finally in this case the federal judge agreed the use of secret evidence to detain Al-Najjar was unconstitutional.
In other cases around the country – those of Hany Kiareldeen, Nasser Ahmed, and most recently Dr. Ali Karim Mohammed and his brother Mohammed, immigration and federal judges have ruled that the use of secret evidence is unconstitutional in strongly worded decisions, demanding the release of each of these individuals. The Secret Evidence Repeal Act, H.R. 2121, introduced in response to all of these cases, has 112 co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives. Members of Congress, including the Minority Whip and the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, have visited the Tampa community and/or Al-Najjar in jail, and come away deeply concerned about the case in particular, and the use of secret evidence in general. The National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom, the national group formed to oppose the use of secret evidence, and criminalization of First Amendment activity, has helped publicize the Al-Najjar case as a key example of the unfairness of the use of secret evidence. Many national and local organizations representing diverse religions, ethnicities and concerns, have rallied around the Al-Najjar case in opposition to the use of secret evidence.
Organizational Members of the Board of the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom:
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee American Muslim Council Arab American Institute
Center for Constitutional Rights Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights Committee for Justice for the L.A. 8 Committee for Justice for Nasser Ahmed Council on American Islamic Relations Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization Irish Northern Aid Committee Middle East Project of the Institute for Policy Studies Muslim Americans for Civil Rights and Legal Defense National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers National Committee Against Repressive Legislation National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace