Secret Evidence, "Anti-Terrorism," & the INS

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sun Dec 17 14:49:23 MST 2000

The New York Times
December 16, 2000, Saturday, Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section A; Page 12; Column 1; National Desk
HEADLINE: U.S. Frees Palestinian Held 3 Years on Secret Evidence

Attorney General Janet Reno today authorized the release of a
Palestinian immigrant who was held for three and a half years in a
Florida jail on the basis of secret government evidence.

The release of the immigrant, Mazen Al-Najjar, a Tampa resident and a
former adjunct professor at the University of South Florida, is the
latest in a string of terrorism cases that have unraveled and exposed
justice officials to charges of bias against Arab or Muslim

The case has also brought new scrutiny of the anti-terrorism bill
approved by Congress in 1996 after the World Trade Center bombing,
which allowed the Immigration and Naturalization Service to arrest or
detain noncitizens, without identifying either their accuser or the
evidence against them.

Mr. Al-Najjar, 43, was born in Israeli-occupied Gaza and settled in
Florida after admittedly overstaying a student visa in the early
1980's, his lawyers said. He raised three daughters, was active in a
mosque in Tampa and had no criminal record.

But suspicions were raised at the F.B.I. and among immigration
officials because of his involvement in the World and Islam Studies
Enterprise, a research center affiliated with the University of South
Florida, and the Islamic Concern Project, whose activities included
sending money to orphans in occupied Palestine, his lawyers said.

Mr. Al-Najjar, who denies any link to the Palestine Islamic Jihad,
was arrested in May 1997 and had been held in jail until today,
though he was never charged with a crime based on the government's
evidence. Initially, relatives said, his contact with his children
was limited to once a year.

"Life was not really life," said Mr. Al-Najjar in a telephone
interview after his release today on $8,000 bond. "I was missing

Ms. Reno ultimately backed a decision earlier this week by the Board
of Immigration Appeals to allow Mr. Al-Najjar's release. In May, a
district court judge in Miami ruled his detention violated due
process and ordered a hearing in which Mr. Al-Najjar would be able to
confront the secret evidence against him. Last week, an immigration
judge ruled that a summary of the secret evidence provided by the
Immigration and Naturalization Service was not sufficiently detailed
to allow Mr. Al-Najjar to defend himself adequately.

David Cole, Mr. Al-Najjar's lead lawyer and a professor at the
Georgetown University Law Center, said he has represented more than a
dozen clients like Mr. Al-Najjar in recent years: Arab immigrants who
were detained on weak evidence and ultimately released.

"It's really an incredibly embarrassing record for I.N.S.," Mr. Cole
said. "Virtually all of the secret evidence cases I.N.S. has brought
in the last five years have all involved Arabs. If the I.N.S. used
this tactic against a group that was less subject to a terrorist
stereotype, there would be a much broader outcry."

Two cases based on secret government evidence fell apart for the
Justice Department last year after courts ruled that the suspects'
detention was unconstitutional. Authorities released Nasser K. Ahmed,
an Egyptian man jailed in New York for three and a half years, and
Hany Kiareldeen, a Palestinian man who was held for 19 months,
despite classified F.B.I. assertions that they were linked to

In Congress, some lawmakers who had supported strengthening the hand
of law enforcement against foreign terrorists, are now seeking to
repeal the 1996 law allowing the use of secret evidence.
President-elect Bush has expressed support for such a move, and
Representative David E. Bonior, the Democratic minority whip, plans
to fight for the change.

In May, the I.N.S. said 11 people were being held in the United
States on the basis of secret evidence, though critics of the process
said the number is higher.

"The case of Mazen Al-Najjar represents a shameful chapter in our
nation's history," Mr. Bonior said. "Unfortunately, there are others
still held, despite four federal judges' rulings that the practice of
secret evidence is unconstitutional."

Justice Department officials said that they would continue to seek
Mr. Al-Najjar's deportation.

"Mazen Al-Najjar is an alien subject to a final deportation order who
has been illegally present in the United States for many years," Ms.
Reno said in a statement. "I continue to believe that the nation has
been well served by the efforts of the I.N.S. to remove Mr. Al-Najjar
expeditiously from the country."

GRAPHIC: Photo: Mazen Al-Najjar greeted family and friends yesterday
after his release from jail. He had been held for three and a half
years on secret F.B.I. data. (Associated Press)

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