Mazen Al-Najjar Free at Last

Article excerpt

MAZEN AL-NAJJAR FREE AT LAST

After six days of wrenching turnabouts, Mazen Al-Najjar walked out of a Bradenton, FL jail Dec. 15, free after being held for three and a half years by the federal government. No charges ever were filed against the University of South Florida academic, who was detained merely on vague assertions by federal agents that they had "secret evidence" that Al-Najjar somehow was associated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

But in a stunning reversal of its Dec. 5 ruling that Al-Najjar remain in jail indefinitely, the quasi-judicial Bureau of Immigration Appeals decided on Dec. 8 that he should be freed. Two days before that, on Dec. 6, Immigration and Naturalization Service Judge R. Kevin McHugh had ordered Al-Najjar released after lawyers for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) failed to produce a summary of the secret evidence that adequately protected the Muslim scholar's constitutional rights to defend himself.

The best understatement about what happened last week to Al-Najjar came from the prisoner himself: "The whole game is really not fair," Al-Najjar said in an interview with the Tampa, Florida Weekly Planet.

The roller coaster ride began Dec. 6, when Judge McHugh ordered Al-Najjar released after he found that the government had no public proof of wrongdoing. The judge then ruled that an unclassified "summary" of secret evidence was inadequate to enable the imprisoned scholar to prepare a defense.

"The judge found the summary frivolous and uninformative," Al-Najjar said.

The INS lawyers, however, immediately sought an indefinite stay of the judge's ruling, and the BIA granted the motion.

In other secret evidence cases, the government has provided the unclassified summary before showing judges the evidence. In Al-Najjar's case, the INS vigorously fought to introduce unsupported, misleading and clearly inaccurate evidence, as well as hearsay, in its failed effort to link Al-Najjar to terrorists. The government lawyers then succeeded in getting the secret evidence in front of McHugh before showing Al-Najjar the unclassified summary.

As Al-Najjar's lead lawyer, Georgetown University Law Prof. David Cole, had predicted, the summary turned out to be inadequate for Al-Najjar to prepare a rebuttal. …