Foundation Presents $10,000 First Amendment Award

Article excerpt

Journalist fights to expose government secrets

Dan Christensen of the Miami Daily Business Review received the 2004 Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award for reporting on secret court cases in the U.S. District Court in Miami.

The award was presented Sept. 11, during the SPJ National Convention in New York City, and includes a $10,000 cash prize.

"Dan Christensen's work on behalf of the First Amendment is an excellent example of one journalist's dedication to exposing secrecy that is becoming all too common," said Georgiana Vines, chair of a five-member panel of judges and 1992-93 national president of SPJ. "This was a form of secrecy that hid everything, including the case number."

The award is presented by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation and honors Pulliam, who was publisher of The Indianapolis Star and The Indianapolis News at the time of his death in 1999. The Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award was established to honor Pulliam's name, work and First Amendment legacy. He was well-known for consistently supporting activities which educated the public about First Amendment rights and values.

In March 2003, Christensen broke the story of Mohamed K. Bellahouel, an Algerian-born U.S. resident who was detained secretly for five months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

He was tipped to the secret case with a clue in the daily calendar of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Miami. He made phone calls and then showed up at a hearing only to be told he could not attend. Christensen eventually realized that the entire case was taking place in the U.S. District Court in Miami.

Bellahouel had been detained for overstaying his student visa after FBI agents learned he had worked as a waiter at a restaurant in Delray Beach patronized by some of the al Qaeda hijackers, and he was accused of accompanying one of them to a nearby movie. He was released after authorities apparently concluded he wasn't a threat.

Bellahouel filed a writ of habeas corpus to seek release, and that action continued as he sought to open his case to the public. He eventually filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, though the pleadings were heavily redacted and the case was listed only as "M. …