Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Muslim- and Arab-American Community Energized by Secret Evidence Hearing

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Muslim- and Arab-American Community Energized by Secret Evidence Hearing

Article excerpt

MUSLIM- AND ARAB-AMERICAN COMMUNITY ENERGIZED BY SECRET EVIDENCE HEARING.

The House Judiciary Committee's Immigration and Claims Subcommittee held a Feb. 10 hearing on proposed legislation, H.R. 2121, the Secret Evidence Repeal Act, that would ban the use of secret evidence in immigration proceedings. Lawmakers heard testimony from two officials from the FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service defending current secret evidence practices, which allow the government to arrest, detain and deport non-citizens using undisclosed evidence. While defenders of the law acknowledged that immigrants facing deportation are entitled to the Fifth Amendment's guarantee to the right of due process, law enforcement authorities say the secret evidence law is needed because revealing some evidence in open court could compromise intelligence sources and national security.

The American Jewish Committee was also scheduled to testify against the Secret Evidence Repeal Act and B'nai B'rith's Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was to submit written testimony, but leaders of both organizations backed out in the end. The two Jewish groups decided to avoid publicizing their involvement in arguing against due process. "Retaining secret evidence provisions is justified on national security grounds, but it's an uncomfortable position for our community -- with its traditional support for due process and civil liberties -- to take," an official with another Jewish group told New York's Jewish Week newspaper.

Members of Congress spoke next in support of H.R. 2121's provisions to abolish the use of secret evidence. Calling use of secret evidence an "obnoxious practice," Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) said that almost all secret evidence cases involved Arabs and Muslims in the United States and seemed to result from negative stereotyping of an entire community. She recalled that the law was passed in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing tragedy, when Arab Americans were targeted and harassed until it turned out that the bomber had no Middle Eastern connection. Rep. David Bonior (D-MI) called the 1996 anti-terrorism legislation that codified secret evidence practices the "most pernicious" law he'd ever seen.

Finally Georgetown Prof. David Cole asked what right could be more basic than the right to see the evidence against you. Nahla Al Arian, "a proud American citizen of Palestinian descent" and sister of Mazen Al-Najjar, a respected educator from the University of South Florida who has been imprisoned for more than 1,000 days, testified in favor of the repeal, describing the terrible injustice of secret evidence. …

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