Time for Congress to Right the Wrongs


Muslim Americans breathed a collective sigh of relief when Dr. Anwar Haddam and Dr. Mazen Al-Najjar walked out of prisons in Virginia and Florida, serving 1461 and 1307 days respectively without trial under the banner of secret evidence in America.

The two men were released after judges ruled that the government had failed to provide documentation to defend their incarceration, and to prove that they were a "threat" to American security.

The legal rebukes notwithstanding, Attorney General Reno dragged her feet to utmost to block their release, reflecting the same Islamophobic agenda that has been a hallmark of the former Administration.

The level of terror and intimidation that the secret evidence law has spawned was reflected in Dr. Haddam's statement shortly after his release, as he thanked the organizations and individuals that supported him during his ordeal.

"[They] stood by me when the campaign of defamation and character assassination succeeded in keeping some of my closest friends away."

Unfortunately the battle over secret evidence is far from over. This week several US lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at repealing the use of secret evidence in immigration proceedings.

It is truly a blessing that in an environment corrupted by sex and money, two Washington lawmakers have fearlessly stood up for the rights of the Muslim minority. Democratic Whip David Bonior and California Congressman Tom Campbell have been relentless in their pursuit of freedom for victims of Islamophobia.

Both co-sponsored H.R. 2121, the Secret Evidence Repeal Act of 1999 that was killed by the House Republican leadership. Thus, more than 18 months of hard work on the legislation was lost. The substitute legislation that passed the House Judiciary Committee by a significant margin a short time ago, never made to the House floor for a vote; it was filibustered by the House leadership. The opposition was led by the House speaker himself, as well as by other committee chairs such as Porter Guss of the Intelligence Select Committee and Bill Young of the Appropriations Committee, both Floridians.

Many victims of the unfair law remain in jail without trial. The ones who have been freed have similar stories to tell; they were jailed on bogus accusations. Men like Nasser Ahmed suffered almost four years in jail without trial after being falsely linked to bombing plots in New York and abroad. But he was able to refute the allegations when finally provided with some of the secret evidence.

Hany Kiareldeen was freed after seven immigration judges ruled in his favor and U.S. District Judge William Walls ordered him released on constitutional grounds. Kiareldeen was accused of conspiring with one of the World Trade Center bombers and threatening to kill Attorney General Janet Reno. An immigration appeals panel said there were "serious doubts regarding the reliability of
the information contained in the FBI reports."

These victories represented a landmark in Muslim American activism, where Muslims not only did grassroots work in their communities, worked to support the moral leadership in Congress, and built up alliances with non-Muslim organizations that likewise have moral agendas.

The secret evidence act, which disproportionately targets Muslims and Arabs, was a provision of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act and approved by President Bill Clinton. Ironically the legislation passed in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, which was carried out by a non-Muslim, non-Arab American.

It is therefore incumbent upon Congress to right the wrongs of this gross violation of the US Constitution. It is time to repeal this provision.


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