Congress Allows Questionable Testimony in Secret Evidence Hearings


The U.S. Congress is repeating an old mistake, allowing a few voices with little or no credibility to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee hearing on HR 2121, the "Secret Evidence Repeal Act of 1999," on May 23. The bill seeks to repeal a section of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which allows the government to punish people in a medieval style without telling them why or giving them a chance to prove their innocence. Introduced by Reps. Bob Barr (R-GA), John Conyers (D-MI), Tom Campbell (R-CA) and David Bonior (D-MI) on June 10, 1999, the bill has now 92 co-sponsors including 18 Republican and 74 Democrat Congresspersons.

The Congress promulgated the Anti-Terrorism Act in the aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing without enough debate on its ramifications. The law came to contradict both letter and spirit of the U.S. constitution and the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The U.S. constitutional dictate "justice for all," for instance, does not exclude the immigrants or even criminals. Accordingly, the use of secret evidence is prohibited in all criminal cases including spy trials involving national security.

The law allowing secret evidence has thus far been used primarily to frame and incarcerate Arab/Muslim political activists. More than 95 percent of those detained and jailed for years under this law have been Arab Muslims. When made public or contested, however, the secret accusations and evidences of the government against the accused have consistently turned out to be indefensible in the court of law. We have seen this consistent pattern in the cases of the University of South Florida Professor Semi Al-Arian, the Egyptian Engineer Nasser Ahmed, and six Iraqi political activists. The secret evidence, for example, turned out to be a magazine fiction in the case of Professor Al-Arian and "double or even triple hearsay" in the case of Nasser Ahmed.

Now the Congress is listening to people who have little or no credibility in the matters of secret evidence. Since the ancient times when Aristotle laid down the cannons of rhetoric, source credibility (ethos, reputation, ethical character) of the speaker or source of messages has been a prime concern in public discourse. Ethos of speakers or other message sources depends primarily on how the audience perceives or reads their characters. This means the determination of ethos is more a function of the audience than of the speaker or the message source.

People who have little or no knowledge of the public ethos of message sources are the likely victims of imposters of knowledge. For example, when some friends of mine first came to the U.S., they believed what they read in the National Enquirer and worried that the Armageddon and the Day of Judgment were imminent. When they came to know the ethos that National Enquirer enjoys in public discourse--one of sensational claims that have little objectivity or factual basis, they woke up into a new reality.

Much like these friends of mine, the House Judiciary Committee is now listening to the pro-Israeli professional Islamophobe Steven Emerson and the representatives of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who are scheduled to testify in favor of the use of secret evidence.

Emerson has a track record of making rabble-rousing, slanderous and inaccurate attacks on Muslims in North America. He wrongly claimed that Muslims were behind the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City and the 1996 downing of TWA Flight 800. He peddled hatred against Muslims by proclaiming that Islam sanctions "genocide...as part of its religious doctrine" (CBS News, 4/19/95; Reuters, 7/31/96 and CNBC, RIVERA LIVE, 8/23/96; Jewish Monthly, 3/95). Recently, a court decision validated accusations that he had provided forged FBI information on terrorism to two journalists and false information to a Senate subcommittee during his testimony in 1998. Last year, Emerson was forced to retract his accusations against a former journalism lecturer at California State University, Hayward, agreeing to pay $3,000 in damages.

Representatives of AJC or ADL are political beneficiaries of the use of secret evidence. As long as the law of secret evidence targets Muslim/Arab political activists who seek the liberation of Palestine, as has been the pattern so far, these American lobbyists for the Zionist occupation of Palestine have vested interests in seeking perpetuation of the law. They are simply politically biased. Otherwise, why would they support a despicable, irrational, and publicly indefensible law? Don't they know that secret evidence is antithetical to all that the U.S. as a democracy stands for?

Like my immigrant friends who finally recognized what the National Enquirer represents, the House Judiciary Committee must wake up into a new reality and question the ethos, biases and political interests of those who are lobbying hard in support of secret evidence. Otherwise, the Congress itself will lose its ethos as a bulwark of human rights and justice, and people will have reasons to consider the U.S. government as medieval as that of Saddam Hussein.

Mohammad Auwal, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at California State University, Los Angeles, is a regular columnist for iviews.com.


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