ACLU Challenges Palestinian Professor's Detention, Saying Charges of Terrorist Ties Proved Unfounded

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
May 14, 2002 12:00 am

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MIAMI–The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida filed a petition in federal court today arguing that the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s continued detention of a Palestinian man violates both federal law and the Constitution.

Mazen Al Najjar spent three-and-a-half years in custody based on secret evidence that neither he nor his attorneys ever saw. He was released in December 2000 after a federal judge ruled his detention unconstitutional. An immigration judge later found the government’s charges of terrorist ties unfounded. Al Najjar was arrested again on November 24, 2001, after he attempted but failed to have a deportation order overturned.

“”The re-detention of Al Najjar is an exercise of raw government power that serves no legitimate purpose,”” said Randall Marshall, Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida, which is part of Al Najjar’s legal defense team. “”Al Najjar has never been accused of a crime, yet he is being detained in solitary confinement under conditions more severe than those imposed on many convicted murderers.””

The government acknowledged in November 2001 that Al Najjar had nothing to do with the events of September 11, but in a press release issued on the day of his arrest the Department of Justice said that his detention demonstrated its “”commitment to address terrorism.””

The motion filed in federal court today argues that under the immigration law that applies to his case, the INS is authorized to detain him for at most six months from the time that his deportation order could have been carried out. That six-month period ran out today. The ACLU and other lawyers for Al Najjar argue that under the law he must be released.

Al Najjar’s legal team is arguing that his continued detention is unconstitutional for two reasons: (1) he has been found not to pose a danger or a flight risk, and therefore there is no legitimate reason to detain him; and (2) there is no significant likelihood that he will be deported in the foreseeable future. The country to which he has been ordered deported, the United Arab Emirates, informed Al Najjar’s counsel on March 11, 2002, that it would not admit him. And as a stateless Palestinian, Al Najjar has no right to return to any country.

“”Mazen Al Najjar has never been charged with a crime, yet he has spent more than four years behind bars, first on secret evidence that he had no chance to rebut, and for the last six months on no evidence of dangerousness whatsoever,”” said David Cole, lead counsel for Al Najjar and a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. “”Under immigration law and the Constitution, however, his nightmare should now come to an end, because he is clearly entitled to be released.””

In addition to Cole and Marshall, Al Najjar is represented by Nancy Chang of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Joseph Hohenstein of the Nationalities Service Center, and Florida immigration attorneys Martin Schwarz and Ira Kurzban.

The court documents are available on the ACLU of Florida’s web site at the following URLs:

Habeas Corpus Petition Seeking Al Najjar’s Release:

Memorandum in Support of Petitioner’s Emergency Motion for Immediate Release from Custody:

Emergency Motion for Release and Preliminary Injunction and Request for Expedited Briefing and Oral Argument:

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