ACLU Says Detention of U.S. Citizen in Oregon Highlights Unnecessary Government Secrecy

Affiliate: ACLU of Oregon
April 8, 2003 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Oregon
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


PORTLAND, OR – The American Civil Liberties Union today criticized the U.S. Justice Department’s continued refusal to release any information regarding the dozens of Muslim and Arab men detained on material witness warrants, some of whom are U.S. citizens like Mike Hawash, the Hillsboro man detained since March 20th.

U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones issued a ruling Monday denying Hawash’s request to be released pending his expected testimony before a federal grand jury in Portland. However Judge Jones also ordered the Justice Department to take Hawash’s testimony no later than April 25th.

David Fidanque, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oregon, noted that Judge Jones also concluded in his written opinion that the arrest and detention of a material witness is “presumptively public, for no free society can long tolerate secret arrests.” Fidanque said that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft should heed the judge’s warning.

“We know about the arrest and detention of Mike Hawash because Mike’s family, friends and colleagues are well connected,” Fidanque said. “But the Justice Department has detained dozens of other Muslim and Arab men on material witness warrants since September 11th, and they refuse to disclose even the barest details in most of those cases.”

“The Justice Department’s campaign of arrests and secrecy amounts to a systematic abuse of the material witness law to provide cover for a broad campaign of preventive detention that subverts the due process protections of the Constitution,” Fidanque said. “If someone is suspected of a crime, he should be arrested if the government has enough evidence. If someone is a witness, give him a subpoena and let him testify.”

Fidanque said that at the very least, the Justice Department should immediately release the identities of all individuals being held under material witness warrants, the location where they are being held and whether they are represented by an attorney.

“All of this has been shrouded in secrecy,” Fidanque said. “Since the Justice Department won’t release any information and the lawyers of those who have been detained are under gag orders, there is no way for the public to evaluate whether these unprecedented measures are justified.

What we do know is that our Constitution was designed to prevent government officials from secretly snatching individuals, holding them in isolation for weeks and frightening their families.”

Friends and co-workers of Hawash have established a website related to his case which can be found at

Mike Hawash was born in Nablus on the West Bank and was raised in Kuwait before emigrating to the U.S. in 1984. He became a citizen in 1988 after receiving his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas. He has lived in Hillsboro since 1992 and has been a software design employee and contractor for Intel since that time. He and his wife are raising three children.

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release