ACLU Urges Congress to End Use of Secret Evidence

May 23, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Saying that the use of secret evidence to imprison people is unjust and un-American, the American Civil Liberties Union today testified before a House panel to urge Congress to pass legislation that would end the use of secret evidence in immigration proceedings.

“Jailing someone on the basis of secret evidence goes against every principle of justice and fairness in our American legal system,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, an ACLU Legislative Counsel who testified before the House Judiciary Committee. “How can you defend yourself if the government refuses to tell you what you are accused of?”

The legislation, which is sponsored by a bipartisan coalition that includes Reps. David Bonior, D-MI, Tom Campbell, R-CA, John Conyers, D-MI, and Bob Barr, R-GA, would repeal provisions of the 1996 immigration and anti-terrorism laws that allow the government to use secret evidence in immigration cases. These laws allow secret evidence to be used to deport non-citizens and to deny them asylum and release on bond. The bill would also apply to pending cases.

Another witness before the panel was Nahla Al-Arian, whose brother has never been accused of a crime yet has been held for the last three years on the basis of secret evidence. “As a Palestinian refugee, my brother Mazen believed in this country’s great Constitution and system of justice,” Al-Arian said. “But the use of secret evidence is discriminatory in nature, for if Mazen were a citizen, like his daughters and many members of his family, it would be impossible to use secret evidence against him.”

The ACLU represents Al-Arian’s brother, Dr. Mazen Al Najjar, who lived in the United States for the past 19 years. His suit, which alleges that the practice of detaining people on the basis of secret evidence is unconstitutional, was heard last month in U.S. District Court.

Nearly every person against whom the government has recently used secret evidence has been an Arab or a Muslim. The Immigration and Naturalization Service is currently using secret evidence in approximately a dozen cases, and admits that it used secret evidence in approximately 50 cases from 1992-1998.

Reps. Bonior and Campbell and ACLU President Nadine Strossen and the ACLU’s Nojeim have all visited Al-Najjar in prison, drawing national attention to his case.

“Just as our country’s leaders rightly condemn Iran for using secret evidence to protect ‘national security’ in trials there, we have to practice here what we preach abroad,” Nojeim said. “It is time to end this ugly chapter of American history.”

The ACLU’s testimony is available at:
/node/20802

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