Personal Stories Provide Compelling Backdrop To Congressional Efforts to End Use of Secret Evidence

February 10, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Asking Congress to stop the federal government from using secret evidence, two victims of government abuse today told a Capitol Hill news conference of the wrenching emotional toll they have endured as they and their families sought to defend themselves against unknown charges made by invisible individuals.

Hany Kiareldeen, who spent 19 months in jail based on secret evidence, and Nahla Al-Arian, the sister of a secret evidence victim nearing 1,000 days behind bars, each strongly urged Congress to pass the “Secret Evidence Repeal Act,” (HR 2121) which would end the government’s use of secret evidence in immigration cases.

“As a Palestinian refugee, my brother Mazen believed very strongly in this country,” Al-Arian said. “With its great Constitution and principles, he thought he would never be a victim of discrimination. 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 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. Under these laws, secret evidence can be submitted in the form of classified information to deport non-citizens and to deny non-citizens asylum and release on bond. The bill would also apply retroactively to pending cases.

“The use of secret evidence is a feature of totalitarian governments,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “It goes against everything our country stands for. People here have the right to know the evidence against them and to be given an opportunity to rebut it.”

The Immigration and Naturalization Service is currently using secret evidence in about two dozen cases, the ACLU said, almost all of which involve Arabs and Muslims. The ACLU represents Mrs. Al-Arian’s brother, Mazen al-Najjar, and Nasser Ahmed, an Egyptian immigrant who was threatened with deportation and likely torture based on evidence that the government refuses to disclose. He was held in solitary confinement for three years before an immigration judge ordered him released in December because the secret evidence was determined to be double and even triple hearsay.

“We hope that this day marks the beginning of the end of the use of secret evidence to deport people,” the ACLU’s Nojeim said. “The Bonior- Campbell bill tells the INS to either disclose evidence or withdraw it from the record. We strongly support this bill.”

The ACLU’s testimony on the Use of Secret Evidence In Immigration Proceedings may be found on-line at /node/20804

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