Secret Evidence Bill Clears Key Committee Hurdle

September 26, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Saying that using secret evidence to imprison people is unjust and un-American, the American Civil Liberties Union today applauded a House panel’s approval of legislation to 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 earlier this year about the proposed legislation before the House Judiciary Committee. “How can you defend yourself if the government refuses to tell you what you are accused of?”

The Judiciary Committee approved the Secret Evidence Repeal Act by voice vote today; only Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-NY, asked to be recorded in opposition to the measure. 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 a compromise amendment offered during Committee debate today by Rep. Barr and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, non-citizens would receive an unclassified summary of the classified information being used against them, which is the procedure currently used in criminal cases.

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.

“Just as our country’s leaders rightly condemned 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. We look forward to prompt passage of this bill in the remaining weeks before Congress adjourns.”

The ACLU’s May 2000 testimony is available at:
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