WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Nasser K. Ahmed, jailed by the U.S. government for more than three years on the basis of secret evidence was freed last night, but about 20 others remain in jail on the basis of a 1996 anti-terrorism bill authorizing the use of secret evidence in deportation proceedings.
Ahmed's case is not yet over -- he is free on personal bond pending a final ruling by the Immigration and Naturalization Service Board of Immigration Appeals on whether he should be granted asylum. Using secret evidence, that is evidence not shown to the accused, the INS had sought to deport Ahmed to Egypt after he overstayed his visa.
Ahmed was accused of belonging to an Egyptian terrorist group of which Abdel Rahman is said to be the spiritual leader. Ahmed admitted to being an admirer of Sheikh Abdel Rahman, but has denied involvement in terrorism.
Ahmed's release came 40 days after that of Hany Kiareldeen, a 32-year-old Palestinian immigrant, who had been held by the INS since March 1998 because the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force had developed secret evidence that he had hosted a meeting with terrorists planning the World Trade Center bombing, and had talked of murdering Attorney General Janet Reno.
Immigration judge, Donn Livingston, sharply criticized the government's case, calling it "double or triple hearsay," and questioned the reliability of some government sources, saying he had a "very real concern" that the Egyptian government might be the source of secret evidence against Ahmed. Judge Livingston cited "the very real danger that the Egyptian government" was seeking to silence Abdel Rahman, one of its harshest critics reports Benjamin Weiser of the New York Times ("U.S. Frees Egyptian Jailed on Secret Evidence," Nov. 30, 1999)
The U.S. government also sought to use secret evidence to expel six Iraqis brought to this country by the CIA. In another case, the government arrested and sought to deport eight Los Angeles activists for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine on the basis of secret evidence.
The use of secret evidence by the INS was first authorized by the 1996 anti-terrorism bill that followed the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings. Secret evidence has been used in about two dozen cases around the country in which the INS asserted national security concerns as the basis for depriving immigrants of the right to examine and confront adverse witnesses and evidence. All of the cases are against Arab or Muslim immigrants reported Lorraine Adams and David A. Vise of the Washington Post ("Classified Evidence Ruled Out in Deportation, Oct. 21, 1999).
For the first time, on October 20, a federal court weighed the constitutionality of the use of secret evidence and found it unconstitutional.
Federal district Judge William Walls held in Kiareldeen's case that "the government's reliance on secret evidence violates the due process protections that the Constitution directs must be extended to all persons within the United States, citizens and resident aliens alike."
However, the 1996 anti-terrorism bill has yet to be repealed or revised.
Representative David E. Bonior of Michigan, has introduced legislation to ban the use of secret evidence in deportation proceedings. Says Rep. Bonior, "we still have about 20 others who are being held, and it's a travesty of justice that this continues in our country without people having the right to face their accusers."
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