- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 29, 2002

The Supreme Court yesterday stayed a ruling by a federal judge who ordered the government to end secret immigration hearings for foreign terrorism suspects.
In a victory for the Bush administration, the high court blocked the ruling by U.S. District Judge John Bissell in Newark, N.J., who concluded that the government violated the Constitution by ordering a blanket policy closing the detention and deportation hearings to the public and the media.
Judge Bissell, in his May 29 ruling, said the government could close the hearings only case by case
The stay gives the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia time to review Judge Bissell's ruling, and the appeals court agreed yesterday that it would hear the matter as soon as possible sometime later this summer. The government had asked the high court to overturn the ruling.
The high court's order was issued without comment, and there was no information on how many of the justices voted for the stay.
Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson told the court in a motion that in opening the immigration hearings to the public and the media "during the critical phase of the urgent threat to national security, terrorist organizations will have direct access to information about the government's ongoing investigation."
Mr. Olson said open immigration hearings could reveal the identities of the foreign detainees, compromise evidence of their links to known terrorists and put into the public domain information on how much the government knows about terrorist operations.
"The harms that would result from disclosure can never be undone," he said, arguing in the motion that the government must be allowed to keep the hearings private "in light of the lessons from experience, as well as extraordinary situations like the present one."
The hearings were closed on the order of Chief Immigration Judge Michael J. Creppy, acting on behalf of the Justice Department. He designated the immigration hearings as "special interest" cases because of security concerns involving the September 11 detainees.
Judge Creppy outlined security measures for cases determined by the Justice Department to be of special interest to the FBI terrorism investigation. His memo prohibited the cases from being listed on the court docket and prevented immigration judges from sharing information about the proceedings outside the court.
The high court's stay, which allows the government to continue to detain anonymously foreigners suspected of having ties to terrorists, is the first time a court has spoken publicly on the contentious issue.
Various civil liberties organizations and the media had sought the names and other information on about 100 foreigners, mostly Middle Eastern men, who are being held by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in the wake of the September 11 attacks on America.
The closed hearings were challenged in court earlier this year by the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York-based Center For Constitutional Rights on behalf of the New Jersey Law Journal, a weekly publication, and North Jersey Media Group, publisher of the Herald News of West Paterson.
"More people will be tried in secret, and that's unfortunate," Lee Gelernt, an ACLU lawyer who specializes in immigrant rights, told reporters. "They're appearing all by themselves in front of a judge, facing a trained INS prosecutor in secret. There's no public scrutiny of the process."
The Justice Department has detained hundreds of foreigners on immigration concerns since the September 11 attacks. The department has declined to comment on how many persons were detained or how many are being held.
The detentions were ordered by Attorney General John Ashcroft, who told civil rights groups and members of Congress that the detainees were being held in an effort to disrupt terrorist activities and protect Americans.
"The Department of Justice is waging a deliberate campaign of arrest and detention to protect American lives. We're removing suspected terrorists who violate the law from our streets to prevent further terrorist attacks," he said at a news conference.
"We believe we have al Qaeda membership in custody, and we will use every constitutional tool to keep suspected terrorists locked up," he said.
Many of those in custody were questioned by the Justice Department's terrorism task force. Others were named in a vast range of suspected crimes, from misuse of a passport to fraud.
"It would not be responsible for us, in a time of war, when our objective is to save American lives, to advertise to the opposing side that we have al Qaeda membership in custody," Mr. Ashcroft told reporters.
The Justice Department has denied that the civil rights of those in custody have been violated. The department said the INS has assisted detainees with information on how to obtain free counsel and that those in custody had the right to make phone calls to family members or lawyers.


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