Michigan newspapers sue to access immigration hearings
By The Associated Press
DETROIT Two federal lawsuits have been filed seeking to open the deportation hearings of a founder of an Islamic charity accused of funding terrorist activities.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit Jan. 29 on behalf of The Detroit News, the weekly Metro Times, and Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit.
The Detroit Free Press and The Ann Arbor News filed a separate suit Jan. 28.
Rabih Haddad, co-founder of the Global Relief Foundation, has been in government custody since Dec. 14. He was arrested the same day federal agents raided his group's Bridgeview, Ill., offices.
Since his arrest, Haddad has had three hearings in immigration court in Detroit, all of which were closed to the public. Government officials have not explained why secrecy is necessary.
"Right now, we don't have any comment, because we haven't seen the paperwork," Greg Palmore, a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Detroit, said Jan. 29.
The Free Press and The Ann Arbor News asked the court for a preliminary injunction requiring the government to give "access to all future proceedings related to Haddad." They also want transcripts of the earlier hearings and copies of all documents related to the case.
"It's important that justice be conducted in the open," said Free Press Managing Editor Carole Leigh Hutton. "Even the most serious and sensitive cases can't be conducted in secrecy."
The ACLU lawsuit names U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft as the defendant. The other suit names Ashcroft, U.S. Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy and U.S. Immigration Judge Elizabeth Hacker.
"Never before has there been an attempt to have a blanket closure of proceedings like this," said Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. "We think it's a clear violation of the First Amendment."
Mark Silverman, publisher and editor of The Detroit News, said, "This country has run well on a foundation of an open government and an open judiciary." That process should continue, he added.
Haddad, 41, is in a federal prison in Chicago, where he is expected to testify in a grand jury hearing, said his attorney, Ashraf Nubani.
"Court proceedings like these should be open to the public except when national security issues are involved or when lives are at stake," said Ann Arbor News editor Ed Petykiewicz.
Herschel Fink, lawyer for the Free Press, said the results of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 should not be a loss of freedoms.
"These kinds of proceedings have traditionally been open in our country," Fink said. "The people in our country have a right to know what goes on in our courts."
The Detroit News is owned by Gannett Co. Inc., the Free Press is owned by Knight Ridder and The Ann Arbor News is owned by Advance Publications.
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