Appeals court blocks release of immigration-hearing transcripts for now
By The Associated Press
DETROIT A federal appeals court today temporarily blocked the release of transcripts of closed immigration hearings for the detained founder of an Islamic charity.
The three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled that the Justice Department did not have to turn over transcripts of hearings for Rabih Haddad by a 4 p.m. deadline today.
At issue was the government's effort to exclude the press and public from U.S. Immigration Court hearings for Haddad, and to suppress transcripts of three hearings held since his arrest in December.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds ruled last week that the Justice Department improperly barred the press and public from the hearings. She ordered yesterday that the government turn over the transcripts to lawyers for Haddad, Detroit-area newspapers and U.S. Rep. John Conyers.
The Justice Department asked the appeals court last night to block Edmunds' order. Led by the Detroit Free Press, the parties seeking the transcripts filed a motion today opposing the government's request.
The appeals panel gave the Justice Department until April 22 to submit further arguments against Edmunds' order, gave the plaintiffs until May 2 to respond and set a May 7 deadline for the government to reply.
Today's ruling had little effect on the Haddad case, said Kary Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Michigan branch. "The court said, 'We want time to review this case on its merits and we want everything to stay until we do that."'
Haddad, meanwhile, faces an April 24 hearing on whether he should be expelled from the United States for overstaying his tourist visa. He has been in federal custody since Dec. 14, when he was arrested at his home in Ann Arbor.
The appeals court today only blocked the release of transcripts of Haddad's earlier hearings, Moss said. "Unless the 6th Circuit reverses Judge Edmunds before the 24th, there is an order from the District Court that the hearing be open," she said.
The same day Haddad was arrested, federal authorities raided and later shut down the Bridgeview, Ill., offices of the Global Relief Foundation, an Islamic charity he co-founded.
The government also froze Global Relief's assets, saying it aided terrorists. It has not explained how the charity helped terrorists, nor has it said Haddad is linked to terrorism.
On Sept. 21, Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy ordered other immigration judges to close hearings on detainees whose cases Ashcroft designated as having "special interest" to the FBI.
Nationwide, about 700 such proceedings have been closed, the Free Press reported.
Edmunds said in her order yesterday that "the Creppy memorandum is not narrowly tailored" and so violates the First Amendment's guarantees of press freedom.
Justice Department lawyer Michael Lindemann told Edmunds in a conference call yesterday that making Sept. 11 attack-linked immigration hearings public would endanger the investigation and aid terrorists in future attacks.
"Public hearings will reveal sources and types of information," Lindemann said. He said terrorist groups could learn about investigators' methods and discover what they do or do not know about terrorist cells.
"The zeal with which (Attorney General John) Ashcroft is pursuing this is kind of amazing," said Jonathan Rowe, an attorney representing The Ann Arbor News, one of the newspapers seeking transcripts of the Haddad hearings. "If (the government) had anything at any of those hearings that had anything to do with national security, you think they wouldn't have shown it to Judge Edmunds?"
Haddad, 41, a citizen of Lebanon, was transferred to Chicago and remains in custody there after the three hearings before an immigration judge in Detroit.
The Free Press, The Detroit News, The Ann Arbor News, the weekly Metro Times and Conyers, D-Mich., sued to open Haddad's hearings. The Detroit News, the Metro Times and Conyers were represented by ACLU lawyers.
In December, NATO raided Global Relief offices in Yugoslavia, saying it was "suspected of supporting worldwide terrorist activities and is allegedly involved in planning attacks against targets in the USA and Europe."
Global Relief has said it helps innocent civilians and does not support terrorism.
Haddad's wife, Salma al-Rashaid, and three of their four children also face a hearing April 24 before U.S. Immigration Judge Elizabeth Hacker in Detroit. Like Haddad, al-Rashaid and the children are accused of overstaying their visas.
Appeals court allows release of immigration-hearing transcripts
Meanwhile, INS orders state, local governments not to release names of those detained since Sept. 11.
Federal judge: Immigration hearings should be open to public, press
Justice Department improperly barred access to proceedings for co-founder of Islamic charity, court finds.