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High court blocks open detention hearings for terrorism suspects

By The Associated Press


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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court today blocked a judge from opening immigration hearings for foreign terrorism suspects, granting the Bush administration's emergency request for a stay.

The administration argued that U.S. security would be threatened if reporters and others were allowed to attend the hearings.

The high court, without comment, put on hold a judge's ruling that it is unconstitutional to impose a blanket policy closing all detention or deportation hearings that the government calls special-interest cases.

The intervention was the first by the Court in a dispute arising from the government's response to the terror attacks. It preserves the government's effort to secretly detain foreigners swept up in the terrorism investigation.

Civil rights and media organizations are seeking names and other information on an unknown number of foreign nationals held by the Immigration and Naturalization Service since Sept. 11.

U.S. District Judge John Bissell in New Jersey ruled last month against the blanket ban, but said that judges could close hearings on a case-by-case basis.

"If these proceedings are opened to the public 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," U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson wrote in a court filing.

The stay will give the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals time to review Bissell's May 29 ruling. The government has asked the court in Philadelphia to overturn the decision.

The appeals court agreed to quickly hear arguments in the case, but refused to stop open hearings in the meantime.

Olson said the hearings could reveal identities of foreign detainees, evidence of their links to terrorism and clues to how much the government knows about wider terrorist operations.

"The harms that would result from disclosure can never be undone," Olson told justices.

The government must be allowed to close administrative hearings that have generally been open "in light of the lessons from experience, as well as extraordinary situations like the present one," Olson wrote.

The closed hearings were challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and 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, a daily newspaper.

More than 100 foreign nationals picked up after Sept. 11 were still in custody as of late May, down from about 700, the Justice Department has said. The government has provided no updated figure, nor information about the charges detainees face. An unknown number have apparently pleaded guilty to immigration charges and have been deported.


Federal judge to government: Open detention hearing or let man go
Meanwhile, 3rd Circuit judges echo Justice Department concern that making proceedings public could help terrorists stage more attacks.  09.18.02


Justice Department asks high court to keep immigration hearings closed
Government seeks intervention from justices after failing to persuade federal appeals court to stay judge's ruling.  06.24.02


Colorado terror hearing held behind closed doors
Federal magistrate denies request by two newspapers to open to public the proceeding against James Ujaama.  07.29.02

N.J. high court won't hear appeal on releasing detainees' names
ACLU says it may ask U.S. Supreme Court to consider forcing government officials to identify those held in jail as part of terrorism investigation.  07.10.02

Former secretary of state criticizes secrecy surrounding detainees
'We must be very careful in this country of not holding people without revealing their names. It leads to the "disappeared,"' says Warren Christopher.  07.18.02

Bush administration condemns order to release detainee names
Federal judge says Justice Department hasn't proven need for blanket policy of secrecy; gives government 15 days to provide names.  08.05.02

Government can close deportation hearings, rules federal appeals panel
3rd Circuit panel finds attorney general has right to keep press, public out of proceedings for national security reasons; conflict with 6th Circuit ruling increases likelihood of Supreme Court appeal.  10.08.02