News & Views » Columns

Open secret

The federal government finally admitted to this newspaper last week why the public and press have been barred from immigration hearings for Lebanese native Rabih Haddad.

You may recall that, for some time now, the feds have been insisting Haddad’s apprehension and closed hearing have had nothing to do with the events of Sept. 11 and the fact he co-founded the Chicago-based charity, Global Relief Foundation, which the government suspects may be funding terrorist activities.

By some odd coincidence, when it comes to secret hearings, Haddad is not the only Middle Eastern man facing proceedings cloaked from public view. And the American Civil Liberties Union’s Michael Steinberg notes that closed hearings “have grown exponentially since 9-11.”

Metro Times, The Detroit News and U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit) sued U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and two immigration judges last week in U.S. District Court for closing Haddad’s hearings; the ACLU filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs. The Detroit Free Press also filed a separate lawsuit last week because of the closed hearings; the court may consolidate the cases, says Steinberg. He also says that Haddad’s Feb. 19 immigration hearing “has been postponed indefinitely” since he was moved from Michigan to Chicago last month per the request of the U.S. Department of Justice for the northern district of Illinois. Justice won’t comment on the case.

The ACLU is scheduled to go before U.S. District Court Judge Nancy G. Edmunds on March 26 to argue that Haddad’s next immigration hearing — whenever that is — should be open to the public.

We’re told, by the way, that the deportation hearing of Salma Al-Rushaid, Haddad’s wife, will be open to the public. That hearing is scheduled for Feb. 12.

“It’s a simple straightforward deportation hearing. Those are typically open,” Immigration spokesperson Greg Gagne said when explaining why her proceedings weren’t being closed.

News Hits pointed out that Haddad, an Ann Arbor resident, is being accused of essentially the same violation as his wife. So what’s the difference?

“His is part of the investigation of the post 9-11 issue,” said Gagne. “That is why it has been what it’s been, which is closed. It may be a visa violation, but there is an association with post 9-11 investigation issues, which is why it’s closed.”

As far as we now, that’s the first time the government has admitted to what everyone assumed.

“The goal of the government is to not bring up any 9-11 related events,” said Steinberg.

The immigration judge presiding over Haddad’s case denied his release on bond last month, stating that he is a threat to society since he owns a hunting gun.

“It’s easier to rely on the hunting-rifle rationale,” said Steinberg. And Haddad’s immigration attorney, Ashraf Nubani, says that the government has provided no evidence connecting his client and 9-11.

That’s what we like, a government that prefers ease over truth.

Meanwhile, News Hits and our fellow travelers in litigation aren’t the only ones troubled by the handling of immigration proceedings. Last week the Los Angeles Times reported that judges of the Executive Office for Immigration Review — the judges who hear cases like Haddad’s — want to be removed from the Justice Department’s heavy-handed control. The judges, who plan to lobby Congress on the issue, say that since Sept. 11, their “core legal values” have been compromised.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette, Metro Times news editor. Call 313-202-8004 or e-mail cguyette@metrotimes.com

comment