A federal judge appointed by President George Herbert Walker Bush has sided with Metro Times and other news organizations in a lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. U.S. District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds ruled on Wednesday, April 3, that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to close the deportation hearings of Rabih Haddad to the public and press.
"Openness is necessary for the public to maintain confidence in the value and soundness of the government’s actions, as secrecy only breeds suspicion as to why the government is proceeding against Haddad and aliens like him," Edmunds wrote (read the Judge's entire opinion here).
The ruling could have implications for immigration cases all over the country.
Haddad, a native of Lebanon, was arrested at his Ann Arbor home in December by the Immigration and Naturalization Services for overstaying his visa. Haddad co-founded an Islamic charity, Global Relief Foundation, which the federal government suspects has funded terrorist groups. The same day Haddad was arrested the federal government raided the charity’s offices. (See "Visa-vis Rabih," our Jan. 16 story which featured an exclusive interview with Haddad's wife.)
Metro Times, other media and the public were denied access to Haddad’s immigration hearings. In January, this publication, the Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press, the Ann Arbor News and U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit) sued Ashcroft and U.S. chief immigration Judge Michael Creppy and local immigration Judge Elizabeth Hacker in an attempt to gain access to the proceedings and to see documents from hearings that had been conducted in secret.
Ashcroft had ordered Creppy to instruct immigration judges, including Hacker, who is presiding over Haddad’s case, to close hearings to the public and press that involved investigations of the terrorist attacks.
"It’s a victory for the First Amendment," said Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU, which represented Metro Times, the Detroit News and U.S. Rep. Conyers in the lawsuit.
U.S. Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said the government has not decided whether it will appeal.
Edmunds did not rule on Haddad’s request for a new bond hearing. Haddad’s attorney, Ashraf Nubani, contends that Ashcroft’s order to close the hearings may have prejudiced Hacker, who denied Haddad’s release on bond.
Haddad is currently held at Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago. Nubani is trying to get him moved back to Michigan, where his wife, Salma Al-Rushaid, and their four children remain. Al-Rushaid and three of the children face deportation for overstaying their visas. Their next hearing, along with Haddad’s, is scheduled for April 10.
While welcoming Edmunds' ruling, Metro Times editor Jeremy Voas noted that in joining the litigation against the government, Metro Times is taking no position on Haddad's immigration status or his alleged role in Global Relief Network.
"We simply want to see what the government is doing with Haddad, and why," Voas said. "As Edmunds has affirmed, Americans have a right to know."Ann Mullen is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected]