tomwhore at slack.net
Tue Apr 8 12:13:42 PDT 2003
"A federal judge acknowledged for the first time Monday that federal
agents are holding an Arab American software engineer as a material
witness in a terrorism investigation.
>From Our Advertiser
Nearly three weeks after his March 20 arrest, Maher "Mike" Hawash appeared
before U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Jones in a closed 14th-floor
courtroom in the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland.
While the press and public were barred from the hearing by armed guards,
Jones issued an order saying Hawash was being legally held as part of a
grand jury investigation.
Jones ordered prosecutors to secure Hawash's testimony directly or through
a deposition by April 25 and scheduled another closed-door detention
hearing for April 29.
"I regret that the proceedings related to this matter must occur in a
closed courtroom," Jones wrote.
But he said the information needed to determine Hawash's detention status
is "purportedly" the same evidence being considered by a grand jury.
Hawash, born in Nablus on the West Bank and raised in Kuwait, has been a
U.S. citizen since 1988.
The Oregonian reported March 21 that Hawash, 38, had been arrested by the
FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force at his Intel office and was being held as
a material witness in an investigation of an alleged terrorist cell.
Hawash's involvement or knowledge of the six defendants already charged in
that case is unknown.
Subsequently, a group of Hawash's friends and former co-workers have used
the Internet and news media to spread the word of what they say is a
terrible injustice: a U.S. citizen secreted away by government agents
without explanation or public scrutiny.
In the past week, Hawash's case has become known across the country as one
of the few known examples of the Bush administration's expanding use of
the material witness law in the name of national security, though dozens
of people reportedly have been arrested under the law since the Sept. 11,
2001, terrorist attacks.
The use of the 1984 material witness statutes to hold people without
charging them is not a new phenomenon. It was designed to compel grand
jury or trial testimony from frightened or reluctant witnesses, and
historically it has been used in organized crime or alien smuggling cases.
But since the attacks, the law has been used more frequently to detain
people, sometimes indefinitely. In defending the tactic, Attorney General
John Ashcroft has called the law vital to stopping new terrorist attacks.
The Justice Department has refused to divulge the number of people held as
material witnesses in the war on terror.
Arrest not acknowledged Despite media requests, the government never
publicly acknowledged Hawash's arrest. There was no public court record of
it or of the searches of his home and office. And his name was stripped
from a federal prison Web site after prosecutors learned it was there.
Defense attorneys, civil libertarians and open-government advocates argue
that increased use of the material witness statutes, combined with other
expanded law enforcement techniques, has created an unprecedented level of
secrecy in a court system built on the basic pillar of openness.
Sarah Margon, a policy analyst for the Center for National Security
Studies in Washington, D.C., said the center has documented at least 25
cases in which material witnesses arrested after Sept 11 were later
charged with criminal violations.
"It seems to me to be a stretching of the material witness statute," she
said. "It's very important that the government goes after suspected
terrorists and that the nation is secure, but I don't think that security
has to be exchanged for liberty."
Margie Paris, a professor at the University of Oregon Law School, said
secrecy in grand jury proceedings is normal and legal. Using the material
witness statute to preserve someone's testimony is proper, she said.
"It is not lawful to arrest people and detain them because you think
you're going to be able to charge them or if you think they're involved in
some activity, and you want to stop them," she said.
The trouble with secrecy The trouble with Hawash's case, said Susan
Mandiberg, a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, is that secrecy is
preventing the public from assessing exactly what's happening, fueling
"Whenever there's a lack of information, it makes it possible that people
will think the worst," she said.
The possibilities run the gamut, from Hawash negotiating an immunity deal
to the government making random arrests in a totalitarian fashion, she
Such concerns prompted Maher Hawash's friends and supporters to gather
peacefully Monday in a spring drizzle on the granite steps of the federal
courthouse. They held signs asking for Hawash's release and hoped that he
knew he hadn't been forgotten.
Others were concerned about the erosion of civil liberties. Mike and Maria
Prescott came from Aurora to protest.
"We're just appalled at what the government is resorting to," Maria
Prescott said. "This isn't what America is supposed to be."
Others who worship with Hawash at the Bilal Mosque in Beaverton said there
is fear in the Muslim community. One man, who spoke through an
interpreter, asked that his name not be used.
"If there is no justice, then this thing may end up spilling over to more
Muslims in this country," he said. "We ask for justice for all the
people." Mark Larabee: 503-294-7664; marklarabee at news.oregonian.com "
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