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The State of Civil Liberties

ACLU Activism
Of course, the ACLU is not so easily deterred. Determined to identify and challenge abuses of civil liberties, we sent letters to the consulates of 10 countries offering legal assistance to innocent people caught up in the government's crackdown on terrorism. Foreign officials were at first hesitant, not knowing who we were - and frankly surprised that an American organization was offering to challenge its own government.

Ironically enough, they did eventually provide us with names and family contacts of detainees. And just who was the source of their information? Why no other than the U.S. government - the same government that was giving an organization made up of its own citizens - namely the ACLU - the run-around! With this information in hand, we have prepared several lawsuits on behalf of the rights of detainees.

On another front, the ACLU last month won a challenge brought in federal court on behalf of Representative John Conyers (D-MI), the Detroit News, and the Metro Times. Rep. Conyers and the members of the media were among hundreds turned away from three deportation hearings in the case of Rabih Haddad, a native of Lebanon and resident of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Mr. Haddad, who faces an immigration hearing, a founder of the Global Relief Foundation, an Islamic charity that has come under federal scrutiny for possible links to terror groups.

Federal District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds ruled Haddad's immigration hearing could not be closed to reporters. The judge insisted that "Openness is necessary for the public to maintain confidence in the value and soundness of the government's actions, as secrecy only breeds suspicion."

The ACLU has also challenged the closed hearing policy in New Jersey, in a lawsuit brought on behalf of local news outlets. And in two separate state and federal cases the ACLU is seeking basic information about the detainees remaining in government custody.

In the New Jersey case, the judge ruled recently that under state law, the government must release the names of detainees in New Jersey jails. The federal government, which intervened in the case, has indicated it will appeal.

Finally, the ACLU is closely monitoring the establishment of military tribunals ordered last year by the President. Counter to assertions by the Administration, these tribunals appear starkly different from regular courts-martial. They might, for example, deny any appeal to a civilian body independent of the executive branch. Such a drastic measure would put the lives of defendants solely in the hands of the President, and violate basic American and international principles of fairness and justice.