First Amendment topicsAbout the First Amendment
News Story
 
High court won't hear detainee secrecy case

By The Associated Press
02.23.04

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said today that it would not hear a challenge to government secrecy in the case of a former waiter who may have served some of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

The Court did not comment in turning down M.K.B. v. Warden, 03-6747, an appeal over public and media access to sealed court documents in the case, which has been prosecuted in near total secrecy.

Lawyers for Mohamed Kamel Bellahouel asked the justices to consider whether lower federal courts acted improperly in keeping the government's case against their client so secret that its mere existence was revealed only by accident.

"In an extraordinary set of secret cases, the courts below sealed an entire habeas corpus proceeding and appeal," including every court filing and ruling, with no public order giving any reason for the secrecy and without making any distinction between information that should be public and that which might justifiably be secret, the lawyers wrote.

"This petition raises the common law and First Amendment rights of the public and the news media, who are oblivious to the proceedings below and cannot be heard themselves," Bellahouel's lawyers wrote.

Bellahouel was one of hundreds of foreigners rounded up after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The government has refused to release names and information about the detentions, arguing that a blanket secrecy policy is needed to protect national security.

Bellahouel, an Algerian who worked as a waiter in South Florida, came under FBI scrutiny because Sept. 11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan al Shehhi dined where he worked in the weeks before the attacks.

It is not clear whether Bellahouel knows anything about the hijackers or their plans, but he was never charged with any terrorism crime.

The case does not concern Bellahouel's actual treatment at the hands of the government, which arrested and detained him on immigration violation charges, but ultimately released him on $10,000 bond.

Bellahouel, identified in court documents only by his initials M.K.B., is married to an American and is trying to stay in the United States. His lawyers describe him as one of "countless innocent Middle Eastern men" secretly detained after the attacks.

Large sections of his Supreme Court filing were edited out before the document was released publicly at the Court, but some blank sections apparently deal with Bellahouel's interrogation by the FBI and his reported testimony before a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va.

Bellahouel's name and some details of his case were first reported by a Miami newspaper, the Daily Business Review. The newspaper learned of the case because of a clerical error at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The case was briefly listed on the court's public docket, but then removed.

The Bush administration replied to Bellahouel's appeal at the Supreme Court, but the filing is secret. The administration has argued in other cases that national security justifies the policy of blanket secrecy in post-Sept. 11 immigration cases. Release of information such as names and details of those arrested could help terrorists track the progress of the U.S. investigation, the government has said.

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal last year from newspapers that sought information about similar detentions. That case was North Jersey Media Group v. Ashcroft.


Previous
Bush administration tries to keep high court arguments secret
Immigrant asks justices to consider whether the government acted improperly by secretly jailing him after Sept. 11 attacks, keeping his court fight private. 01.06.04

Related

Court concludes 2003-04 First Amendment docket

First Amendment Center Web site offers 2003-04 docket sheet, extensive case data, analysis; experts available for interviews. 07.01.04

Feds ask group to pay almost $373,000 for records
People for the American Way Foundation says Justice Department is making cost exceedingly high to deter its request for documents about people jailed after 9/11 attacks. 02.01.05

Official secrecy helps terrorists undermine democracy
By Douglas Lee Openness of U.S. judicial system has become a casualty in the war on terror. 01.13.04

News summary page
View the latest news stories throughout the First Amendment Center Online.

print this   Print


Last system update: Tuesday, February 10, 2009 | 09:02:17
 SEARCH  MORE
About this site
About the First Amendment
About the First Amendment Center
Video/RSS/podcasts
First Amendment programs
State of the First Amendment
reports

First Reports
Supreme Court
Experts
Columnists
First Amendment publications
First Amendment Center history
Glossary
Freedom Singsā„¢
Events
First Amendment
Schools

Congressional Research Service reports
Guest editorials
FOI material
The First Amendment
Library

Lesson plans
freedomforum.org
Newseum
Contact us
Privacy statement
Related links