House Panel Hears Testimony on 'Secret Evidence' Bill

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

( - An American Muslim lobby will be closely watching Tuesday when an anti-terrorism specialist urges a congressional committee to retain a provision allowing "secret evidence" to be used against illegal aliens suspected of terrorist activity.

The House Judiciary Committee is considering the Secret Evidence Repeal Act. The bill would revoke a section of 1996 anti-terrorism law, which allows the government to use secret evidence in deportation hearings, on the grounds that revealing the information would threaten national security.

Steven Emerson, an award-winning investigative journalist and terrorism specialist, confirmed he will testify in support of the US government continuing to use classified intelligence to prevent illegal alien terrorists from operating in the U.S.

Others expected to testify include representatives of two major Jewish organizations and the parents of an American killed in an Islamic terror attack in Israel.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, which describes itself as a "Washington-based Islamic advocacy group," has sent an alert to its supporters, urging "Muslims nationwide to contact the committee to protest Emerson's appearance."

"American Muslims and civil libertarians believe secret evidence is unconstitutional and that it is used disproportionately against members of the Muslim and Arab-American communities.

"The act's sponsors [Rep. David Bonior (D-MI) and Rep. Tom Campbell (R-CA)] say more than 20 of the 25 individuals held on the basis of secret evidence are Muslims and/or Arabs."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations says Emerson promotes a blatant anti-Muslim agenda, that he has a "long history of defamatory and inaccurate attacks on the Islamic community in this country."

Emerson insists he clearly differentiates between militant and mainstream Islam.

He has called CAIR and other organizations "militant Islamic groups falsely masquerading as 'civil rights' groups" and he says CAIR has made statements "openly lauding terrorist groups."

Commenting on the latest CAIR lobbying effort, he said: "I will be testifying despite efforts by CAIR to malign me and fabricate ... but I would not expect anything different from a Hamas front."

In his controversial 1994 PBS documentary Jihad in America, Emerson claimed that Mideast terror groups like Hamas were linked to Muslim organizations in the U.S.

Appeal to Clinton

Last week, CAIR representatives met President Clinton in Atlanta, where they urged him to support the Secret Evidence Repeal Act and to free those imprisoned through the use of secret evidence.

"The use of secret evidence undermines our democracy and lessens the international credibility of the United States on the issue of human rights," CAIR said.

"Clinton said he would consider the request," CAIR said in a statement.

Other libertarian groups also support the repeal.

In a statement earlier this year, Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist called the secret evidence law "a threat to the civil liberties of law abiding citizens."

"The reality is that the use of secret evidence is antithetical to the premises of our judicial system. It is never appropriate for the government to use the secret evidence law. If allowed to continue, the secret evidence law will eventually be extended to taxpayers."

'Look beyond political correctness'

In his prepared testimony, Emerson will say that supporters of the repeal deserve credit for defending civil liberties and human rights.

But, he continues, "by failing to look at the issue of 'secret evidence' beyond the politically correct buzz words, they have unwittingly provided dangerous traction for the political interests of militant Islamic organizations operating in the U.S. - skilled in talking the talk of democracy and human rights, but harboring an ulterior agenda that is anything but democratic."

Acknowledging that the majority of those now held on secret evidence are Arabs or Muslims, Emerson points out that the State Department's annual report on global terrorism shows that 98.3 per cent of Americans killed or wounded in terrorism between 1993 and 1999 were attacked either in the Middle East and South Asia, or by perpetrators associated with those two regions.

This reality, he says, is "not an invention of Hollywood nor a stereotype but rather reflects an accurate and sober assessment of the truth."

Jewish concerns

Also backing the retention of the bill are the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.

AJC president Bruce Ramer, who will participate in today's hearing, has urged Congress to reject the proposed law on the grounds that it "fails to draw the appropriate balance between due process concerns and national security interests."

He said the AJC was committed to the U.S. maintaining a fair and generous immigration policy, but at the same time supported the need for "tough legislation that is mindful of preserving the liberties we all cherish while giving law enforcement authorities the tools to apprehend terrorists."

Ramer argued that another provision in the 1996 anti-terror law - the Alien Terrorism Removal Act - allowed for a "removal court" presided over by life-time appointed federal judges rather than immigration judges, and which gave suspected aliens an opportunity for fair and adequate defense.

Most importantly, he said, that provision required that a defendant be provided with a summary of the classified information, sufficient to allow for the preparation of a defense.

Yet the provision had never been invoked, Ramer said, and would be eliminated by the new proposed law.

Also reportedly scheduled to take part in Tuesday's hearing are the parents of Alisa Flatow, a 20-year-old New Jersey college student killed with seven others in a 1995 Islamic Jihad suicide bombing in the Gaza Strip.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow