Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2001, Pages 14, 81
Algerian Victim of Secret Evidence Dr. Anwar Haddam Embraces Freedom
By Asma Yousef
On Dec. 7, Dr. Anwar Haddam, an Algerian national detained under secret evidence, walked out of a Virginia federal prison for the first time in four years—the longest period of detention experienced in the short yet cruel history of secret evidence. Throughout his incarceration, Dr. Haddam was never charged with a crime, nor were he or his lawyers ever given a chance to face the alleged evidence against him.
Dr. Haddam is not a newcomer to the United States. The 45-year-old native and citizen of Algeria studied in the United States for four years while completing his undergraduate work in nuclear physics. Following his return to Algeria in 1984, Dr. Haddam worked as a professor at the University of Science and Technology in Algiers.
For over 20 years, Dr. Haddam was an active member of Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), a popular grass roots political party. In 1991, the FIS won a majority of the popular vote in the first round of Algerian municipal elections, characterized as “democratic” by the U.S. State Department. Voters in his district elected Dr. Haddam to parliament. Before the second round of elections could take place, however, the Algerian army intervened and annulled the elections, arresting FIS members, banning FIS as a political organization, and placing the president under house arrest. Dr. Haddam fled Algeria in March of 1992, and on April 7, 1993 filed for political asylum in the United States.
While awaiting a decision on his application, Dr. Haddam was granted permission to travel abroad on seven different occasions to represent FIS. The INS was in fact well aware of Dr. Haddam’s work as an FIS spokesperson and as the head of the FIS parliamentary delegation in exile. In October 1996, the INS denied Dr. Haddam’s request for asylum. On Dec. 5 his parole status was revoked, and on Dec. 6, 1996 the INS detained him.
The detention began a tedious administrative and legal nightmare in which the INS and the Justice Department used every possible venue provided by secret evidence to stall, obstruct, and delay the release of Dr. Haddam. Instead of gathering sufficient evidence prior to making an arrest, as is customary, the INS held Haddam in prison for four years while it attempted to put together a loose case. In the absence of competent evidence, the INS resorted to character assassination and defamation of Dr. Haddam under the guise of secret evidence.
The first immigration judge to hear Haddam’s case in July 1997 declined to review the alleged classified information against Dr. Haddam, while nevertheless denying Haddam’s request for political asylum. The judge based his decision on Haddam’s role as FIS spokesperson, and specifically on an alleged affiliation between FIS and the Armed Islamic Group (GIA)—an affiliation which was never proven and which Dr. Haddam fiercely denied.
Another immigration judge agreed to consider the classified evidence against Haddam. Upon reviewing the evidence, in September, 1998 the immigration judge found no evidence validating the government’s claim that Dr. Haddam was a “persecutor of others,” and found instead that Dr. Haddam was statutorily eligible for a grant of asylum.
The case was referred to yet another judge, however, for further review of the relevance of the evidence. While this judge allowed the INS to introduce additional classified information, Haddam and his lawyers were refused a chance to see any of the evidence in order to contest it.
According to Kit Gage, national coordinator of the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedoms, “evidence” produced by the government in secret evidence cases is usually hearsay and unsubstantiated innuendoes aimed at tarnishing the defendant’s image and influencing the judge. Such information is easily rebutted, she contends, but is conveniently kept secret from the defendant and his lawyer.
The third judge’s May 1999 ruling, as a result, denied Haddam’s application for asylum on statutory and discretionary grounds. Furthermore, although the INS agreed in theory to recommendations by various judges to deport Dr. Haddam to a third country, to which he in fact acquiesced, it delayed his release indefinitely.
Significantly, all of the judges who considered the case consistently acknowledged that Dr. Haddam should not be deported back to Algeria, where he has been sentenced to execution. Ironically, however, the basis for judging Dr. Haddam a threat to U.S. national security was not necessarily his alleged involvement in terrorist acts—since the INS never was able to prove this. Other rationalizations, therefore, were devised. One judge, for example, who ruled against Dr. Haddam, acknowledged that he had a “well-founded fear of persecution.” The judge asserted, however, that because Haddam is wanted by the Algerian government, he could potentially become the target of future attacks while residing in the U.S. This, she contended, could pose a threat to others. In essence, then, it was Haddam’s status as a human rights victim of the Algerian government, and not his own actions, that justified his continued incarceration.
On Nov. 30, 2000 the Board of Immigration Appeals found nothing in the government’s evidence to justify the continued detention of Dr. Haddam. The judge not only declared Dr. Haddam eligible for asylum, but also found no evidence that he posed any threat to the security of the United States. In fact, the judge found that Dr. Haddam deserves a “favorable exercise of discretion.”
According to Malea Qiblan, Dr. Haddam’s lawyer, “The court’s decision vindicates Dr. Haddam, for the court unanimously declared that the INS did not produce a shred of competent evidence to substantiate any claims against him.”
Despite INS protests and pending appeals, Dr. Anwar Haddam was set free four years and one day after he was first imprisoned.
Dr. Haddam’s experience sheds light on the raw injustice permitted under the guise of protecting national security. In practice, secret evidence has been used almost exclusively against Arab and Muslim Americans, prompting many to believe that secret evidence was intended to reinforce existing stereotypes about an alleged “green threat” posed by the country’s Muslim and Arab community.
Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, views abuses sanctioned by secret evidence as part of a continuing governmental infringement on constitutionally protected rights. He explained that because Arab Americans are considered the weak link in the civil rights struggle, “they have carried the brunt of responsibility of testing and protecting civil liberties.”
“All I wanted was a right to defend my name,” Dr. Haddam said following his release. Asserting that American Muslims should be viewed as a viable and legitimate part of American society, he said that secret evidence was used primarily to intimidate members of the larger Arab-American community from exercising their right of free expression and of association. Many long-time friends were afraid to answer his calls, he said, for fear that they were under surveillance and might be questioned or intimidated by the INS.
Dr. Haddam was joined by representatives of Reps. Tom Campbell and David Bonior as well as of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Arab American Institute, American Muslim Council, Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Institute, Minaret Organization, and others. HR 2121, a bill designed to repeal the Anti-Terrorism Act, which authorized secret evidence, is expected to be reintroduced next year for reconsideration in the U.S Congress.
Asma Yousef is the circulation director of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, on Middle East Affairs.