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Testimony of Congressman David E. Bonior (D-MI)

House Judiciary Committee

Hearing on H.R. 2121, the Secret Evidence Repeal Act

May 23, 2000

Mr. Chairman, I want to join my colleague Tom Campbell in thanking you, Mr. Conyers and members of the committee for arranging this hearing today.

Our Constitution deliberately and specifically protects the rights of individuals against abuses of government. These rights are central to our Constitution, and are core guarantees of our individual liberty. They are not abstract ideals. And the people denied these rights are not faceless, anonymous victims.

They are real people with families, jobs and dreams. You will hear today from Nahla Al-Arian, the sister of a man who has been jailed in Florida for more than three years without even being charged with a crime, without being able to see any evidence against him and without any opportunity to post bail.

Mazen Al Najjar of Tampa Bay, Florida is the father of three daughters. He is a loving husband, scholar, marriage counselor, a leader of his mosque, and a respected man in his community. Mazen has been in the United States for 19 years. He overstayed his visa, but unlike most overstays, he was not provided with relief. He was arrested in May of 1997. Mazen was arrested in front of his children and taken to jail.

Amnesty International considers Mazen and some of the targets of secret evidence in the United States to be political prisoners.

As the Miami Herald said, "To jail a person indefinitely without charge or trial would be understandable in Cuba, Iran, North Korea or Algeria. But in America, it's unconstitutional."

Secret evidence is a national embarrassment, and we need to take action.

The right to confront your accuser, to hear the evidence against you, and to secure a speedy trial are fundamental tenets of the American justice system.

Secret evidence violates our deepest trust in the right to due process, and violates our democracy's most sacred document, the United States Constitution.

Three federal judges have ruled that the use of secret evidence is unconstitutional. When the government was finally forced to reveal the evidence in these cases, it was hearsay or unsubstantiated. Unfortunately, about 20 more people remain detained under secret evidence. All but one of these men are Arab or Muslim, and some of them have lived in the United States for years, with their wives and children.

Do we wait for the courts to act on these cases, one by one, as has been the case for the past several years, or do we afford justice now? How many more days and weeks and months away from their children must Mazen Al-Najjar and the other detainees suffer?

That is why I believe the Congress must take legislative action to repeal secret evidence. Not because our commitment to combating terrorism has grown weak, but because our love for the Bill of Rights has never been more strong. Striking a balance between protecting our individual liberties and safeguarding our national security has always been one of the fundamental challenges of democracy, but I would argue that we must be very careful not to erode that which we seek to defend -- the rights and freedoms that imbue our democracy with meaning.

I would like to share with you, if I could, a quote from a decision by the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia from Haddam v. Reno, a recent secret evidence case:

The use of secret evidence against a party is an obnoxious practice, so unfair that in any ordinary litigation context, its unconstitutionality is manifest.

I urge the committee to look favorably upon H.R. 2121, to defend the Constitution, and to put an end to secret evidence.

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