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The government wrongly barred the public from immigration hearings for a founder of an Islamic charity who was detained after the Sept. 11 attacks, a federal judge in Detroit has ruled. The closed hearings for Rabih Haddad were unconstitutional, U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds of the Eastern District of Michigan said in a decision released Wednesday. Three lawsuits challenging the closed hearings were filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, media outlets and attorneys for Haddad. The government has not explained why it sought to bar the public. “Openness is necessary for the public to maintain confidence in the value and soundness of the Government’s actions,” Edmunds said in her ruling. The lawsuits were part of legal efforts to open secret court hearings and chip away secrecy surrounding detentions following the terrorist attacks. Across the country, hundreds of similar immigration hearings are pending for men of Arab descent. The Justice Department was reviewing the ruling Wednesday afternoon to “decide what to do next,” spokesman Charles Miller said. The ACLU represented The Detroit News, Metro Times and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., in a suit that named Attorney General John Ashcroft and U.S. Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy as defendants. Another suit involved the Detroit Free Press and The Ann Arbor News. Creppy issued a Sept. 21 memo instructing judges to close hearings involving detainees whose cases have been designated of “special interest” to the FBI. The judge’s ruling was “certainly a victory for the First Amendment,” said ACLU of Michigan spokeswoman Wendy Wagenheim. Herschel Fink, an attorney representing the Free Press, added that the decision “is clearly a home run for the public’s right to know what our government is doing.” Ashraf Nubani, a lawyer for Haddad, called the ruling a rebuke to the government’s treatment of his client. “We thought having closed hearings, especially where Congress and the law calls for open hearings in immigration cases, was inherently unfair,” he said. Haddad, who co-founded the Global Relief Foundation, is a native of Lebanon who lives in Ann Arbor, Mich. He has been in government custody on a visa violation since Dec. 14, when federal agents investigating terrorist links raided his group’s Bridgeview, Ill., offices. The government also is trying to deport Haddad’s wife and three of their four children. Three closed hearings in immigration court in Detroit were held involving Haddad before he was transferred to Chicago in January. Fink said the Free Press would ask for transcripts of those hearings. Haddad faces another hearing April 10. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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