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With war in Iraq looming, the largely invisible U.S. campaign against terror being waged in the nation’s federal courts surfaced in extraordinary ways in Miami last week. A published court calendar for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was obliterated to omit the names of litigants in a sealed civil case brought by an Algerian man the Miami Daily Business Review has learned was among 1,200 young Arab and Muslim men secretly detained in the post-Sept. 11 nationwide dragnet. Later, the appellate court’s computer records were altered to remove from public view any information about the case, No. 02-11060. In between, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit closed its courtroom March 5 to the public and the press to hear arguments in the sealed case. Court records that were briefly public said the case is styled Mohamed Kamel Bellahouel v. Monica S. Wetzel. Wetzel is a former warden at the Federal Correctional Institution in South Miami-Dade County. “That’s very unusual,” said one federal judge, referring to the closure of the appeals court. Also unusual: The public docket for the Southern District of Florida, where the case apparently originated, is devoid of any mention of either Bellahouel or his case. From its style, the case appears to involve a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Typically, even sealed cases appear on the public docket. Persons seeking release from unlawful imprisonment routinely file such writs. Why the appeal is taking place is unclear, however, because Bellahouel is out of federal custody and living in Deerfield Beach, Fla., with his American-born wife. Bellahouel declined to be interviewed. “I cannot talk about it. I am not allowed,” said Bellahouel, who has not been charged with any crime. In another case, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has taken secret steps to remove from the public record any trace of a habeas corpus case brought by a stateless Palestinian man from Sunrise, Fla., who’s fighting deportation after being labeled a “terrorist” by an immigration judge late last year. The matter is so sensitive that even the government’s motion to seal is sealed. Adham Amin Hassoun is the first person in the United States known to have been ordered out of the country for alleged terrorist activities, according to local and national civil rights attorneys, including the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. Hassoun, an activist in South Florida’s Muslim community, was detained in June by agents from South Florida’s Joint Terrorism Task Force who’d learned of his friendship with alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla. The two once attended the same Broward, Fla., mosque. Hassoun was accused of overstaying his 1990 nonimmigrant student visa. In December, Hassoun filed a 23-page habeas petition in U.S. District Court now assigned to Judge K. Michael Moore. The filing, first reported in the Miami Daily Business Review, made public the outline of the government’s secret case against him. The petition says the FBI has accused Hassoun of recruiting terrorists, taking part in an unidentified assassination plot, and being a member of a group whose leader was convicted in connection with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. U.S. Immigration Judge Neale S. Foster in Miami also said in court that Hassoun “had contact” with Osama bin Laden, the petition says. Hassoun and his Miami lawyer, Akhtar Hussain, deny he’s a terrorist. And they say the government has produced no evidence to back up its accusations. In a telephone interview from the Department of Homeland Security’s Krome Processing Facility in southwestern Miami-Dade last week, Hassoun said the government included its two-page motion to seal his case among a batch of secret evidence it filed recently. Hassoun, who is representing himself in U.S. District Court, said the evidence is precisely what the FBI in the INS court used against him. The government’s filing of secret evidence in the case is a matter of public record. But what the case file doesn’t indicate, in either its electronic or paper versions, is that the government is now moving to seal the entire habeas case. “Have I ever seen that happen in 20 years of practice? No,” said Hussain. “Times have changed.” The lack of public notice about the United States’ intentions has the practical effect of foreclosing any opportunity to respond by the public or the press. The government’s secret move to seal Hassoun’s case is “scary,” said Lucas Guttentag, the Oakland, Calif.-based director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Across-the-board secrecy or closure orders that are themselves secret deny the public the right to judge our government’s actions,” Guttentag said. The courts, he said, should resist granting blanket secrecy orders and “provide an opportunity for the press and public to oppose the closure.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Dexter Lee, who filed the motion, declined comment. Jacqueline Becerra, the spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Marcos Jimenez, said her office would not comment. GOVERNMENT’S ‘CONCERTED EFFORT’ Defense attorneys across the nation have complained about being hamstrung by the Justice Department’s aggressive assertion of secrecy in both criminal and civil court proceedings that have arisen from the investigation of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. “There’s been a concerted effort to cut defense lawyers out of the process, to make it impossible for people accused of terrorism offenses to mount an effective defense,” said Neal R. Sonnett, a Miami attorney who chairs the American Bar Association’s Task Force on Treatment of Enemy Combatants. “Counsel can be deprived of access to evidence and of access to the client. So if there is a lawyer, the lawyer is basically fighting with both hands and both feet tied behind his back,” he said. Sonnett pointed to the government’s practice of sidestepping the Classified Information Procedures Act as a particular problem. The act established rules by which lawyers can get access to classified information needed to defend their clients. “The act effectively weighs national security concerns versus the right to present an effective defense,” Sonnett said. “There is a difference between that kind of procedure and the presentation of secret evidence that even the defense lawyer can’t see.” AUSA Lee is also involved in Bellahouel’s case, appearing at last week’s closed-door appellate court hearing with Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne Schultz, chief of the office’s appeals section. Schultz also declined comment. The appellate panel judges were Ed Carnes, Stanley F. Birch Jr. and Procter Hug Jr. Hug, from Reno, Nev., is a senior U.S. Circuit judge and a former chief judge for the 9th Circuit. Government-imposed secrecy in the Bellahouel case has also kept under wraps the names of Bellahouel’s attorneys. But their identities became apparent at the March 5 hearing when the doors to the courtroom were shut and court deputies briefly blocked Federal Public Defender Kathleen Williams from entering. Williams was admitted after it was explained she was an attorney in the case. Also in the courtroom was Williams’ chief of appeals, Paul Rashkind. Neither Williams nor Rashkind would comment. Asked about the alteration of published court records to remove Bellahouel’s name, the appellate court’s chief deputy clerk in Atlanta said office personnel acted after realizing an error had been made. The case is sealed, he said, and access is restricted. “We made a mistake. It shouldn’t have been put out in the first place,” said Robert Phelps March 5 after the hearing. After being told Bellahouel’s name was still accessible in the court’s computer system, Phelps replied, “It is? We’ll have to fix that, too.” Within hours, Bellahouel’s name had been removed. The unusual secrecy that’s accompanied the Bellahouel case, and the government’s pending motion to seal Hassoun’s case, caught the attention of the ACLU in Miami. “This is very disconcerting,” said Florida ACLU legal director Randall Marshall. “There’s no public motion in the district court in the Hassoun case, and now you combine that with the post-9/11 case appearing at the 11th Circuit in a secret fashion. I think we’d be interested in taking a look at how it came about.”

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