> Family of detainee feels like suspects
> Supporters of Palestinian Mazen Al-Najjar say federal agents tried to
> intimidate them and make Al-Najjar look bad before a judge.
> By SUSAN ASCHOFF
> =A9 St. Petersburg Times, published April 24, 2000
> MIAMI -- Eleven-year-old Yara Al-Najjar has not hugged her father for more
> than a year. She has seen him only through plexiglass at a jail. So when he
> entered the federal courtroom before a hearing last week, Yara went to see
> A federal agent stood and confronted her: "Take your seat."
> She did, putting her head in her hands and sobbing.
> Another officer, seated behind her, barked again. "Put your head up," he
> She cannot understand why they were so cruel. "Why do they care if I cry?"
> Her father, Mazen Al-Najjar, has been jailed almost three years without
> charges on secret government evidence that he is a dangerous associate of
> terrorists. He made his first appearance in federal court last week to ask
> a judge to free him.
> Yara, her two sisters, her mother and about 30 members of their Tampa
> mosque and the citizens group Hillsborough Organization for Progress and
> Equality, or HOPE, traveled by bus from Tampa to show their support.
> They were treated, they said, like suspects.
> When the group of men, women and children walked onto the downtown
> courthouse plaza with signs reading "Free Mazen Now," a half-dozen U.S.
> Customs officers ran from the building to confront them.
> When they complied with directions to move their protest across the street,
> a man they believed to be an FBI agent stood 6 feet away and snapped
> photographs, they said.
> When they passed through the metal detector at the entrance to the
> courtroom, U.S. marshals required photo IDs of all but the children and
> wrote down names and birth dates. One woman said they noted her height.
> "They are trying to intimidate us," said Sami Al-Arian, a University of
> South Florida professor and Al-Najjar's brother-in-law.
> Al-Najjar, a 42-year-old Palestinian refugee, has been ordered deported for
> overstaying a student visa. His case is on appeal. He was denied bail by an
> immigration judge who heard government testimony in secret and found
> Al-Najjar to be a threat to national security.
> Last week's hearing before U.S. District Judge Joan A. Lenard requested his
> immediate release on constitutional grounds: His right to due process was
> violated, his attorneys said.
> Lenard will issue her written decision after further review.
> Al-Najjar says he is not a terrorist. He was targeted by the U.S.
> government, he says, because he worked at a USF-affiliated think tank with
> Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, who left Tampa in 1995 and a few months later
> became head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
> On the day of his Miami court appearance, the government continued its
> attempts to make Al-Najjar appear disreputable and dangerous, his attorneys
> Al-Najjar was transported on a commercial flight from a Bradenton detention
> facility after his attorneys made a formal request to the judge that he
> attend. He was awakened at 1 a.m. for a hearing scheduled at 4 p.m., his
> family and attorneys said. The flight takes an hour. He spent the day on a
> bench in a
> holding cell, said his attorney, Joseph Hohenstein of Philadelphia.
> Al-Najjar wore the same shirt and slacks he was wearing when he was
> arrested three years ago. His wife, Fedaa Al-Najjar, said he told her he
> asked to at least wash the clothing, since it was wrinkled and smelled from
> being stored. Immigration and Naturalization Service officers at the jail
> refused, she said.
> In the few minutes he was given with his attorneys before his court
> appearance, Al-Najjar was not permitted a conference room meeting but one
> separated from them by a cloudy glass partition.
> "The goal was not to have him present himself as well to a federal judge,"
> Hohenstein said, "and having a stressed-out, tired, ill-clothed individual
> certainly contributes to that. Fortunately, a federal judge is not likely
> to be swayed by such tactics."
> Government officials said the measures are necessary for security.
> Names of spectators have been taken at other hearings, said John Amat, a
> deputy U.S. marshal for the Southern District of Florida. The U.S.
> Marshal's Service is responsible for security at the federal courthouse.
> "We're entitled to check people who come into the courtroom whenever we
> feel the need to do it," Amat said.
> At a federal trial that convicted 11 gang members on drug and murder
> charges in March, several spectators whose names were taken at the door
> were arrested on outstanding warrants after they were run through the
> computer, Amat said.
> A defense lawyer at that trial said taking names is not typical at the
> Miami courthouse.
> "It bothers me because it is a public forum," said Albert Levin. "I think
> it's overreaching."
> Those entering the hearing last week passed through a metal detector,
> emptied their pockets and submitted briefcases and handbags for searches.
> Amat said he could not comment on whether the taking of names and
> birthdates was a decision made by the U.S. Marshal's Service or done at the
> request of the FBI or INS.
> At the Bradenton jail where Al-Najjar has been detained since his May 1997
> arrest, supervisor David Wing said he was never asked about clothing for
> Al-Najjar. He said he did not know why Al-Najjar was awakened three hours
> before departure.
> Al-Najjar's family says it is because the government wanted him to look
> like a terrorist in court. And it wanted his friends to feel intimidated.
> "I felt it was humiliating for us. All the next day I kept thinking, "Why
> are you doing this to us?' " Mrs. Al-Najjar said. She said she was told she
> could not bring her husband clothes. After the hearing, she and her
> daughters rushed to see Al-Najjar before he was taken away.
> "Come, Safa," Mrs. Al-Najjar told her 4-year-old, whom she held in her
> arms. "We're going to see Baba." But the INS agents would not let them get
> "They don't have any mercy in their hearts," Mrs. Al-Najjar said.
> Neither she nor her children have had a contact visit -- time with a
> detainee in a visitors' room without a wall and window separating them --
> since May 1999, she said.
> The deplorable treatment of Al-Najjar is typical of the government's
> attitude, said Andrew Kayton, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties
> Union of Florida working on Al-Najjar's case. Kayton, who lives and works
> in Miami, said he has never seen the names of courtroom spectators written
> "Part of this is the culture of INS detention. The game is
> depersonalization and debasement," said Kayton. "This is a terrible thing.
> This has caused inexcusable harm to his children."
> The hearing's timing may have prompted some of the scrutiny. Last week
> marked the anniversary of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma
> No one balked at walking through a metal detector.
> But taking names suggests everyone in attendance could be investigated. It
> has a "chilling effect on free speech and makes the Muslim and Arab
> community more fearful," said Hohenstein.
> What is insulting, said members of the group, is the attitude that every
> Arab is dangerous, every Muslim suspect.
> HOPE member Richard Condon said he noticed that the school girls wearing
> traditional Muslim head scarves took longer to get through the security
> checks than did he, a white adult male. One girl was told she could not
> bring in the folded American flag she carried.
> Pulling her to the side, Condon said, "Give it to me." He passed through
> the checkpoint without a second glance.