Only two days before his release could be blocked by a federal appellate court, supporters of local Muslim leader Rabih Haddad urged the federal government to free him.

Paul Wong
Supporters for detained Ann Arbor Muslim leader Rabih Haddad held a press conference yesterday urging the government to release Haddad, who is being held on a visa violation.

Members of the Committee to Free Rabih Haddad, including Haddad’s wife, encouraged the government to free him during a rally yesterday morning at St. Aidan’s Episcopal/Northside Presbyterian Church on Broadway Street.

Haddad, a Lebanon-native, has been held in solitary confinement by the Immigration and Naturalization Service for overstaying a six-month visa. Around the same time as he was detained, the government raided the Illinois offices of the charity he co-founded, Global Relief Foundation, Inc., and froze its assets.

His deportation hearings were closed to the public until federal courts ordered them open this past spring.

Just last week, a federal district judge in Detroit ordered that the Justice Department give Haddad a new immigration hearing before a different immigration judge unless Haddad is released within 10 days.

The department has not yet asked for a stay of that decision, but time is running out, as the 10-day period ends Friday.

“The government did not prove that Rabih Haddad poses any threat to national security and also the initial decision to detain by (Immigration Judge Elizabeth) Hacker was tainted by a climate of fear,” said Nazih Hassan.

Hassan is a Haddad friend and president of the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor.

The Justice Department, which holds the immigration hearings, initially classified the case as “special interest” – a classification that required hearings to be closed until Judge Nancy Edmunds of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled against the government, siding with a coalition of newspapers, the American Civil Liberties Union and U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit).

In her ruling last week in a related case, Edmunds said the classification biased the immigration judge against Haddad.

The department argued that an open hearing would divulge information that could damage its investigation of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Nevertheless, Haddad remains in solitary confinement at the Monroe County Jail and was recently denied a meeting with his lawyer.

Mary Bejian, chair of the Washtenaw County American Civil Liberties Union, framed the Haddad case in terms of a struggle against Attorney General John Ashcroft.

“The Ashcroft agenda won’t go unexamined and unquestioned,” she said yesterday afternoon. “We still don’t know how many, possibly hundreds, have been detained since Sept. 11, have been subjected to close hearings and how many subjected to proceedings with secret evidence.”

Bejian said she expects the department to ask the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency stay of Edmunds’ decision last week in Haddad v. Ashcroft.

“We don’t know what will happen, but it wouldn’t be at all surprising if they decided to request a stay” to prevent Haddad’s release, Bejian said.

Spokesman Charles Miller said the Justice Department has not made any decision yet concerning the case.

But the department has been hinting to all parties that some action may be taken today.

Haddad is only allowed to make phone calls to his wife, Salma al-Rushaid.

In addition, he is usually denied personal contact with everyone except his lawyer.

“Abuse flourishes in secrecy,” Bejian said. “We can’t have a democracy without openness.”

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