An immigration case from Miami is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court with no public record, even though two federal courts have conducted hearings and issued rulings. The Christian Science Monitor says “No documents are available. No files. No lawyer is allowed to speak about it. Period.”
The Monitor notes that secrecy has been a Bush administration weapon in the war on terrorism. Attorney General John Ashcroft warns that mere tidbits of information that seem innocuous could help Al Qaeda carry out new attacks. At issue in the Miami case is whether certain matters may be conducted entirely behind closed doors under a secret arrangement among prosecutors, judges, and clerks. “The entire dockets for this case and appeal, every entry on them, are maintained privately, under seal, unavailable to the public,” says a partially censored 27-page petition asking the high court to hear the case. “In the court of appeals, not just the filed documents and docket sheet are sealed from public view, but also hidden is the essential fact that a legal proceeding exists.”
A brief docketing error led to a newspaper report in March saying that the case involves an Algerian waiter in south Florida detained by immigration authorities and questioned by the FBI.
The Monitor says the case could prompt a close examination of secret tactics that are apparently becoming common under Attorney General John Ashcroft. In September 2001, he ordered that all deportation hearings with links to the Sept. 11 investigation be conducted secretly. The Justice Department has acknowledged that at least nine criminal cases related to the Sept. 11 investigation were being cloaked in total secrecy.