Witnesses testified under assumed names, the public was barred from court, and part of the hearing was held in the judge’s chambers, with no defense lawyers, the Associated Press reports. “I don’t know what took place back there,” said Michael Deutsch, defense attorney for Muhammad Salah of Chicago, charged with laundering hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for murders, bombings, and other terror acts by the Palestinian group Hamas. Court secrecy is getting tighter as the government wages war on terrorism.
In Chicago, attorneys for Sami Latchin, accused of serving as a “sleeper agent” in the U.S. for Saddam Hussein’s regime, have asked a federal judge whether the National Security Agency eavesdropped on his phone conversations. Prosecutors say the Justice Department will answer the question in the judge’s chambers with defense attorneys not allowed. Such secret procedures, once rare in American courts, have become more common since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Prosecutors say they need secrecy to protect undercover agents, informants and witnesses from terrorist reprisals and to keep critical information pipelines from being shut down. Defense attorneys say the right of defendants to confront their accusers, guaranteed by the Constitution, is being worn away under the guise of national security. “It’s critical to the functioning of a healthy democracy that people know what the government is doing in their name,” said Georgetown University law Prof. David Cole.